“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – single from the 1985 Tears for Fears album Songs from the Big Chair.
Smooth, mellow, reminiscent.
There are times I’d like to believe that I’m some kind of music connoisseur, and my appreciation is guided solely by an internal calculus equal parts cold intellect and refined perception. I imagine myself immune to the insidious pressures of savvy marketers, and well beyond the plebeian inclination toward popular sounds and style. But sometimes a Billboard Number One song has a certain something that reveals I am just one of the herd. I’ve enthusiastically agreed with the millions of passive, piped-in-supermarket-music-listening philistines and infrequent music-buyers who help catapult a song to the top of the charts.
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” by Tears for Fears, occupies my brain during late spring of every year. The song hit Number One in June of ’85 as I was rapidly approaching high school graduation. I’m sure someone at Mercury Records decreed this record would be released to coincide with graduations around the world. It has that life-lesson title, and a grad-card-ready opening line. (“Welcome to your life”). Plus, the repeated two-note verse feels wistful and unresolved until the satisfaction of a super-sticky chorus, mimicking the overlapping emotions at the end of an era. Also, it’s sung by two attractive men1, which doesn’t hurt record sales to teens. The suits’ cynical bet that it would resonate (even though the lyrics don’t really mean much) won big. The song has stuck with me for 36 years.
I led a dual life as a prog-rock fan and secret MTV enthusiast in spring of ’85. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a far cry from prog-rock, and the video is kinda lame. Still, it made an impact on me. I’ve always thought it’s a pretty great song. For one thing, bassist Curt Smith sings the heck out of lyrics that are basically a bunch of phrases crammed together. And as I stated above, the rather melancholy verses combine nicely with the upbeat chorus. The bridge, at 1:35, (“There’s a room where the light won’t find you”) is a meaty transition, and it leads into my favorite part of the song.
What I really like about “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is the guitar work from side man Neil Taylor. That beginning riff is pretty cool, and he repeats it after the bridge (2:00). After a couple measures of keyboard doodles, he re-enters with a great guitar solo (2:33). It’s brief, but combined with the rest of the parts of the song it sounds perfect. Then at 3:36 he plays a solo that’s weird and moody to close things out.
Tears for Fears, duo Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith and a backing band, seemed like a strange group. They made songs that weren’t really Top 40 and weren’t really rock, but got played on both formats. Their Songs From the Big Chair album was huge. They were big on college radio, and they continue to have a lot of songs played on Sirius 1st Wave. I’m still not a huge fan of theirs (although Head Over Heels was pretty catchy, and Sowing the Seeds of Love did a nice Beatle-y thing) but they sure did right on this one.