Song of the Day: Mad World by Tears for Fears (Michael Andrews & Gary Jules version)

RED by KeithEric

“Mad World” is a song by the British band Tears for Fears.


All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
‘Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
‘Cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad world


Original by Tears for Fears:

Written by Roland Orzabal and sung by bassist Curt Smith, it was the band’s third single release and first chart hit, reaching #3 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1982. Both “Mad World” and its B-side, “Ideas as Opiates”, appeared on the band’s debut LP The Hurting the following year. The song eventually became Tears for Fears’ first international hit, reaching the Top 40 in several countries in 1982 and 1983, peaking notably at #2 in South Africa.

Two decades later, the song made a popular resurgence when it was covered in a much slower and sombre minimalist style by composers Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko in 2001. This version reached #1 in the UK in December 2003, and also became an international hit. This version of the song is often mistakenly attributed to the band R.E.M.

“Mad World” was originally written on acoustic guitar when Orzabal was 19, it was a deliberate attempt to write something in the vein of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film”. After a few false starts with Orzabal on vocals, Smith took over and “suddenly it sounded fabulous”.

It began life intended to be the b-side for the band’s second single “Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)”. At Polygram’s insistence, the band instead decided it may be something people would like to hear on the radio and held back its release, waiting to issue the song as a single in its own right after re-recording it with producer Chris Hughes, a former drummer with Adam and the Ants.

That came when I lived above a pizza restaurant in Bath and I could look out onto the centre of the city. Not that Bath is very mad – I should have called it “Bourgeois World”! —Roland Orzabal

“Mad World” was the first single off the finished album. The intention was to gain attention from it and we’d hopefully build up a little following. We had no idea that it would become a hit. Nor did the record company. —Curt Smith

Curt Smith’s ad lib in the song’s final chorus resulted in a mondegreen. Smith clarified the actual lyric in 2010:

With Mad World’s again-resurgent popularity, I’m getting asked more frequently about the last line on the album version from The Hurting, a line which I occasionally also sing in concert. The actual line is: “Halargian world.” (Not “illogical world”, “raunchy young world”(!), “enlarging your world”, or a number of other interesting if not amusing guesses.) The real story: Halarge was an imaginary planet invented by either Chris Hughes or Ross Cullum during the recording of The Hurting. I added it as a joke during the lead vocal session, and we kept it. And there you have it.


The song was influenced by the theories of Arthur Janov, author of The Primal Scream. The lyric “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” suggests that dreams of intense experiences such as death will be the best at releasing tension.

Lyrically the song is pretty loose. It throws together a lot of different images to paint a picture without saying anything specific about the world. —Roland Orzabal

It’s very much a voyeur’s song. It’s looking out at a mad world from the eyes of a teenager. —Curt Smith

Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version

“Mad World” achieved a second round of success almost twenty years later after it was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Julesfor the film Donnie Darko (2001). While the Tears for Fears version featured synthesizers and heavy percussion, the Andrews/Jules version was stripped down; instead of a full musical backing, it used only a set of piano chords, a cello, and modest use of a vocoderon the chorus. Their version was originally released on CD in 2002 on the film’s soundtrack, but an increasing cult-following spawned by the movie’s DVD release finally prompted Jules and Andrews to issue the song as a proper single. The release was a success in late 2003, becoming the Number One single over the Christmas holiday in the UK, a feat that Tears for Fears themselves did not accomplish.

The music video was directed by Michel Gondry. The song’s success in the United Kingdom however did not translate to the United States, where it reached number 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Gary Jules performed “Mad World” with Mylène Farmer on her Timeless 2013 Tour. Later in 2006, the song was included in the commercial to the videogame Gears of War, which helped move it up the charts. A performance on the eighth season of American Idol by Adam Lambert also briefly increased its sales and interest in the song. The song reached No. 11 on the Rock Digital Songs chart.

Song versions

The 7″ version of “Mad World” is the same mix of the song found on The Hurting. The song had only one remix on its initial release, the World Remix that was featured on a 7″ double-single. This mix is very similar to the album version, with the most notable differences being the additional echo added to the intro and middle sections and the subtraction of a subtle keyboard part from the bridge. A later remix by noted British music producer Afterlife was featured on the 2005 reissue of the Tears for Fears greatest hits collectionTears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82–92).

  • In 2014, the song appeared in an episode of SyFy original series Helix.
  • In 2011, the song was covered in the TV reality show The Glee Project.
  • In late 2006, a condensed version of the Andrews/Jules cover of “Mad World” was featured in the award-winning commercial for the video game Gears of War.
  • In addition to its usage in numerous advertisements and fan-made YouTube videos, the Andrews/Jules cover has also become a popular choice for background music in television dramas, having appeared in the following series among others: Being Human (U.S.), Brothers & Sisters, Cold Case, CSI, Dead Like Me, Smallville, The Cleveland Show, The OC, Jericho, The Mentalist and Helix. The Lambert version has appeared in ER, FlashForward and General Hospital. Curt Smith sang this song on the television show Psych.
  • It is used on Broadway as the closing number in Butley starring Nathan Lane (2006).
  • The Andrews/Jules version was used in the 28 July 2010, episode of So You Think You Can Dance by choreographer Stacey Tookey in a routine about homelessness, performed by Billy Bell and Ade Obayomi.
  • The 2011 game Gears of War 3 contains a distinct instrumental cover of Gary Jules’ version that plays when Dom saves Delta Squad by sacrificing himself to destroy the Locust and Lambent attacking them.
  • UFC fighter Chris Leben used the Gary Jules version as his walkout theme at UFC 138.
  • An instrumental cover of the Andrews/Jules version was used in one of the scenes of the 2011 Philippine film Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story.
  • Cleveland from the animated Fox television program The Cleveland Show sang “Mad World” for the first 2 minutes of the show that aired 1 April 2012.
  • In the web-based parody of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, “Mad World” is adopted as the theme for Noah Kaiba.
  • A commercial for the video game Battlefield: Bad Company titled “Mad World” uses the chorus, sung by Sweetwater. It is used as he and Haggard run through a destroyed street. Haggard is annoyed and questions the meaning of the line “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” He then proposes the song “Shortnin’ Bread”.
  • The Gary Jules version was used in an advertisement for Underground: The Julian Assange Story, which was shown on Network Ten in Australia in 2012.
  • The Gary Jules version is also used in the credits of the movie Donnie Darko.
  • During the 1.04 episode of Luther, there’s a dinner scene where the Tears for Fears version of the song can be heard playing in the background.

