#221: Break It Down Again by Tears For Fears
Raoul Jaime Orzabal de la Quintana was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1961. His parents legally changed his first name to Roland Orzabal within a few weeks of his birth. His father had a nervous breakdown early in Roland’s childhood. Later, his father ran an entertainment business, with his mother a dancer in the troupe. Orzabal met Curt Smith when they were in their teens, and both living in Smith’s birthplace of Bath, England. Smith learned to play guitar in his teens. In 1979 Orzabal and Smith became part of a new wave band called Neon. They released a couple of records and were session musicians for recordings by new wave band Naked Eyes. Smith and Orzabal were also part of a new wave band called Graduate who had a Top Ten hit in Spain in 1980 titled “Elvis Should Play Ska”. A grueling tour of Germany temporarily caused the duo to question the viability of a life as pop stars.
In 1981 Orzabal and Smith formed History of Headaches, which they soon renamed Tears for Fears. They invited Manny Elias to be the band’s drummer. Elias was born in Calcutta in 1953, and had been introduced to Orzabal and Smith while part of Neon. A fourth member of the band was Ian Stanley. He was born in High Wycombe, about 30 miles northwest of London. Stanley contributed synthesizers, drum machines, organ, pianos and backing vocals on the bands’ recordings.
The name, Tears for Fears, was inspired by Primal therapy, a treatment for mental illness created by psychologist Arthur Janov. Tears for Fears released an album titled The Hurting. The debut single, “Suffer The Children” was non-charting. However, the second single release, “Pale Shelter”, was a hit in Canada. In June 1983 it peaked at #3 on Montreals’ Top 40 station CKOI, cracked the Top 20 on CHUM-AM in Toronto, made the Top 30 in Vancouver (BC).
Two other single releases in 1983 got regional chart action in Canada. “Mad World” charted into the Top Five in Toronto in October 1982. “Change” was at #2 on the Alternative chart in Montreal in March 1983, and it climbed into the Top Ten on AM Top 40 radio in June ’83 in both Montreal, Toronto, and later in August ’83 in Halifax (NS).
In late 1984 Tears for Fears released a single titled “Shout”. While some music critics thought this was about Primal therapy, Roland Orzabal remarked “It is actually more concerned with political protest. It came out in 1984 when a lot of people were still worried about the aftermath of The Cold War and it was basically an encouragement to protest.” Curt Smith said of the song, “It concerns protest inasmuch as it encourages people not to do things without actually questioning them. People act without thinking because that’s just the way things go in society. So it’s a general song, about the way the public accepts any old grief which is thrown at them.” “Shout” climbed to #1 in over ten countries internationally, stalling for three weeks at #2 in Vancouver (BC) – kept out of the number-one spot variously by Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Northern Lights “Tears Are Not Enough”.
The bands’ next single, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, climbed to #1 for three weeks in Vancouver in May-June ’85. Internationally, the single made the Top Ten in over ten nations. The Economist referred to the song as a Cold War anthem and noted its timeless message, stating that “the song’s lyrics speak to the anxieties of every age.”
A third single release was “Head Over Heels”, with the music video filmed at the Emmanuel College Library in Toronto. The single peaked in Vancouver at #4, outpacing the national Canadian peak at #8 on the RPM Singles Top 100. While “Head Over Heels” was in the Top Ten in Vancouver, Tears for Fears gave a concert at the Pacific Coliseum on August 31, 1985.
All three of these Top Ten hits in 1985 for Tears for Fears were from it’s multi-million selling album Songs from the Big Chair. In 1986 Manny Elias left Tears for Fears and in 1987 Ian Stanley also departed.
In 1989 Tears for Fears released their third studio album, The Seeds of Love. The title track, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” was a #3 hit in Vancouver in October ’89, and number-one across Canada. The second single release from the album was “Woman In Chains”.
In 1991 tensions between Orzabal and Smith resulted in Curt Smith leaving the band. Roland Orzabal gathered some new musicians around him and returned to the recording studio. In July 1993, Tears For Fears had one last Top Ten hit in Vancouver titled “Break It Down Again”, which peaked at #4.
