It's hard to think of a music act that produced as many significant songs in a short period of time as the English duo Tears for Fears. Between 1983 and 1985 alone, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith generated at least three songs (and maybe more, depending on your point of view) that are ingrained in the public's collective musical consciousness three decades later. That's impressive for two guys from the small city of Bath, Avon in Somerset County.
The group has released six studio albums and 30 singles over the years since forming in 1981, but its heyday certainly came in the 1980s with the release of three straight LPs that reached platinum status in multiple countries: The Hurting, Songs From the Big Chair and The Seeds of Love. Those three major successes furnish all the songs below in our top 10 list of the best Tears for Fears songs. The LPs are just too rich in content to not have it so.
Hopefully, we've covered the songs you love the most from the band. Enjoy!
This may seem a bit harsh, putting one of the three aforementioned ingrained songs so low on this list. However, its only weakness (repetitiveness) weighs heavily in comparison to the other songs on the list below. It doesn't mean we love it any less; it just means it isn't as "good", whatever that means. It was the band's first No. 1 hit, and it reached the top of the charts in six different countries and the Top 5 in three other nations. Talk about a worldwide phenomenon—the lives of Orzabal and Smith would never be the same after this song's release.
This single from the band's first album was also the first Tears for Fears song to chart in the United States, reaching No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the song's composition, you can hear the seeds of the melodic "pop" talent the band possessed later in the decade. The spunky hook to start the song brings you right in as does the keyboard solo in the middle. Just try to ignore the dance routine in the video, if you can. The band would appreciate that, we're sure.
8. "Pale Shelter"
The re-worked version of this song was the fifth single release from The Hurting, but it's a wonderfully composed track. The contrast in the chorus vocals—Smith's high pitch and Orzabal's lower tones—is one of the song's more endearing and enduring hallmarks. Noting the differences, too, between "Pale Shelter" and "Change" demonstrates where the band was headed in the future. This is a more sophisticated track, appropriate for the talents the duo eventually would display in their next two LPs.
7. "I Believe"
It's hard to describe this ballad from Songs From the Big Chair effectively; you just have to listen to it, really. The song wasn't a big hit, per se, but everyone that bought the album loved the song for its change of pace and the beautiful vocals/melodies. Orzabal's voice really shines on its own in the piece, and the accompanying saxophone contributions are just fantastic.
Not quite a "title track" from the band's third LP, it nonetheless was the first single from the album. It went to No. 1 in Canada and charted Top 5 in six other countries, including reaching the No. 2 spot in the United States. In spots, it feels like a Beatles song, and its messages of hope, love and opportunity resonate well still today.
The third single released from The Seeds of Love, this cute little love song had a sweet little video to go with it which certainly—combined with the No. 2 song on our list below—increased the band's popularity for college-age women at the time. Orzabal and Smith were already "heartthrobs" in some sense, but this song cemented their status at the beginning of the 1990s. Love sells, after all.
4. "Heads Over Heels"
Talk about opening hooks; every time this song played on MTV in the mid-1980s, fans rushed to the television set when hearing that opening jingle. Orzabal handled the lead vocals on this one, and the romanticism of the lyrics (and the video imagery, too) just made the audience melt, in a good way. There was nothing cheesy about the sentiment in this song. You just knew it was real when you heard it (over and over again). The song reached No. 3 on the U.S. charts as a result.
3. "Mad World"
The argument could be made for this to be the band's best song ever, and we wouldn't disagree. It's still an amazing song to listen to, all these years later. Forget all the cover versions, too: The pace of this original version is just right for the words and the ideas within them. It was the band's first big U.K. hit, going to No. 3, and Smith's light vocal treatment is perfect for the sensitivity this song puts forth to the audience. Pure brilliance, we think, still, today.
2. "Woman in Chains"
It's a shame this amazing song didn't chart better when it was released (only hit No. 36 in the U.S.), but it was way ahead of its time. The composition features Oleta Adams in a duet with Orzabal, and the words themselves could fit right into societal mindsets today, sadly. And no, this isn't one of the three songs we mentioned in our introduction, although it should be. Trivia: Phil Collins played the drums on the original studio recording. Who knew?
All children of the Eighties can sing this song perfectly, we suspect, in no small part to its playing over the closing credits of the movie, Real Genius, featuring a young and sexy Val Kilmer. Who didn't want to play in a big pile of popcorn?! However, all topical stuff aside, the song is one of those rarities in art that merges brilliant lyricism with dynamic melodies to produce something special that you never forget once you hear it. Staying with you forever thereafter, simply put, it doesn't get any better than this in rock and roll.