Part 2: Dad’s Actual Favorite Song
It’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. It’s not even close. It’s a perfect song. Here it is:
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a song by Tears for Fears off of their 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair. It opens with some piano-synth that I’ve heard referred to as “twinkly.” The opening lines lay out the stakes:
Welcome to your life, there’s no turning back. Even while we sleep, we will find you – acting on your best behavior…
It’s an oppressive world out there, and you’re here to do what you’re told. But wait, there’s a way out! Here comes the triumphant first bridge with lyrics about holding close to someone you care about as the world crumbles around you. The following chorus is sing-songy without being cloying. A killer guitar solo follows. Later on, there’s a second bridge with lyrics criticizing the nature of the press/media (saaaayyyy that you’ll never ever ever ever need it/one headline, why believe it?) which singer Curt Smith belts out like he really fucking means it and you should feel it too. Eric Henderson from Slant Magazine stated that the song “seems like one of the great indictments of the materialism and false triumphalism of the decade.” It’s topical without offering specifics. It’s propulsive. It’s timeless (and timely). It has two guitar solos.
So it’s a great song! But that’s not why EWTRTW is my favorite song. Here are some other songs that are in the running for my favorite song of all time:
There aren’t any.
You may be wondering: “Has Matt heard any other songs besides ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears and other assorted Dad Rock? Maybe he just doesn’t know any other songs.” And that would be a valid point, and also, odd! To follow up on your concern: sure, I’ve heard lots of other songs. I like a lot of music. That’s why I added a page to discuss music on this here website. I’m fairly omnivorous in my taste. I like stuff as far back as the ’50s up until present-day. I continue to push into the corners of musical eras and genres to find the stuff I’ve missed, still trying to find one more great song. I’m just as likely to stumble upon Kate Bush or The Coup as I am a great B-side by Sister Sledge or killer track by Shit Robot.
I’ve been around, is what I’m saying.
My favorite song, of all of those songs, is “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. We have a history together.
I found “EWTRTW” while performing one of my favorite activities as a kid: sneaking around. My mom kept some cassette tapes in her bedroom, and one of them was Songs from the Big Chair. I was not supposed to be in mom’s room just snooping around when I was a kid, so by extension, I know that I found “EWTRTW” while sneaking. Because I definitely listened to every one of those cassettes.
My mom also had Achtung Baby by U2, but I don’t remember getting into that until a little bit later, probably because I was too busy listening to “Shout” and MY FAVORITE SONG OF ALL TIME on repeat. I was likely 8. Now you know a little bit about my low-water mark for scandal.
Anyway, there I am, getting away with stuff. And by “getting away with stuff,” I mean “listening to music”, but we all know how rebellions start. This was the beginning of something.
Some context is important here. I grew up on a healthy dose of the oldies. I use the term “healthy dose” liberally here; I have no idea what an “unhealthy dose” of the oldies is.
I grew up exclusively on the oldies.
For you kids out there, the “oldies” station used to play nothing past the year 1970 or so. Keep in mind that I was born in 1984, so if you wanted to really rock out, you had to switch to the local classic rock station for your favorite ’70s hits, or to contemporary rock for stuff like Van Halen. My mom and grandparents were into the oldies, so I got a lot of the Beatles, Frankie Valli, the Supremes, and the Jackson 5; old-school pop, rock, soul, doo wop, and surf music. My uncles listened to hair bands, but I knew they weren’t cool, because my grandfather said so. We were not a New Wave household. MTV existed, of course, but I was not allowed to watch it. Those cassettes in my mom’s room? She never listened to them. At least, not when I was around and had ears. Nope, oldies radio. Today we’re going to listen to oldies radio. In the car, oldies radio. At home, oldies radio. The only music that exists, besides hair bands and Phil Collins.
Anyway, back to the rebellion! So there I am, sneaking in my mom’s room, finding the devil’s tunes. Among the other cassettes by artists as varied as Air Supply and Barry Manilow is Songs from the Big Chair. I listen to it. I don’t yet know, but this is New Wave. There are synthesizers, there are huge choruses, there is the aforementioned twinkly intro. There are two guitar solos! It’s incredible. In my mind, no other music sounds like this, because in my experience, no other music has ever sounded like this. I’m discovering something, and it’s mine! Sure, it’s my moms, but she never listens to it, so it’s MINE!
I loved the shit out of that cassette. Eventually, I got caught listening to it. My mom didn’t even know that she owned it. I asked her how she got it, since she never listened to it, and didn’t realize she owned it. She said a friend gave it to her.
So it was mine after all! But it had to stay in mom’s room.