“Break It Down Again” is a track from their fourth studio album Elemental. The lyrics in the song advise listeners that to get through life, through every day, through every moment – especially when life may seem overwhelming and suffocating and paralyzing – you need to be able to distinguish the things that are going on in your life. You need to identify what is working, what the challenges are, and what isn’t working for you. In addition, you need to pay attention to what your goals are and what you want to achieve. In order to do this effectively, you need to break down your dreams, your plans, take time to describe them. And you need to describe what is supporting your life at present that can help you achieve your dreams. As well, you need to take an inventory of what your real problems are, and how they are obstacles to your life’s purpose. And you must take note of the problems you imagine that are only ‘real’ in your head [your mind]. Noticing what your fears are, and observing them with detachment can help gain perspective on how to proceed.
The subject of the song has been “hiding from the light,” and “sitting on a time bomb.” They need someone else to show them their “inner song.” Being able to break down and identify what you are meant to do, actualize what you alone can contribute to the world in your one life is essential for happiness. Without knowing your “inner song,” you could go through life singing someone else’s song, not your own.
The lyrics testify that there is a world of love. But alongside of this love is a world where rain is falling and “waste seeping underground.” In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo wrote “The sewer is the conscience of the city.” The cholera epidemic of 1832 in Paris was widely blamed on water fouled by sewage. Prior to the 20th Century, a gentlemen escorting a lady along the European city road was supposed to walk on the street side. It was the custom to allow the lady to walk closer to the buildings. This way she was more apt to be sheltered by balconies and overhangs, and less likely to be splashed by chamber pots emptied from second-story windows.
In “Break It Down Again”, there are basic things we need to take care of – metaphorically, the underground sewage in our lives – and discard it, dispose of it in a way that ensures we don’t become ill (mentally, emotionally, physically…).
Instead of “hiding from the light,” the narrator of the song invites you to go “fast off to heaven just like Moses on a motorbike.” Up in the heavens, closer to the light, the sun, the divine light… And “Moses on a motorbike?” Why not give an ancient Hebrew patriarch a new image for us to meditate upon. Instead of walking down Mt. Sinai with two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, picture the one who led the Hebrew people out of slavery from Egypt riding a motorcycle up to the heavens. Who knows, perhaps by now Moses has a Bluetooth in heaven to listen to his favorite tunes.
“Break It Down Again” peaked at #4 in Vancouver (BC), and #7 in Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Diego. The single climbed to #7 in Italy, but was less successful elsewhere.
Tears For Fears returned to perform in concert in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on November 2, 1993.
In 1995 the band released the album Raoul and the Kings of Spain. The album featured a duet with Roland Orzabal and Oleta Adams. In 2000 Orzabal and Smith buried the hatchet and returned to the recording studio. After three years they released in 2004 the album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. And in 2004, Oleta Adams reunited with Tears for Fears when she made a surprise guest appearance onstage at their Kansas City concert, performing “Woman in Chains”.
Tears For Fears have continued to tour for most of the past two decades. They plan to release another studio album in 2021.
December 22, 2021
Aidan Vaziri, “Pop Quiz: Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears,” SFGate, September 19, 2004.
Joseph Pryweller, “Music: New Model Tears Hits The Road,” Daily Press, Newport News, VA, February 13, 1990.
Len Comaratta, “Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith: Back in the Big Chair,” Consequence of Sound, November 5, 2014.
Marc C. Horn, “Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith on Finding Creative Balance,” Phoenix New Times, Phoenix, AZ, July 17, 2017.
Lynn Norment, “Moving on and Up with Oleta Adams: With New Husband and Renewed Religious Faith, Soulful Singer Scores with New Album,” Ebony, August 1996.
J. Hoyt, “The Conscience Of The City: Victor Hugo’s Vision of Sewage, Sanitation, and the Social Order in Paris,” NewHistorian.com, November 28, 2018.
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