Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” Synth Remake

Everybody Wants to Rule the World was the third single released from Tears for Fears acclaimed second album, Songs From the Big Chair, and it immediately propelled them to success, especially in the wave of British synths bands popular in the US. Originally titled Everybody Wants to Go To War, the song is built around a bouncy 12/8 shuffle feel – a far cry from the moody sound of their debut album, but still retaining the bands signature sounds of guitars, synths and robotic drum machines.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World was the last song to be recorded for the album and was put together in less than two weeks, much shorter than other tracks on the album. The track helped Songs From the Big Chair became an 80s milestone, and one that has aged considerably well, with songs being used in Donnie Darko, Ready Player One and The Hunger Games.

Tears for Fears were keen explorers of the fledgling technology of the era, including the Fairlight CMI as a sampler and sequencer, drum machines such as the LinnDrum, Drumulator and Oberheim DMX, and the brand new Yamaha DX7, released a year prior to recording. Many of the sounds in Everybody Wants to Rule the World are layered sounds, a recording technique made easier with the introduction of MIDI sequencing.

For this article I’ve put together a remake of Everybody Wants to Rule the World using software emulations of all the synths used in the original song. I’ve previously covered Tears for Fears with a remake of Shout, which can be read here. Most of the synth sounds in my Everybody Wants to Rule the World remake were made with the Arturia Collection plugins Prophet V, DX7 V and CMI V. Another suitable DX7 emulation plugin is Dexed, which as well as being free, can open DX7 factory sounds.

Before discussing each individual sound, here’s my full remake:

Prophet T-8 Chords

Everybody Wants to Rule the World’s iconic two-chord motif was recorded on a Sequential Prophet T-8 playing a patch that sounds like a rough approximation of a guitar. The Prophet T-8 is a successor to the more famous Prophet-5, boasting full 8-voice polyphony, weighted keys, velocity, aftertouch, split and layer modes and MIDI. The modulation worked slightly different too, as Orzabal says in an interview with One Two Testing in 1984:

“The Prophet T8’s even better than the Five, I think it’s my favourite analogue synth. I like the piano-weighted keyboard — in fact everything I found wrong with the Prophet-5, like the fact that you had to use the modulation wheel for any modulation, seems to be put right on the T8. You’ve got in-built modulation, touch sensitivity, and I really like the Poly Mod.” – Roland Orzabal

I recreated the main Everybody Wants to Rule the World synth part using Arturia Prophet V, a software emulation of the T-8’s younger sibling. The patch gets the distinct guitar character from two detuned pulse waves, done in Prophet V by setting Oscillator A & B’s PW knobs to 0.30 and 0.78. Set the filter frequency to 83 Hz with no keyboard tracking and the envelope modulation knob almost at maximum. Then, set the filter decay to a long 3.5 seconds with sustain set to 0.32. Turn on Prophet V’s onboard chorus with all three knobs at 12 o’clock and the chorus type set to 3. Here’s what that sounds like:

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  • Prophet Keys 00:00

DX7 Piano

The Prophet T-8 chord patch is layered with Yamaha DX keys, or rather two keys patches layered together. It seems like the band double-tracked a Yamaha DX7 for the patches in Everybody Wants to Rule the World, but it is also possible that they used a Yamaha DX1 instead, which is essentially two Yamaha DX7 chips in one keyboard (with wooden side panels!), which the band did own at some point.

The DX7 had only been out for less than a year when Songs from the Big Chair was recorded, and the band only used presets on the notoriously difficult to program synth. For the layered chord patch, they used the factory presets ROM1A 08-PIANO 1 and ROM1B 01-PIANO 4. Here’s what they sound like individually, and then layered together:

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  • DX7 Piano 1 00:00
  • DX7 Piano 4 00:00
  • DX7 Pianos Layered 00:00
  • DX7 & Prophet Keys Layered 00:00

Bass Sound

In the November 85 Issue of Keyboard Magazine, Ian Stanley said the bass synth sound on Songs from the Big Chair came from a “MIDIed PPG bassline mixed with a DX7”. The DX7 preset used is the ROM1B 32-BASS 4 sound, and the PPG Wave sound is a modified version of the 013 A preset, tweaked with lowered Osc Wave setting and reduced filter envelope depth. For the remake, I used Waldorf’s PPG Wave 3 VST plugin. Here’s what both bass layers sound like individually and layered:

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  • Bass DX7 00:00
  • Bass PPG Wave 00:00
  • Bass Layered 00:00

Emulator Choir

The choir sound that plays the long note during the intro, as well as the melody during the bridge, came from the group’s Fairlight CMI, a sampler & workstation that was used extensively on Songs From The Big Chair, such as several of the layers on ShoutThe Fairlight patch in Everybody Wants to Rule the World uses two samples, OOHH1 and CHOIR6. The former is a mellow sound and the latter has more high-end, so they blend nicely. Detuning the CHOIR6 sample helps add more thickness and natural chorus to the sound. I used Arturia CMI V for the remake, here’s what it sounds like:

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  • Fairlight OOHH1 Sample 00:00
  • Fairlight CHOIR6 Sample 00:00
  • Layered Choir Patch 00:00

DX7 Extras

There are a few more DX7 patches used in Everybody Wants to Rule the World. The 5-note lick that opens the song is the the factory presets ROM1B 23-GUITAR 3 and ROM2A 23-VIBE 2 layered together. The 3-note arpeggio played by the guitar during the intro is also doubled by yet another Yamaha DX7 sound, this time the ROM1B 04-E-PIANO 3 patch.

