“Something happens and I’m head over heels/I never find out ‘til I’m head over heels.” So goes (you guessed it) “Head Over Heels,” one in a slew of huge hits from Tears for Fears’ 1985 album Songs From the Big Chair.
You might say the line perfectly summates the entire album. This is high-caliber pop music, to be certain—genuinely charming and accessible without approaching tedium—but underneath the surface lurks an uncommon, chill-inducing beauty the listener might not immediately notice until it suddenly clicks. And they’re head over heels.
The recently aired season finale of Degrassi, Canada’s long-running high school issues drama, featured a cover of “Head Over Heels” by the indie project Digital Daggers (the same cover also appeared on the similarly teen-centric Vampire Diaries). The powerful pop anthem is a natural fit for a show that regularly deals in teen heartache, and really any of the absorbing melodies featured on Songs From the Big Chair lend themselves to reinterpretation, whatever the context. But this version, sung by Daggers’ Andrea Wasse in a fragile, lilting purr, doesn’t reach its predecessor’s greatness.
Of course, capturing the life-affirming majesty of the original is no small task, and Wasse should at least be commended for not attempting an awkward approximation of Tears singer/multi-instrumentalist Roland Orzabal’s expansive vocals. He remains a gold standard among ’80s new wave vocalists, so much that his influence is heard in the vocal stylings of more current artists, those who champion a deep, direct delivery—such as Interpol’s Paul Banks or Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke.
Part of what makes Songs From the Big Chair such a fascinating listening experience is the way Orzabal’s voice sounds consistently masterful, yet he’s loose enough to color each song with a strong sense of personality.
At one point, he sounds urgent, as he does on “Shout” or “Mothers Talk.” At another, he comes across as more inviting (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). These shifting polarities suggest an artist who understands the elevating effects of an intelligent pair of ears on a pop recording.
Like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Tears for Fears’ ultra-popular Songs From the Big Chair boasts an impressive track listing of instantly recognizable hits, such as the above-mentioned “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout.” It’s one of those rare albums that—regardless of whether you’ve actually heard it straight through—you’ve probably encountered almost in full just by flipping through radio stations.
The most recent example of this phenomenon would probably be Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which, though it attracts rapturous attention from both fans and critics, also might appear piecemeal on an iPod whose owner became curious after soaking up all the hype from various sources.
Eventually a casual listener like this might assemble most if not all of MBDTF’s tracks—hopefully in order. At a time when music consumers can download any one song from an album, ignoring the rest if they so choose, this is no small feat. But the point isn’t that Songs From the Big Chair bested technological advancements to become the classic it’s acknowledged as today.
It’s that both albums channel pop sensibilities in a resolutely ambitious vein, and in doing so neither takes its listeners for granted. In a media saturated with wannabes looking to profit, this designation becomes invaluable.