Ah yes, I almost missed the 1960s. I was born in 1968 so I managed to experience two years of the heady days of psychedelic experimentation that founded the basis of so much modern music. Except, of course, that I have zero memories coz I was only a baby. Growing up in the 70s, I was continually reminded how great the 60s were supposed to be as they continued to play the likes of The Beatles on a daily basis on Radio 1, along with the newest music. The 60s were all conquering and all consuming. It took the punk generation of the late 70s to kick The Beatles out of play at least for a little while.
Tears For Fears were at the vanguard of early 80s synth-pop, releasing their first single in 1982, creating music that had a surface sheen that matched the likes of OMD, Yazoo, Depeche Mode etc but also had a slightly pseudo intellectual undercurrent. Their debut album, called “The Hurting”, was heavily influenced by the theories of Arthur Janov who had put together something called “primal therapy” in (yes, you guessed it) the 1960s. John Lennon had been his most famous patient in 1970. Just look through the song titles and you will get the flavour of the album: “Suffer The Children”, “Mad World”, “Change”. “Ideas As Opiates” is even named directly after a chapter from Janov’s book, “Prisoners Of Pain”.
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” is not synth music based around primal scream therapy. It is the sound of a band trying to create an 80s version of The Beatles.
It also has a lovely video:
Yes, it is a very trendy late 80s video that is similar to the semi-animated / computer-effects laden videos that were epitomised by the likes of Peter Gabriel’s ground-breaking “Sledgehammer” video onwards (think of the likes of “And She Was” by Talking Heads, Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble” or others that I can’t be bothered to list right now). As somebody who had been a Tears For Fears fan since the first time I heard the first single mix of “Suffer The Children”, this video worried me because the of the California tans and gleaming white teeth of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith – it just seemed to show a distance of travel that now seemed miles away from my everyday experience back in rain-soaked South Wales.
However, we are heading ourselves away from the basic premise here about the weird and perhaps unwanted influence of the 1960s upon the 1980s.
High time, we made a stand
And shook up the views of the common man
The love train rides from coast to coast
DJ’s the man we love the most
It is important to remember that the influence of the 1960s extended beyond cultural signals such as music. It affected almost every sphere of human experience, especially politics and the social contract between the vastly differing elements of society so we didn’t blow everything up in a short lived and ultimately futile revolution as had happened in other countries.
The late 1980s was the time when I “got” politics. I had grown up in the relative leafy suburbs of a new town in South Wales, but even that had not been safe from the radical neo-liberal open market economic ideals and social experimentation that had characterisation the 80s under Margaret Thatcher’s new brand of Conservatism. My dad had been unemployed for most of the 80s, having grown up to become a relatively unqualified painter and decorator suffering from the age of DIY that had expanded under the new wave of home ownership at the vanguard of Thatcherism. I became a dedicated and evangelical performing arts student, and I had become highly influenced by the theatrical theories and socialist politics of Bertolt Brecht. Unsurprising when you consider that I was one of the “have nots” in a society that was increasingly divided on economic rather than class lines. Socialism was in my blood – and I was growing up in a time when socialism was quickly becoming a much derided idea.
Whilst not exactly an evangelical socialist anthem, certainly not of the sort you might expect from the likes of Billy Bragg or maybe even Paul Weller (in his Red Wedge years), “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” does manage to capture a sense of discomfort, dislocation and anger at the transitions taking place in society resulting from the new focus on individualism (and individual wealth accumulation) at the expense of any sense of collectivism or societal connections that had been at the forefront of the socialist movement and the previous post-war social contract (as epitomised by the formation of the NHS).
Could you be, could you be squeaky clean and smash any hope of democracy
As the headline says you’re free to choose
There’s egg on your face and mud on your shoes
One of these days they’re gonna call it the blues yeah, yeah
Sowing the seeds of love, seeds of love, sowing the seeds
Sowing the seeds of love, seeds of love, sowing the seeds
At the start of the decade, 80s music was seeped in sense of the future primarily due to extensive use of cheap synthesizers that had flooded the market from Japan, which had enabled creative but not technically proficient keyboard players to put together endlessly imaginative pop songs. Watch any episode of Top Of The Pops from 1980 until the end of 1984 and you will see an endless list of talent that fits into that precise description: Eurythmics, Yazoo etc. The two keyboard playing of the likes of Rick Wakeman had been replaced by the two finger playing of early Depeche Mode.
However, you then hit 1985 and pop experiences the seismic shift of Live Aid. During the first half of the decade, music had been dominated by the forward thinking optimism of new blood and the old guard had almost been effectively swept away by a tide of skinny ties, sharp suits, floppy fringed haircuts, and lots of scrap material used creatively for whatever Boy George was going to be wearing this week. I don’t remember many great singles from the likes of The Rolling Stones during this time. McCartney was putting out the likes of “The Pipes of Peace” or “Ebony and Ivory” which don’t exactly rank as his greatest musical achievements across his lifetime. Yet, it was the likes of Jagger, McCartney, The Beach Boys, Bowie, Queen, and others who had been around for donkey’s bleeding years who certainly did the best out of the Live Aid experience (especially at the Philadelphia concert which seemed laden with bands that I’d never heard of – who the hell was Joan Baez or Teddy Pendergrass or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?).