“Staying Up Late”
A few years later, I had officially reached hallowed ground. I’d reached that pivotal milestone that all young boys yearn for. I could “stay up late.” Not late like “until the adults go to bed.” Late like “you can even stay up past the adults, just get enough sleep.” I’m pretty sure my mom realized that I was awake all night reading anyway. Also, she had introduced me to Saturday Night Live and I thought it was just the best thing. I liked Weekend Update. We would watch the news every day, and I thought the idea of somebody reading the news of the week and then making fun of it was just the cleverest thing. I had, of course, never seen anything like it.
During my prime SNL-watching days, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon and Norm Macdonald were the hosts/anchors of Weekend Update. Dennis Miller went on to have his own show on HBO, titled Dennis Miller Live. The opening monologue of DML was essentially a replica of Weekend Update; Dennis would read the news and then comment on each topic, ending with his weekly “I don’t want to get off on a rant here…” and then he’d “rant” for a few minutes on one topic.
This post offers no opinion on whether Dennis Miller was funny in the early ’90s. I watched a couple of clips in preparation for writing this. He was… representative of his time. He’s certainly not funny now. Whether or not Dennis Miller was or is funny isn’t even the point, because I barely watched his show. I watched the opening credits of his show. Here they are:
Dennis Miller Live would become mandatory viewing for young Matt. Keep in mind that this was long before the days of streaming, so I had to be present and accounted for promptly when the program started, lest a I miss the most important part. I would stay up, watch the opening credits of Dennis Miller Live, make it as far as his opening monologue/rant, and then turn the program off. I had seen everything I needed to see. If you think you’re reading that wrong, you’re not. I loved “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” so much that, at ten years old, I would stay up and watch the opening credits of Dennis Miller Live just to hear 30 seconds of my favorite song. I would then change the channel or turn the television off.
Because the damn cassette was locked up in my mom’s room that late at night.
Please don’t engage in retroactive problem solving with me around this, it made perfect sense.
Another HBO standard? The movie Real Genius, featuring a precocious Val Kilmer, watched by me every time it came on, and culminating in this scene:
From those early days moving forward, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” just kept popping up. It became the soundtrack to my life. I made it the soundtrack to my life.
Around 12 years old: I get my first 3-cd player. You remember the kind, it had two tape decks on the bottom and you could record off the radio? That’s me, rushing across the room to record my favorite song for a mix tape. I’ve got you now, Mom! My own physical copy! Nestled in-between Howard Jones and English Beat! I rule!
High School: Why not throw on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” while building a massive Domino Rally track in my mom’s kitchen until 4am? She loves being woken up to the sound of my favorite song and me wildly cheering “It worked! It worked!”
You may have learned while reading this that my mom is a very patient person.
Post-College: I’m burning CD’s for a road trip to Bonnaroo. Why not throw on my favorite song? Tears for Fears aren’t playing at Bonnaroo, but what if we want to hear “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on the way there? I’ll be doing everybody a favor!
Still later: I get an iPhone and I’m making playlists. I have a hard time sequencing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” into any of them and I can’t figure out why. It’s my favorite, it should work anywhere! I come to the realization that it’s hard to put any other song on after your favorite song, because they all sound like trash in comparison. It makes me sad to love a song this much, because none of the other songs will play nice with it. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” makes an appearance on several incomplete playlists, just wishing it could be great on its own, but knowing deep down that a playlist with one song on repeat just can’t happen. Or can it?
Just kidding, I didn’t go that far.
It’s around this time that I realize that “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is, indeed, my favorite song of all time and I begin referring to it as such. The only playlist that it sits comfortably on is called “Greatest Hits”. I created the playlist for the girls, if they ever want to know what Dad’s favorite songs are. We’re going to listen to it someday. I’m assuming Oriana will remember the song. It is, after all, the first one I ever played for her, as we drove her home for the first time.
One last thing:
When Emma and I got married, we played “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” as the final song at our reception. Emma was able to come around to it, I think because I was so enthusiastic about it. There was a hold up because the line “nothing ever lasts forever” is sort of a downer for a wedding. We were able to come to the conclusion that it was ok; it could be interpreted as “it’s the end of the night, hope you had fun”. Really, I just wanted to hear my favorite song from a big speaker on the most joyous night of my life. And it happened!
I can’t sing for shit, but I scream-sang the entire thing that night, dancing around with Emma and everyone we loved. I tried to hit a note during the final bridge, missing it terribly. I saw someone look at me with a mixture of bemusement and maybe the thought “the groom is having a lot of fun, but he sure can’t sing.” It was the only time in my life that I didn’t feel self-conscious. I kept it moving and did the air guitar for the final solo. I killed it.