Tears for Fears are an English pop rock band formed in Bath in 1981 by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. Founded after the dissolution of their first band, the mod-influenced Graduate, they were initially associated with the new wavesynthesiser bands of the early 1980s but later branched out into mainstream rock and pop, which led to international chart success. They were part of the MTV-driven Second British Invasion of the US.
Their debut album, The Hurting, released in 1983, reached number one on the UK Albums Chart, while their second album, Songs from the Big Chair, released in 1985, reached number one on the US Billboard 200, achieving multi-platinum status in both the UK and the US. Their second album contained two Billboard Hot 100 number ones: “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World“‘, the latter winning the Brit Award for Best British Single in 1986.
After the release of their third platinum-selling album, The Seeds of Love (1989), Smith and Orzabal parted company in 1991. Orzabal retained the Tears for Fears name, releasing the albums Elemental (1993) and Raoul and the Kings of Spain (1995) before he and Smith re-formed as Tears for Fears in 2000 and released an album of new material, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, in 2004. Since 2013, the duo have been working on their seventh album. Tears for Fears have sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
Orzabal and Smith met as teenagers in Bath, Somerset, England. The duo became session musicians for the band Neon, where they first met future Tears For Fears drummer Manny Elias. Neon also featured Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher who went on to become Naked Eyes. Smith and Orzabal’s professional debut came with the band Graduate, a mod revival/new wave act. In 1980, Graduate released an album, Acting My Age, and a single “Elvis Should Play Ska” (referring to Elvis Costello, not Presley). The single just missed the top 100 in the UK, though it performed well in Spain and in Switzerland.
By 1981, Orzabal and Smith had become more influenced by artists such as Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. They departed from Graduate and formed a band called History of Headaches, which they soon changed to Tears for Fears. The band’s name was inspired by primal therapy, developed by the American psychologist Arthur Janov, which gained tremendous publicity after John Lennon became Janov’s patient in 1970. In a 2004 interview with VH1 UK, Orzabal and Smith said that when they finally met Janov in the mid-1980s, they were disillusioned to find that he had become quite “Hollywood” and wanted the band to write a musical for him.
As Tears for Fears, Orzabal and Smith intended to form the nucleus of the group and bring in surrounding musicians to help them complete the picture. Around this time they met local musician Ian Stanley who offered them free use of his home 8-track studio. Stanley began working with the duo as their keyboard player and, after recording two demos, Tears for Fears were signed to Phonogram Records, UK in 1981 by A&R manager Dave Bates. Their first single, “Suffer the Children” (produced by David Lord), was released on that label in November 1981, followed by the first edition of “Pale Shelter” (produced by Mike Howlett) in March 1982, though neither of these releases were successful.
The band achieved their first taste of success with their third single, “Mad World“, which reached no. 3 in the UK in November 1982. Their first album, The Hurting, was released in March 1983. For this album (and the next), keyboardist and composer Ian Stanley and drummer Manny Elias were considered full bandmembers, though Smith and Orzabal were still essentially the frontmen and public face[s] of the band.
The album, produced by Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum, showcased guitar and synthesiser-based songs with lyrics reflecting Orzabal’s bitter childhood and his interest in primal therapy. The album was a big success and had a lengthy chart run (65 weeks) in the UK, where it reached no. 1 and platinum status. It also reached the top 20 in several other countries and yielded the international hit singles “Mad World” (top 5 hit in the Philippines and South Africa), “Change” (top 40 hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland and South Africa. It also became their first single to reach the US Billboard Hot 100), and a re-recorded version of “Pale Shelter” (top 10 hit in the Philippines). All three of these singles reached the Top 5 in the UK.
Towards the end of 1983, the band released a new, slightly more experimental single, “The Way You Are“, intended as a stopgap while they worked on their second album. The single was a top 30 hit in the UK, but did not come close to matching the success of their three previous hits, despite a national concert tour in December of that year (captured on the In My Mind’s Eye live video release). The single, which heavily featured sampling and programmed rhythms, was a departure from Tears for Fears’ previous musical approach. In the liner notes to their 1996 B-sides compilation album Saturnine Martial & Lunatic they wrote that “this was the point we realised we had to change direction”, although the somewhat experimental style of the single continued to be reflected in their forthcoming B-sides.
In early 1984, they began working with a new producer, Jeremy Green, on their new single “Mothers Talk“. However, the band were ultimately unhappy with the results and so producer Chris Hughes was brought back into the fold and the “Mothers Talk” single re-produced for release in August 1984. A departure from their earlier works, the single became a top 20 hit in the UK, but it was the follow-up single “Shout” (released in the UK in November 1984) that was the real beginning of the band’s international fame.
“Shout”, a top 5 UK hit, paved the way for their second album, Songs from the Big Chair (released in February 1985), which entered the UK album chart at no. 2 and remained in the upper reaches of the chart for the next 12 months. They did away with the predominantly synthpop feel of the first album, instead expanding into a more sophisticated sound that would become the band’s stylistic hallmark. Anchored around the creative hub of Orzabal, Stanley, and producer Hughes, the new Tears for Fears sound helped to propel Songs from the Big Chair into becoming one of the year’s biggest sellers worldwide, eventually being certified triple-platinum in the UK and quintuple-platinum in the US (where it remained the no. 1 album for five weeks in the summer of 1985).
The album’s title was inspired by the book and television miniseries Sybil, the chronicle of a woman with multiple personality disorder who sought refuge in her analyst’s “big chair”, Orzabal and Smith stating that they felt each of the album’s songs had a distinctive personality of its own. The band had also recorded a track titled “The Big Chair”, which was released as the B-side to “Shout” but was not included on the album.
