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Examining the Absurd Brilliance of Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels"

It's unlikely you'll ever get a girl with the line: "I wanted to be with you alone / And talk about the weather…”
January 29, 2015, 3:15pm

Note the jaunty framing throughout.

A friend of mine recently told me he was just starting to get into Tears for Fears and was I fan? I was shocked. Back in the day, on my daily commute to school from SF to Marin County, my bus driver had his favorite easy listening power ballad station on lock, so for me, Tears for Fears are the soundtrack of my pre-pre-pubescent crush on a boy called Bryn who used to let me zip down the hills sitting on his skateboard. Am I fan of Tears for Fears? Did I never actually kiss Bryn but did a classmate called Molly tell teachers she saw us having sex under the jungle gym during recess? The answer to these questions is yes.


But anyway, back to my friend not being familiar with Tears for Fears. OK, he’s 29, so in the 80s he barely existed, but if you saw Donnie Darko then—hello!—that was your moment to retrospectively embrace the mulleted quartet. The pairing of “Head Over Heels” with Donnie getting off the bus and walking through the halls, observing every clichéd high school clique, character, and trope as he makes his way to class, is one of cinema’s finest pairings of song and scene. In fact writer/director Richard Kelly wrote the scene with this very song in mind. It's also impossible to forget that unfortunate bastardized version of “Mad World” by Gary Jules that became a Christmas number one (in the UK, Canada, and Portugal) back in 2003, lingering around the charts for weeks like a stale dog fart. But let’s not focus on that. Thanks to my friend's recent TFF exploration, I decided to have a little re-watch of the proper “Head Over Heels” video. Viewing this now I’m not sure I actually ever saw it in the first place. I think I just re-watched that Donnie Darko scene again and again, because, vintage Gyllenhaal, among other things. Thus today, with fresh eyes I gazed upon this 80s classic and these are some of the things that occurred to me while watching it.

The premise for this promo appears to be that Roland Orzabal is in love with the spectacled, stern-faced, but clearly quite hot librarian. You’d think she’s be down to love him because he’s big into reading, but she’s having none of it. I love that he just walks in, dumps the books on the front desk, and starts aggressively singing at her.

This guy has zero game. His opening line is: “I wanted to be with you alone / And talk about the weather,” which is in no way an appealing proposition. It’s not like, “Oh I wanted to be with you by myself so we could gaze at constellations and maybe I could touch your inner thigh.” No. He wants to talk about the weather. Tears for Fears are from Bath, England. I’ve been there several times and can say with some authority that while the architecture is beautiful, the weather is most often grey and drizzly, so already this pick up line is a disaster. Come on Roland Orzabal (say it in full, say it again!), time to step it up.


Still you can tell he’s genuinely really into her by the way his eyes can't meet her gaze and the dejected manner in which he slopes away.

The best thing about 80s music videos is that they’re almost entirely nonsensical. It was a new medium! MTV was a revolution! Record labels were splashing cash! Fans were buying records! Everyone was taking too much cocaine! Just ask director Nigel Dick. He went on to helm videos for Guns N Roses, Oasis, Backstreet Boys, and OMG, many Britney classics including “Baby One More Time.” I have to track this guy down. But back to this TFF video: when Ian Stanley rocked up to the library front desk it made total narrative sense for an enormous keyboard to slide into view. A keyboard which he pretended to play with all the skill of Keyboard Cat, because he knew the most important thing was keeping your eyes on the prize—staring down your prey, eyes glazed like a stoner when he spies a pack of Cheetos in the corner of the kitchen. Not since Kurt gave the game away by simply refusing to play the guitar on Top of the Pops back in 1991 have I seen a musician mock his craft so flagrantly. Sweet leather jacket BTW.

But Roland Orzabal is not giving up. When buttoned up librarian moves a tome from the shelves, whose head should pop up in the gap on the other side? You guessed it! Then in the next scene, he’s right beside her, singing in her face again. Roland Orzabal’s getting a leetle creepy right about now, but we all know it's better to have tried really hard than to have never tried at all. Pretty sure Lord Tennyson came up with that maxim.

Side note III: Key to any 80s video—absurdist touches like a random man in a gas mask and / or a chimp. Or drummer Manny Elias working a Hasidic vibe. Sure! Why not.

Can we take a moment to appreciate co-vocalist and bassist Curt Smith. Remember that British band Hurts? Theo Hutchcraft totally bit Smith’s style. Curt, you’re the original, bb. We recognize.

Do you suppose people felt emotions much more deeply in the 80s? I think there might be some truth to that. People can be so aloof these days because they’re cursed with FOMO and hand-in-hand with that is the pressing paranoia that if you confess your feelings for one person and jump all in, you might close yourself off from someone “better” and miss that damn boat. Pre-Tinder and pre-internet, people selected partners with at least a modicum of conviction.

Here we have a man in sensible knitwear singing about falling head over heels, begging you not to take his heart, not break his heart, not to throw, throw, throw it away. We can tell that Roland Orzabal really means it because he appears to not care what he looks like when proclaiming his feelings. Thanks to too many mirrors and too much time selfie-ing everyone and their pet rat knows about angles. Kids probably pop out of the womb with their chin dropped, eyes wide, looking coyly upwards, ready for their close up. Roland Orzabal knows nothing of this pose. He is all-earnest. He is letting that camera shoot him up the nose. He is doing that chicken head cluck as he delivers each line. He is 100 percent gesticulating the lyrics (“four leaf clover,” “one open mind”). These are deeply uncool moves. But love isn’t about being cool—it’s about being vulnerable. Clearly.

Does Roland Orazabal get the girl in the end? Well, what do you think? Ultimately, it always pays to be a nerd. I can only conclude by saying it’s never too late to get into Tears for Fears. Perhaps a Tears for Fears newbie who’s never delved into their back catalogue will embrace the sparkly, drive-time goodness of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” or the pleading beauty of “Pale Shelter” (note that punk-funk bassline), and yes, the new wave-y, window-stroking angst of the original “Mad World,” and that newbie will understand a little bit more about love and life and feelings.

If you really want to do yourself a favor, start with their debut album, The Hurting, and read this extensive interview we did with the frontmen last year.

Kim Taylor Bennett is going to spend the next 13 hours listening to Tears for Fears. She'll be live tweeting the experience on Twitter, obviously. (This is a lie. Obviously.)