Lunatics United: A Partial and Subjective Guide to the Singles of Tears for Fears

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The first TFF b-side compilation, 1991.

Though best known in the prog community for their actual albums–such as SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR or EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING–Tears for Fears is also the master of the single.  Perhaps this is an artifact of the innumerable remixes of the 1980s, the decade of their origins, or, perhaps, the ideas of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith just never stop and cannot be contained by an album. Looking over their history as a band and as individuals, I think I’ll choose the latter explanation.  Throughout the band’s thirty-four year career, amazingly enough, Tears for Fears has only released six studio albums.  In that same period, though, the band has released dozens of singles, each different in style, theme, and genre.  While their albums tend toward the progressive pop of PET SOUNDS by the Beach Boys or SKYLARKING by XTC, their singles range all over the place, traversing and, at moments, transcending, both space and time.

One can, however, effectively divide the singles into three types: covers; rock and pop cinematic outbursts; and prog and electronica experimentalism.  The band has released these in a variety of forms: box sets; cd singles; one compilation album; and as bonus tracks.

Regardless, TFF’s singles are ALWAYS worth listening to.  Some reveal parts and sketches of parts, while others reveal longings and desires of the band.  I find myself listening to the singles as often as I listen to the albums, which, for me, is exceedingly rare.  I am, after all, an album snob.

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The very rare Canadian boxset, 1989.

Type One: Covers

The band’s covers are the fewest in number of the three types but, not surprisingly, excellent.  These include, in particular, versions of “Creep” by Radiohead; “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie; “Sea Song” by Robert Wyatt; “My Girls” by Animal Collective; “Ready to Start” by Arcade Fire; and “And I Was a Boy from School” by Hot Chip.

Type Two: Rock and Pop Cinematic Outbursts

Granted, my title for “type two” is a bit odd.  Several of the songs that Tears for Fears have written, though, were written specifically for movies.  These include “New Star,” written for the Wyona Ryder movie, THREESOME; and “Fish for Life” for the sequel to THE KARATE KID.  The latter was released under the band name, Mancrab.

The first real rock and pop outburst, though, came with the success of SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR.  Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anything out of the era of THE HURTING being anything even closely related to the pop or rock of the time.  The most obvious choice—in a relative sense—is “The Way You Are,” a song written sometime between the first two albums.  It has pop elements, but it’s still too experimental to be considered straight pop.  Of those from the SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR era, though, the only one that comes close is “When in Love with a Blind Man.”  It’s so pensive and filled with unexpected sounds and winds, though, that one would be hard-pressed to call it “pop.”

The real TFF rock and pop tunes came with the third studio release by the band, THE SEEDS OF LOVE.  Taken as a whole, one might consider this most overly-produced album of TFF to be rather proggy and psychedelic.  It’s the kind of psychedelic that emerged everywhere around 1990: the psychedelia of World Party, Mazzy Star, and Echo and the Bunnymen.

The poppy bonus tracks for SEEDS were: “Tears Roll Down”, a rock song based around a minimalist (think THE HURTING, but less suffocating) beat that would’ve made Lee Harris proud; “Always in the Past,” a song title that should remind every reader of progarchy of early Jethro Tull, but, perhaps, the first really mainstream song TFF released, full of hooks and soulful refrains; and the truly odd, hip-hoppish, operatic “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.”

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The even rarer, COLLUSION, released only in Japan, 1991.

For those of us obsessed with Tears for Fears, there was also the Japanese only release, COLLUSION, which included the much coveted disk 4: “Flip,” the band’s first compilation of its many b-sides.  There was also, more readily available but still rare Canadian release of COLLECTION, a box set of three CD-singles from SEEDS OF LOVE, but with various photo cards and title cards.  The non-album tracks to appear on these were: “Always in the Past”; “My Life in the Suicide Ranks”; two versions of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”; “Music for Tables”; and “Tears Roll Down.”  For those of us in North America, COLLUSION is almost impossible to find, while COLLECTION is a bit (but not much!) easier.

After releasing the third studio album by Tears for Fears, Curt Smith left the band and would not return for over a decade.

A subject, however, for part two of this post.  Coming soon to a progarchy website near you.

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