Tears for Fears' 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

2 March 2022, 16:24

Tears For Fears
Tears For Fears. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Tears for Fears were one of the greatest new wave and electronic bands of the early 1980s.

The duo - consisting of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith - came together after their first band, the mod-style Graduate, fell apart.

Tears for Fears continued scoring massive international hits in the 1980s and 1990s, and they're back for their first new album of new material for nearly 20 years.

To celebrate the band's triumphant return, here's a selection of their very best songs:

  1. The Tipping Point

    This was the first single from Tears for Fears' new album of the same name in 2022.

    It was inspired by Orzabal's struggles with grief and the loss of a loved one, following his wife Caroline's death in 2017.

    Speaking to Rolling Stone, Orzabal said: "It came at a time when my wife was very ill. I was watching her become a ghost of her former self. So the song's narrator is in a hospital ward looking at people about to cross the threshold that we call death."

  2. Advice for the Young at Heart

    This smooth track was taken from the Sowing the Seeds of Love album, and was a minor hit for the band in 1990.

    It was the only song on the album with lead vocals from Smith.

  3. Pale Shelter

    Written by Roland Orzabal and sung by Curt Smith, this track was originally the band's second single in early 1982. The original version of the song was called 'Pale Shelter (You Don't Give Me Love)', but it wasn't a hit.

    The better-known version was a re-recording from 1983, becoming a top 5 hit in the UK.

    Orzabal said: "It's a kind of a love song, though more referring to one's parents than to a girl."

  4. Break it Down Again

    Despite being released under the Tears for Fears name, this song's parent album Elemental (1993) was essentially a solo album for Orzabal following the departure of Smith.

    However, this is the only song from this era that has regularly stayed in live setlists following Smith's return.

  5. Woman in Chains

    Featuring Phil Collins on drums and Oleta Adams on vocals, this was a decent-sized hit for Tears for Fears in 1989.

    Speaking in 2021 to Louder, when asked if the song is the feminist anthem, Orzabal replied: “Um… it was really about my mother. At one point in her life she was a stripper. My father and she ran an entertainment agency from a council house in Portsmouth.

    "So she would go out to strip, and my father would send a driver out with her to spy on her. If she talked to another man, when she came back he would beat her up. So it’s about domestic abuse."

  6. Sowing the Seeds of Love

    This was a monster hit for the boys in 1989, reaching as high as number two in the US.

    It was written in June 1987, during the week of the UK General Election in which Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party won a third consecutive term in office.

    The election led to Roland Orzabal getting interested in politics, and in socialism.

    The lyrics refer to Thatcher's election win with "Politician granny with your high ideals, have you no idea how the majority feels?"

  7. Head Over Heels

    This epic song had been developed nearly two years prior as part of a segue with the song ‘Broken’, which was previously a stand-alone B-side to the 1983 ‘Pale Shelter’ single.

    Orzabal said of the song’s meaning: “It is a romance song that goes a bit perverse at the end.”

    It was featured in 2001 movie Donnie Darko, with director Richard Kelly saying that the scene was written and choreographed specifically with the song in mind.

  8. Mad World

    ‘Mad World’ was originally written on acoustic guitar when Roland Orzabal was 19, after being inspired to write a new wave song in the vein of Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’.

    Orzabal suggested bassist Curt Smith sing it and “suddenly it sounded fabulous”.

    Regarding its misheard final lyric, Smith confirmed it is ‘Halargian world’, referring to an imaginary planet they invented.

    There have been many cover versions since, most notably by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules, who reached number one in the UK in 2003.

  9. Everybody Wants to Rule the World

    One of their signature songs, this track gave Tears for Fears one of their biggest international hits in 1985, despite being one of the last songs recorded for Songs from the Big Chair.

    Curt Smith sang lead vocals on the track, which is about the desire humans have for control and power, and the themes of corruption.

    The group re-recorded the song titled 'Everybody Wants to Run the World' as a charity single for the Sport Aid campaign a year later.

  10. Shout

    This track reached number one in the US, and saw Tears for Fears try out a heavier style.

    Roland Orzabal said that the song was a political anthem, saying: “It came out in 1984 when a lot of people were still worried about the aftermath of The Cold War and it was basically an encouragement to protest.”

    In 2010, it was used as the basis for an unofficial anthem of the England football team at the World Cup. Shout for England featured Dizzee Rascal and James Corden, and included new verses for the team.