The end result of this that music in the mid-80s took a turn towards the bland, although some might consider it a stretch to blame it entirely upon the shadow of Live Aid. Even Bowie’s mid 80s albums were generally bland commercial fair after the excellent pop-funk of “Let’s Dance”.
If I had been a listener of John Peel (yes, I don’t know either, except that I did go to sleep fairly early back then) then maybe I would have discovered a world of alternative wonders. However, I didn’t. So, as I despaired of the shite clogging up radio 1, I turned to my record library and started to work my way back into the 70s by listening to lots of early Bowie, Iggy and Roxy Music. So perhaps it was inevitable that I was priming myself for listening to new music that has perhaps what might be described as a “classic” (in other words 60s) feel to it.
Or maybe it was more simple than that? Maybe we were just surrounded by the culture of the 60s again?
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
Yes, thanks to that advert, my girlfriend became obsessed that I should be wearing boxer shorts and started buying me lots of slightly funny novelty patterned boxers to wear. It took me a long time to adjust coz I had never worn boxers before – I’d spend a comfortable and nicely supported lifetime in briefs thanks. Oh well, that’s fashion for you I suppose.
This fondness for the 60s found itself popping up in music all over the place. Lenny Kravitz would base his entire early career upon recreating the vibe of the 60s rock/blues thing. “Sowing The Seeds of Love” owes an obvious debt of gratitude to The Beatles – a far cry from the synth modernism of “Mad World” or even “Shout”. UK underground culture, whilst enjoying a new wave of wildly futuristic music in the form of Acid House and the entire warehouse party / rave culture, could not entirely resist this warmly nostalgic feeling as it found itself being christened as “The Second Summer Of Love” by the likes of the NME (desperate to create another youth movement after their peak years during the punk movement).
Indeed this 60s nostalgic vibe would find itself mixing with dance culture in unprecedented ways as we started to see a new wave of bands who were clearly influenced by both, such as The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays who both led a charge towards Madchester and the so-called baggy scene (as epitomised by the flared jeans and baggy hoodies that were favoured by the increasingly style free hordes who worshipped at the alter of baggy). This was a long slow burn that would eventually lead to the creation of an even more celebratory music and style culture (heavily influenced by the 1960s) that would dominate the UK scene in the mid-90s: Britpop.
Politician granny with your high ideals
Have you no idea how the majority feels?
So without love and a promised land
We’re fools to the rules of a government plan
Kick out the style, bring back the jam, yeah, yeah
Perhaps it was due to the cultural impact of Margaret Thatcher winning her third consecutive election victory but there was a feeling of something in the air – not that I expected the charge towards some kind of socialist utopia to be led by the likes of Tears For Fears. Yet the lyrics make a clear reference to the “politician granny” that was Margaret Thatcher, whilst also calling for Paul Weller to get his head of his Style Council noodling and to re-engage with society by re-forming The Jam.
Heady stuff this political protest music, eh?
Hey, try this rather nice orchestral version from some kind of Proms style concert somewhere out there:
Is it me or there a bit of a weird ending on that?
Ultimately, whilst “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” dabbles with righteous political anger, it is not quite on the same level as the Manic Street Preachers who were starting to make their presence felt on the indie punk scene. It isn’t even “Warriors Of The Wasteland” by well known political activists Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
What it is is actually a call to be nicer to each other – yes, it harks back to that 60s ideal of brotherly and sisterly love. Hey man – probably not a bad idea when you look around at the shit fest of a world that we find ourselves living in today.
Oops… I almost went all political then.
The impact of the prolonged process of making “The Seeds of Love” album doomed the partnerships between Orzabal and Smith, with Curt leaving after the management of the band had been declared bankrupt with allegations of financial mismanagement of band funds. Smith was also reported to have been frustrated with Orzabal’s fastidious approach to making the album, messing around with sounds to make them as authentic to the 60s feel of the track as possible, whilst Smith was living with the consequences of his first album breaking apart.
Orzabal retained the “Tears For Fears” name, and would go on to make several albums which didn’t exactly set the world alight either commercially or critically.
However, Orzabal and Smith reunited their relationship in 2000, with the result that they released a new album in 2005 called “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending”. Did they decide to return to the early heavily synthesised sound of their debut, “The Hurting”? No. Did they decided to return to big stadium synth rock sound of mega selling opus “Songs From The Big Chair”? No.
Have a listen to first single from the album, “Closest Thing To Heaven”:
It seems like the 1960s still rules.