Songs from the Big Chair

Tears for Fears’ sophomore album Songs from the Big Chair was released in February of 1985, when I was just finishing eighth grade and heading to high school. It was released right about the same time as the debut of classic rock supergroup The Firm, the Visionquest and Breakfast Club soundtracks, John Fogerty’s Centerfield and Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required, during a high point in mid-80s pop and rock chart radio. [Granted, the college crowd was offered Hüsker Dü’s New Day Rising, Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising, Killing Joke’s Night Time, and The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder at the same time, so they weren’t left out of all the awesomeness!] This album fast became one of my all-time favorite albums of the 80s.

Various reissues and remasters later, this week the band offered a newly minted, multi-disc version of its classic album, and it’s a sweet one. I downloaded the super deluxe version from Amazon ($38 for digital only, much more if you want the full physical version).

I’d been familiar with the band via the “Change”, “Pale Shelter” and “Mad World” singles on MTV and radio a few years previous; they weren’t huge hits, but they were memorable enough (and they fit into the new wave sound MTV was pushing around that time) and a second album was anticipated. In the US, the first single was a bouncy, summery “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and the single was a huge hit. It was soon followed by two more hit singles: the epic “Shout” and the lovely “Head Over Heels”. But what about the rest of the album? It goes from bluesy (“I Believe”, a UK single) to spooky (album closer “Listen”) to twitchy (“Broken” and “Mothers Talk”), and there’s also an absolutely wonderful lengthy jazz track called “The Working Hour” (featuring a fantastic sax solo from Will Gregory, who years later would become half of Goldfrapp). It’s a solid album from start to finish.

On a more personal note, this album has a tie to the beginnings of my writing fiction. By 1985 I was taking much inspiration from the music I listened to at the time, creating Miami Vice-style scenes for my Infamous War Novel, and Songs from the Big Chair was one of the earliest, longest and heaviest in rotation at that time. I borrowed the energy of many of its songs and instilled them into the book. The two twelve-inch remixes of “Shout” became framing scenes for the beginning and the end of the novel. Around the same time I also wrote a short story based around “The Working Hour.” Both the book and the short story have long been trunked, but my love for music and letting music inspire my writing came from this time, and from this album.

The newest deluxe edition, to commemorate its thirtieth anniversary, is more complete than the 2006 special edition remaster, containing numerous b-sides, remixes, BBC recordings, and demos. A cheaper and shorter edition is also available with just the album, singles and remixes, but it’s well worth checking out.

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