The album’s success came in conjunction with the array of hit singles it yielded: “Mothers Talk” (re-recorded yet again for its US release in 1986), “Shout” (no. 4 UK, no. 1 in the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and a huge hit in other territories, in fact one of the biggest hit songs of the 1980s), “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (their highest-charting UK and Irish hit at no. 2 and another no. 1 in the US and in Canada), “Head over Heels” (UK no. 12, US no. 3, Ireland no. 5, Canada no. 8), and “I Believe (A Soulful Re-Recording)” (UK no. 23 and Ireland no. 10). Some territories even saw the release of limited edition 10″ singles for these hits, and a variety of double packs and picture discs in addition to the regular 7″ and 12″ formats.
Following the album’s release, the band went on a world tour that lasted most of the year, playing notably at the Montreux Golden Rose Rock and Pop Festival in May 1985. In September 1985, the band performed “Shout” at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. Also during the tour, Orzabal and Smith discovered an American female singer/pianist, Oleta Adams, who was performing in a Kansas City hotel bar, and whom they invited to collaborate on their next album. Towards the end of the year, the band released a video collection/documentary entitled Scenes from the Big Chair.
In February 1986, having completed the lengthy and exhausting Big Chair world tour, Tears for Fears were honoured at the 1986 Brit Awards in London where they won the Best British Single award for “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. The band was also nominated for Best British Group and Best British Album, and Chris Hughes was nominated for Best Producer. The band performed the song at the ceremony, which became the final public performance of drummer Manny Elias who left the group shortly afterwards.
The same year, Orzabal and Stanley worked together on a side project named Mancrab and released a single, “Fish for Life”, which was written for the soundtrack of the film The Karate Kid, Part II. The track was written and produced by Orzabal and Stanley, and featured vocals by US singer/dancer Eddie Thomas, who was one of the dancers in the video for “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”.
On 13 July 1985, Tears for Fears were scheduled to perform at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia for the Live Aid charity event. However, on the morning of the historic event, it was announced that the band (who had actually been billed to appear at the event before they had even agreed to do so) had pulled out of the show. They were replaced by blues rock group George Thorogood and the Destroyers, which has a strong Philadelphia-area following. The official reason given for their non-appearance was that two of their backing musicians, guitarist Andrew Saunders and saxophonist Will Gregory, had quit due to the expiration of their contract; they were replaced by Alan Griffiths on guitar and Josephine Wells on saxophone for the remaining bulk of the 1985 world tour. In place of appearing, the band pledged to donate proceeds from their concerts played in Tokyo, Sydney, London and New York.
As a further donation, the band also recorded a slightly rewritten version of one of their biggest hits and released it for the British fundraising initiative Sport Aid, a sister project of Band Aid in which people took part in running races of varying length and seriousness to raise more money for African famine relief projects. Sport Aid’s slogan was “I Ran the World”, therefore Tears for Fears released “Everybody Wants to Run the World” (no. 5 in the UK and no. 4 in Ireland). Indirectly, the band were involved in the earlier Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” from 1984, which featured a slowed down sample from their song “The Hurting” in the introduction.
The Seeds of Love (1987–1990)
It was 1989 before the group released their third album, The Seeds of Love (on which Ian Stanley appeared for the last time as a member of Tears for Fears), at a reported production cost of over a million pounds. The album was written largely by Orzabal along with keyboardist Nicky Holland, who had toured with the band on their “Big Chair” world tour in 1985. Moving from various studios and using various sets of producers over many months, the band ultimately decided to scrap the recordings and take the reins themselves with assistance from engineer Dave Bascombe. Much of the material was recorded in jam sessions and later edited down. The length of the production impacted on the band’s management company, who had financially over-extended themselves in other business matters and were hoping for an earlier release date to pay off their debts.
The album retained the band’s epic sound while showing increasing influences ranging from jazz and blues to the Beatles, the latter being evident on the hit single “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (the first record ever played on the Irish-based longwave radio station Atlantic 252). The second single from the album was “Woman in Chains” (a top 40 hit in the UK, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and the US), on which Phil Collins played drums and Oleta Adams—whom Orzabal would later guide to a successful solo career—shared vocals.
The album was a worldwide success, entering the UK Albums Chart at no. 1, making the top 10 in the US and in numerous other countries, eventually going on to sell millions of copies internationally. The band set out on an extensive “Seeds of Love” world tour sponsored by Philips to start recovering the debt incurred. The band’s show in Santa Barbara, California, in May 1990 would be captured on the Going to California live video as the singles “Advice for the Young at Heart” and “Famous Last Words” delivered modest chart success.
A 64-page companion book, simply titled Tears for Fears – The Seeds of Love, was released by Virgin Books in 1990 and offered extensive insight from Orzabal, Holland and Adams into the songwriting and production process for the album, as well as the musical scores for each track and rare promotional photographs from the era.
After The Seeds of Love, Orzabal and Smith had an acrimonious falling out and parted company in 1991. The split was blamed on Orzabal’s intricate but frustrating approach to production and Smith’s desire to slow down the pace of their work (prior to the release of The Seeds of Love, Smith’s marriage had also broken down).
Another factor in the break-up was the band’s manager, Paul King, who declared bankruptcy in 1990 and was later convicted of fraud. The duo had signed to King’s Outlaw Management Agency in 1982 and remained clients throughout the remainder of the decade (the agency also operated the band’s fan club, the Tears For Fears World Service, between 1983 and 1986). By the late 1980s, the agency had run into serious debt and, after discrepancies were discovered in King’s financial management, Orzabal became increasingly concerned that Smith was unwilling to drop King as their manager.
Outlaw folded in 1990 with debts of almost £1 million as King declared bankruptcy. In 2004, following fraudulent activities with his other businesses, King was prosecuted for fraud and imprisoned for three and a half years, as well as being disqualified from being a company director again for ten years.