June 24 – Smith’s Day Something To ‘Shout’ About

Recently it’s seemed like rather a “Mad World”, so let’s wish a happy birthday to the man who sang that nearly four decades back. Curt Smith is 61 today, and is the more vocal half of Tears for Fears.

Smith grew up in middle-class Bath, England being a fan of various forms of pop and rock, and as a teen taught himself to play bass. Later, he’d learn keyboards. He met and became friends with Roland Orzabel in school, and by 1980, they’d formed a band called Graduate that leaned towards ska, as was the trend in the UK then. After a little-noticed indie release that included the single “Elvis Should Play Ska”, they split and joined Neon, a band featuring Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher. After a year or two, Neon turned off its “open” sign, with Byrne and Fisher becoming Naked Eyes, and Smith heading off with Orzabel to start Tears for Fears.

With a keen interest in the new wave of the era – Orchestral Manouevres, Depeche Mode etc – as well as in the artsy styles of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads, plus a slice of classic rock, ala Led Zeppelin, thrown in they had a good chance of sounding unusual and memorable. Even if they’d sung about dancing or girls like most acts. But they delved deeper into their psyche, went to counseling (including the primal scream type that John Lennon once championed) and wrote songs far deeper than the typical 20 year olds…something Smith said was a little arrogant perhaps (fans would disagree) and won them some harsh criticism. “We came from an era when young men should be seen and not heard,” he told the Guardian recently, saying people would sneer “Who are you to be talking about these subjects?”

Speaking to a generation, one might think. Their 1983 debut The Hurting was one of the biggest debuts of the decade in Britain, going to #1, but that was only a mere hint of the success the next one, Songs from the Big Chair would have. It topped North American charts as well, sold in the range of ten million copies, won critical praise far and wide and launched four hit singles, including the bombastic “Shout”, the stellar love song “Head Over Heels” and the one they’d forever be synonymous with, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”

The latter was one Curt sang lead on; although he and Roland both sang, Smith was the lead vocalist on the majority of their better-known songs including “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Advice for the Young At Heart.” Curiously he didn’t sing lead on “Head Over Heels”, which was one of the few songs he got co-writing credit for. Generally, writing was Orzabel’s task, Smith sang and played bass and added keyboards when needed (which in the early days was infrequent as even though normally considered a duo, and photographed that way, keyboardist Ian Stanley was a member through the ’80s.)

A combination of diminished sales for the third album, The Seeds of Love, differing opinions as to the group’s direction and personality conflicts led them to part ways in 1990 (generally being referred to as “breaking up” although Orzabel technically retained the band name and suggested Smith quit) . They’d briefly reunite around the decade’s end, put out a new record in 2004 and tour sporadically for a number of years after, but Smith says they avoided “80s All Over Again” style tours with other artists of the same “genre” because “we don’t consider ourselves from a (specific) decade.” He added “I can’t put my heart into it…unless we have something fresh to say, do or play.”

So, along the way he married for a second time (his first marriage during the band’s heyday didn’t last long) , moved to the States, had two daughters and became primarily a “stay at home dad.” He said he recalled hearing a teacher asked students what their parents did and his daughter replied “mommy goes to work in an office and daddy goes to the gym.” So low-profile was he in fact, that he once went to a karaoke bar in Vancouver, while filming a show, and sang “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”… “and no one paid a blind bit of attention! They didn’t realize it was me.” Not that he did nothing; he has put out four solo albums, tried his hand at a little acting (having a semi-regular role in the cable show Pscyh) and in 2010, being a bit ahead of his time, started a series of online shows from his home, where he’d invite artists who’d play “unplugged” style acoustic versions of their songs and answer questions in between, all while being streamed in real time.

Of course, now Smith has something fresh to say. He and Orzabel patched things up recently (Orzabel says his own second wife has shown him how to be “polite and kind and not hostile all the time”) and they put out a new album, The Tipping Point, this spring. They’ll be celebrating his day tonight with a concert at the PNC Bank Center in New Jersey and a show in Wantagh, NY tomorrow before heading over to tour the UK in July.

16 thoughts on “June 24 – Smith’s Day Something To ‘Shout’ About

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    First of all…love the Elvis Should Play Ska song! Sounds like Smith has it worked out…doing exacty what he wants to do. The story of him doing the karoke is priceless. If the people only knew who was there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is funny. I’d love that anonymity (I think) if I was a famous musician but it would rile up quite a few! Would’ve also been funny had someone in the bar said something like “you’re pretty good dude…mind you, you’re no Tears for Fears…” All in all he seems pretty content with life though, which is good. He and one of his daughters (who’s around 20) did an acoustic version of ‘Mad World’ together at home during the pandemic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        I think people like him have it made. If you wanted that kind of fame I guess you could let it be known more who you were…so the guy is probably living how he wanted.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My brother was a big fan of their successful era. I liked them, but not overly so, though they were a notch above a lot of acts of their time.
    He sounds a good sharp guy- but yeah, how humbling to Karaoke and nobody saying ‘ooh, he sounds pretty damn good, don’t he?’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? Two alternate even funnier endings – 1) someone tells him ‘you’re good, bro…but of course, you’re not Tears for Fears good’ or 2) he does some other song next, like ‘Sussudio’ and someone tells him, ‘oh yeah! You nailed that one!’. I still think their first two albums were outstanding and among best of decade…’Seeds of Love’ had some good material but was only so-so as an overall album to me. They might have been smart in the long run to avoid the ’80s again ‘ traveling festivals of so many “one hit wonders”. They are good for fans and keep bands like Berlin and Men Without Hats busy, but likely diminish their ability to be noticed or taken seriously if they come up with anything new.

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  3. PNC Bank Arts Center? No kidding – that’s about 30 minutes from my house! Great outdoor venue where I hope to see Steely Dan next Thursday – knock on wood!

    As to Tears For Fears, I have to say I still like a number of their songs. I had completely forgotten Smith and Orzbel made another album, which is sad since I covered one of the tracks at the time it came out!

    “Shout” was a huge party song in high school. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my favorite Tears For Fears songs is the Beatle-esque “Sowing the Seeds of Love”!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. sounds like a good place to see Steely Dan! Outdoor venues like that are nice at tis time of year. Their first two albums still rank high on my list for the decade…”Sowing the seeds of Love” is a good song too, like you say but the album itself was kind of middling to me. I like the ‘Tipping Point’ single, I heard the entire album and it was one I’d say was less than the sum of the parts. Almost all of the songs were pretty good, but listened to in one fell swoop I found it soon made sort of a “sameness” to the album where after awhile it seemed like it was all a bit too unfied sounding. But was glad they did it and are performing again

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Back in Toronto, one like that opened up around ’98, the Molson Ampitheatre… quite nice, on the lakeshore, has semi-circular seating around the stage, seating maybe 3000 but then lawn sloping up from it with capacity for maybe 15 000 more. Replaced CNE Stadium basically which was a rather austere football field nearby with typical grandstands that held around 28 000 in concerts.

        Liked by 1 person

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