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  • DX7 Opening Lick 00:00
  • DX7 E-Piano 3 00:00

Drums

The drum sounds in Everybody Wants to Rule the World come from a variety of sources. Tears for Fears were users of the new Fairlight and Emulator samplers as well as the sample-based drum machines that were new on the market in the early 80s. For Songs from the Big Chair, the band were using a LinnDrum, an Drumulator, an Oberheim DMX as well as their trusty Fairlight  for drum sounds.
 
The MixOnline article says that the Everybody Wants to Rule the World kick drum sound came from the Fairlight; however I couldn’t find any factory Fairlight samples that matched the kick sound in the song. The songs credits include Ian Stanley, Manny Elias and producer Chris Hughes all credited with Oberheim DMX, so I’m guessing the DMX was sampled on the Fairlight and sequenced back on that. For this remake I layered a DMX kick with a LinnDrum kick, which closely matched the sound on the original track.
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  • Oberheim DMX Kick 00:00
  • LinnDrum Kick 00:00
  • Layered Kick 00:00

The hi-hat and shaker sounds are classic LinnDrum sounds. The song has a bouncy 12/8 triplet feel with the shaker playing steady triplet 1/8th notes and the hi-hats playing a syncopated pattern, which together create a cross-rhythm. The hi-hats rhythm sounds weird in isolation, but complements the rest of the beat. The groove was actually inspired by Simple Mind’s Waterfront and Linx’s Throw Away the Key.

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  • LinnDrum Hi Hats 00:00
  • LinnDrum Shaker 00:00
  • LinnDrum Hat + Shaker 00:00

The MixOnline article states that the snare in Everybody Wants to Rule the World is the snare from Shout pitched up. To my ears, they sound like different snares; the snare on Everybody Wants to Rule the World sounds more like a classic 80s gated snare drum, as opposed to the crunchy Drumulator sample heard on Shout. For the remake I used a snare sample from Zenhiser’s “Classic 80’s Snares” sample pack. Here’s the full beat:

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  • Full Drum Beat 00:00

Guitar & Production

The guitar sounds in Everybody Wants to Rule the World sound like they used a Roland JC-120 amplifier for recording. The JC-120 is a solid state amp with a very clean sound, and I also double-tracked most of the guitar parts, panning the recordings hard left and right. 

There’s a lot of chorus-y stereo-widening in the production, particularly on the synths, and I used a combination of iZotope’s free Ozone Imager 2, Soundtoys Microshift and my Roland Dimension-D to add chorus and widen the sounds. Arturia have also recently released a software version of the Dimension-D as part of their software effects lineup.

Further Reading

Below is a complete list of all the interviews and articles I referenced throughout this article:

  • Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair | BBC Classic Albums documentary with interviews & clips of the original mixes.
  • Keyboard Magazine, November 1985 | Interview with Ian Stanley on the keyboards and technology used on Songs from the Big Chair.
  • Music Technology, June 1990 | They discuss using the Fairlight CMI in the recording process a lot in this interview.
  • One Two Testing, October 1984. | Great interview talking about the Prophet T-8, the Fairlight CMI and alternate LinnDrum chips.
  • MixOnline, January 2007 | Recent article with lots of info on recording gear used & the recording process.
  • Modern Drummer, March 1986 | Interview with TFF drummer Manny Elias on some of the grooves, rhythms and drum machine patterns on Songs from the Big Chair.

Download

Thanks for reading! The Arturia Prophet V and CMI V patches used for the remake are available to download below.

If you want to dig further into the Everybody Wants to Rule the World remake, check out my Patreon page, where supporters can download the Ableton Projects, MIDI files and multitrack stems for the remake. Supporters also get early access to these remakes – this Tears for Fears remake was made available (albeit with no guitars recorded) in June.

5 thoughts on “Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” Synth Remake”

  1. Wow great research! Thank you! For the longest time I thought this song weighed heavily In the PPG camp, did not know they were relying on the Fairlight so much!
    But this makes sense to me as 1983-1984 was awash with a ton of new synth technology coming out every 6 months. So basically they used everything they could get their hands on except an Oberheim Xpander!

    Also as a drummer who is currently doing a deep dive into TFF drum parts, EWTRTW is deceptively difficult to play on acoustic drums – as the bass drum mimics the bass-line and the 16th note HH pattern is sequencer tight but the feel is elastic. Until your article I thought Manny Elias played acoustic drums on top of drum machines. But i can hear it now. There are some things in the drum part a drummer wouldn’t do. One give away is toward the end with a random cymbal crash with no bass drum behind it. Drummers tend to punch crashes up a bit with bass drum behind it. To be all machines though the song really grooves!

    Anyway great job!

  2. Jean-Sebastien Cote

    Beautiful job!! Really good!
    I was inspired to do my take on Shout after reading your previous article; life got in the way, so I never finished it, but I’ll let you know when I’m done so we can compare!
    Take good care!

  3. Wow! That was a lot of work even before the video work started, and I’m still trying to figure out how you get the keys to animate themselves in synchronization with the audio.

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