Being an almost-exclusive listener of Top 40 music in the first part of the 80s, I missed out on some really great albums. Though I would find out about these albums eventually (of which I’m eternally grateful), sometimes I wish I could take the ol’ DeLorean and go back to discover them at the time of their actual release dates. One of those albums is Tears For Fears’ debut album, THE HURTING.
1983’s THE HURTING was discovered long after I had been loving Tears For Fears’ second and third albums, 1985’s SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR and 1989’s THE SEEDS OF LOVE, respectively. And, I instantly loved the songs from THE HURTING, like “Change,” “Pale Shelter” and the brilliant “Mad World.”
Released as a single in September 1982, sung by Curt Smith and written by Roland Orzabal, “Mad World” is this hauntingly stunning song, inspired by the theories of Arthur Janov, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of the 1970 book, THE PRIMAL SCREAM. In the 2005 book, 1001 SONGS, author Toby Creswell examines the “Mad World” song lyric, “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” He “suggests that dreams of intense experiences such as death will be the best at releasing tension.”
Tears For Fears and their record company had no idea how mad the world would be for their third single, but mad they were. The song was their first big U.K. hit, reaching No. 3, becoming a Silver-selling single (250,000 units) and ranking at No. 12 for all of 1982. It gave the Bath, England band their first of 17 U.K. Top 40 hits between 1982 and 2005. Elsewhere, it reached No. 2 in South Africa, No. 6 in Ireland, No. 10 in Switzerland, No. 12 in Australia, No. 21 in Germany and No. 25 in New Zealand.
Nearly 20 years after the original release of “Mad World,” the song resurfaced in the 2001 film, DONNIE DARKO, a supernatural psychological thriller starring siblings Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wylie and Drew Barrymore.
The version of “Mad World” used for the film was a cover version by San Diego multi-instrumentalist and film score composer Michael Andrews, with vocals by Fresno, CA native Gary Jules. It was a stripped-down version of the song, and became a classic in its own right, though not instantly.
For some places throughout the globe, the cover of “Mad World” took several years for it to become a hit, but for most places, it was a hit in 2003, reaching No. 1 in the U.K. in time to be the coveted “Christmas No. 1,” and it stayed on top for 3 weeks. It also reached No. 1 in Portugal, the Canadian Digital Songs chart, and the Top 10 in at least 6 other countries. In my 2006 STUCK IN THE 80s list of the 80 BEST 80s COVERS (1980-2005), this version of “Mad World” ranked at No. 2 on the list (behind Swans’ 1988 cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).
Though I’m not as familiar with their newer work, I’ve been a Tears For Fears for a great number of years, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world it is to have this “Mad World” in it…