(Credit: Far Out / Press)
When thinking about the music of the 1980s, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the neon-coloured fashions of the day. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like the entire decade was spent most of its time in Candyland, with every genre from hair metal to pop having a signature gloss around it. Even though there was a lot of magic to gain from the sound of synthesisers, Tears For Fears’ Curt Smith had something else in mind when making his masterpieces.
Across albums like The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair, many of Smith’s songs catered to the darker side of life, taking the group’s name from the primal therapy used by therapist Arthur Janov in the 1960s. Although the songs may have dealt with complex subjects, the music was too catchy to resist, landing tremendous songs on the charts like ‘Mad World’ and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’.
While artists like Noel Gallagher would consider Tears for Fears the 1980s answer to The Beatles, Smith was also indebted to the albums that came before him. When talking about his favourite records, he remembers becoming awestruck when listening to Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare.
Framed as a dark concept album, Smith admitted to taking a few tricks from Cooper’s playbook, telling SPIN, “Welcome to My Nightmare was the first album I bought and got into. Actually, even looking back on it now, I think a precursor to ‘Woman in Chains’, which was ‘Only Women Bleed’ from Welcome to My Nightmare, which is a genius song”.
There was always an art rock slant to Smith’s writing, and that came from artists like Peter Gabriel, whom he considered one of the foundations for his music. When talking about Gabriel’s third outing, nicknamed Scratch, Smith remembered it being the first album he consciously listened to, marvelling at the production values in tracks like ‘Games Without Frontiers’.
Outside of the traditional rock realm, Smith waxed poetic about bands like The Blue Nile, whose album A Walk Across the Rooftops he heralded for its lyrical content. Compared to the usual love songs of the time, Smith resonated with songs like ‘Stay’, whose loving plea for the singer’s lover to understand them resonated much more than the usual “I love you” love song formula.
Even after making his first steps into the music world, Smith still listened to new music, becoming particularly inspired by the band Prefab Sprout. When discussing the band’s power onstage, Smith likened them to music legends Steely Dan, explaining, “They were more in line with Steely Dan than anything pop, even though they were trying to be pop, just chord-wise and musical transitions, it was always stuff that was like ‘Really, they went there?’”.
As recently as the 2010s, Smith was still looking at what the new school of artists was doing, loving the journey that The 1975 was able to take their listeners on throughout their 2018 album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Then again, Smith’s favourite albums were never about making songs that were necessarily the catchiest. It was about making a sonic statement that would remain relevant far after the artist is gone.
Curt Smith’s five favourite albums:
- Welcome to My Nightmare – Alice Cooper
- Scratch – Peter Gabriel
- A Walk Across the Rooftops – The Blue Nile
- Swoon – Prefab Sprout
- A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975