The Story Behind Tears for Fears’ Unexpected Hit “Mad World,” New Single “The Tipping Point”

The band's Roland Orzabal also talks about Gary Jules' classic reimagining for the Donnie Darko soundtrack

tears for fears story behind the song mad world tipping point
The Story Behind the Song: Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” photo by Frank Ockenfels

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    Tears for Fears ruled the pop charts for much of the 1980s with their unique mix of instantly catchy synth sounds, irresistible hooks, and confessional lyrics. Like everybody in music, the duo of singer/songwriter/guitarist Roland Orzabal and singer/bassist Curt Smith wanted to rule the world, and they certainly achieved that with a string of hits spanning several albums.

    It all began with their 1983 debut album, The Hurting, an effort perhaps surprisingly influenced by new wave iconoclast (and previous The Story Behind the Song guest) Gary Numan and pop stars Duran Duran. The LP’s haunting breakthrough hit, “Mad World,” was originally intended to just be a B-Side to lead single “Pale Shelter.” It was the band’s A&R exec David Bates who pushed for its release as a single, and the rest is history. The song took on a life of its own and still widely influences artists and delights new generations.


    Two decades after its release, the Orzabal-penned, Smith-sung classic was completely reimagined by Gary Jules, who stripped down the track for the cult classic movie Donnie Darko. Like audiences around the world, Tears for Fears were thrilled with the result, with Orzabal calling the deeply melancholic rendition the song’s “ultimate form.” That’s even with Jules singing the incorrect lyric at the end, replacing Smith’s “halargian world” with “enlarging your world.”

    In this fascinating fourth episode of The Story Behind the Song, we’ll learn why that changed happened — and more. Host Peter Csathy sat down to interview Tears for Fears’ Orzabal about how “Mad World” came to be, from his initial writing of the track to Jules’ beautiful reworking. As always on TSBTS, Orzabal also dives into another song from his vast catalog: Tears for Fears’ “The Tipping Point,” the title track off their recently announced first album in 17 years (due out February 25th).

    Listen to the podcast above, or check out the full video of the interview below. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to The Story Behind the Song wherever you get your podcasts, and follow the Consequence Podcast Network for updates on all our series.


    For more from our host, follow Peter Csathy on Twitter @pcsathy and check out his company CREATV Media.

    Theme music courtesy of Juan Pieczanski.

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