Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair was released in 1985 and spawned the hits Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels. A new-wave classic, the album is a masterclass of songwriting and production, and it has a more mature feel than many albums of their contemporaries.
Tears for Fears, a duo consisting of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, are primarily songwriters, rather than producers, and they switch roles frequently when collaborating. Around the time of Songs from the Big Chair they were joined by key member Ian Stanley who acted as the bands keyboardist. By this point the group owned an enviable collection of analog synthesizers:
“Their layered style of recording also made it easier to work from Stanley’s home studio, which the band had recently upgraded using advance money from the second album. Stanley’s newly expanded home studio included a 32-channel Soundcraft console, a 24-track analog tape machine and room for the band’s keyboard and synthesizer collection, which included such classic designs as Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, Roland Jupiter 8, Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and PPG Wave. They also had a LinnDrum LM-2, another recent acquisition.”
The album’s slick sound was a result of utilising at-the-time brand new technology, as well the duo’s perfectionism. Many of the synth tracks are used as a complement to the songwriting, sitting alongside live instruments to form an overall cohesive artpiece. In this article I’ll concentrate on their breakout track Shout, uncovering the many layers of sounds, many of which came from the CMI Fairlight sampler.
Shout went on to become one of the most recognisable songs from the mid-eighties and is also recognised as the group’s signature song. Featuring a repetitive chorus, power chords and an intense rock backing, the song was a no. 1 hit for 3 weeks.
“Orzabal played Hughes a chant he had written called “Shout.” They stopped everything else to focus solely on that number, which would become their second Number One and one of the most recognizable songs of the decade. They spent many, many months on that powerful anthem alone, making sure that each layer worked perfectly with the others.”
Shout opens with a machine-like percussion loop followed by the hook sung over an ominous sounding synth bass. This simple-yet-iconic bass sound comes from the groups Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, and uses the synths unison mode, which sets all the available voices to double and slightly detune the same note, creating a thick sound great for basses.
To create the patch in Arturia Prophet V, start with two detuned sawtooth waveforms. Darken the sound by decreasing the cutoff to the 700 Hz ,and raise the resonance to 1. To add the unison thickness, first activate the unison button in the top-right of the Prophet-V interface. The detune knob will control the amount that each voice is detuned from the original, here we’ll turn it to a nice high 50%, which is nice and thick without sounding out-of-tune.
The bass track also has some stereo width, which will have been added at the mixing stage, as the Prophet-5 only has a mono output. To recreate it, add a light chorus effect, and then a vintage-style stereo widening plugin such as SoundToys MicroShift to push the sound into the sides of the mix.
- Shout Prophet Bass 00:00
The main melodic synth hook from Shout is the Fairlight ARR 1 sound that you can hear in the pre-chorus. This is a unique, recognisable choir sound marked by it’s breathiness and low bit-rate quality; it was very popular and used by many 80s new wave artist such as Pet Shop Boys, OMD and Yazoo.
The sound comes from the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument), early sampling synthesizer that cost a staggering $30,000 when released. The Fairlight used small snippets of samples via the onboard computer, and combined with with classic synthesising elements allowed the user to make create realistic sounds. Kate Bush was another fan of the Fairlight, using one heavily on the Hounds of Love album.
Arturia CMI V is a digital recreation of the Fairlight, and as it uses the same samples as the original hardware, sounds indistinguishable from the real thing. CMI V loads with the ARR1 patch as its default preset, so you can throw the plugin on a track and start playing it immediately. The sound on Shout has some added stereo width, so I again used MicroShift to widen the sound.
- Shout Fairlight Choir 00:00
Another bass sound in Shout is the slap-bass guitar patch that’s introduced at the 0:59 mark. The Fairlight also comes with a variety of bass guitar samples, and was used by Tears for Fears to create the bass guitar track. The sample used is the ELEBASS1 sample, which is a very bright, open sounding bass guitar sample. Open the filter on the Fairlight all the way to let lots of the buzziness through.
The track has a slight machine-gun like effect, a result of the same sample being retriggered repeatedly. This is true to the original song, and was a consequence of the limited technology of the times. Interestingly, both Orzabal and Smith play bass guitar, so the decision to use the Fairlight to create the bass track seems like a vote in favour of the sampled sound.
- Shout Fairlight Bass 00:00
The strangest sound in the track is the ethnic-sounding melody that plays in the bridge at the 2:52 mark. This sound is another from the Fairlight, and utilises at least three different layered samples. Luckily, the Arturia plugin allows easy sample layering within one patch, allowing you to play the layered patch live. The samples are KOTOENSM, which adds the pitch-gliding ethnic flavour, SOPRSAX1, which adds some body to the thin koto sample, and HHCLOSE7, which adds some percussive character to the sound. Listen the individual sounds below, as well as the final layered version.
- Koto Ensemble 00:00
- Soprano Sax 00:00
- HH Closed 00:00
- Layered Patch 00:00
The slap-bass sound that plays behind the Fairlight solo at 3:11 originally comes from the group’s Yamaha DX7, in particular the 11-E.Piano 1 patch, which is a synthetic Rhodes sound popular in the 80s. To recreate the sound in Shout, I used the patch in Arturia DX7 V, boosting Mod Level to 12% and Mods Env RM to 20%, and played the basslines using octaves.
- Shout DX7 Bass 00:00
As with many of Tears For Fear tracks, drums and percussion are a big part of Shout. The main beat comes from the Drumulator, a sample drum machine similar to the LinnDrum, and Tears for Fears used the Rock Drums set for the Drumulator, which is based on samples of Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks. Shout’s percussion bell/triangle loop comes from an alternate LinnDrum sound set.
- Shout Beat 00:00
- Shout Bell/Triangle 00:00
- Shout Percussion 00:00
- Shout Full Drums 00:00
Check out the video below to hear all the patches in action. As far as I can hear, every synth track from the original has been covered, and nothing has been sampled from the original song. Some extra tracks are the organ solo, which I played on Arturia’s B3 plugin (using the Soul Sacrifice patch), the horn line towards the end of the song, which I used Native Instruments Symphony Essentials Brass Ensemble to recreate, and the sax falls, which also came from the CMI Fairlight.
Guitar was recorded on a Gibson Les Paul using the neck pickup for each part. I ued a Kemper Profiling amp using a Roland JC-120 model (Jazz Clean), and also used the Kemper’s Green Scream effect for the solo, which emulates an Ibanez Tubescreamer.