Other versions and covers

In addition to the Andrews/Jules version, “Mad World” has been recorded over the years by the following artists:

  • French artist Nicola Sirkis, frontman of the new wave band Indochine, on his solo album Dans La Lune… (1992)
  • Italian eurodance project Firemaster, on the single “Mad World” (1996)
  • American industrial rock band Kill Switch…Klick, on the Cleopatra Records compilation New Wave Goes to Hell (1998)
  • German DJ Pulsedriver’s popular remix of Nu Romantix’s cover, on the compilation album Dos or Die Fresh Cuts (2001)
  • American alternative rock band Finch, on their EP Rolling Stone Acoustic Session (2002)
  • British singer-songwriter Alex Parks, on her debut album, Introduction (2003)
  • American industrial act Brainclaw, (2004)
  • American metalcore band Evergreen Terrace, on their album Writer’s Block (2004)
  • German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen, on their live DVD Rock am Ring 2004 (2004)
  • Polish gothic rock band Closterkeller, on their EP Reghina (2004)
  • Australian art rock band The Red Paintings, on their EP Walls (2005)
  • German DJ Jan Wayne, on his single “Mad World” (2005)
  • American singer-songwriter Sara Hickman, on her double album Motherlode (2006)
  • Canadian rock bassist Ken Tizzard, on his album Quiet Storey House… An Introduction (2006)
  • Canadian ska band The Makeshift Heroes of Toronto, Ontario (no longer together), on their EP Last Call (2006)
  • German a cappella group Wise Guys, on their album Radio (2006)
  • Australian Idol (season 5) contestant Ben McKenzie (2007)
  • American dark cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls featuring Trash McSweeney, on their live DVD Live at the Roundhouse (2007)
  • Canadian folk-singer Tara MacLean, on her EP Signs of Life (2007) and her album Wake (2008)
  • German vocal band Gregorian, on their album Masters of Chant Chapter VI (2007)
  • Italian dark wave band SPECTRA*paris, a side project of Kirlian Camera, on their album Dead Models Society (2007)
  • Estonian singer, Sandra Nurmsalu, in the Estonian gameshow Kaks Takti Ette. (2007)
  • Israeli actress/singer Melanie Peres, on the soundtrack to the movie Lost Islands (2008)
  • Norwegian singer Erlend Bratland, on his debut album True Colors (2008)
  • Swedish blackened death metal band Zonaria, on their second album The Cancer Empire (2008)
  • Australian Idol (season 7) contestant Nathan Brake (2009)
  • Italian singer-songwriter Elisa, on her sixth album Heart (2009)
  • Adam Lambert (as a contestant) during American Idol in 2009 and an acoustic rendition on his Acoustic Live! EP. A recording of this performance was subsequently released as a digital single and reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009.
  • German House duo Heiko & Maiko released a club mix of “Mad World” as a single
  • British DJ Andy Hunter released a remix of “Mad World” as a single
  • American operatic soprano Renée Fleming, on her 2010 album Dark Hope
  • 2010 UK X Factor contestant Aiden Grimshaw during the first live show.
  • Danish producer Michael Parsberg featuring Safri Duo and Isam B (2010)
  • German indie rock band Blackmail, released as a free download on their website in 2006.
  • Italian singer Marco Mengoni, on his live album Re matto live (2010)
  • Managing editor of Boing Boing, Rob Beschizza, along with Heather Beschizza, created a chiptune version in the 2011 Classic Arcade Game Deaths.
  • American pianist Louis Durra, in an instrumental trio version released on Mad World EP and Arrogant Doormats (2011).
  • Contestants from The Glee Project, a musical reality show, performed “Mad World” in the third episode (2011).
  • The late Taiwanese singer Ah Sang covered the song in Mandarin on her second album Loneliness in Singing (2005).
  • Some time in 2010, Absolution Project recorded an epic version of “Mad World”.
  • Susan Boyle covered the song on her third studio album Someone to Watch Over Me, released in 2011.
  • Ida Long did the song for Swedish promotion of the TV series Mad Men in 2011.
  • German jazz/funk band Hartmut Hillmann Band covered “Mad World” on their album Point of View in 2011.
  • Spanish singer-songwriter Priscilla Hernandez arranged a tribute version in 2013 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Hurting album release
  • British rappers Doc Brown and Lowkey covered the song on Doc Brown’s 2004 album, Citizen Smith: Volume One.
  • French singer, Sophie-Tith, for The gameshow Nouvelle Star in 2013.
  • Aiden Grimshaw, 2010 X Factor UK, Week 4 – Halloween
  • Benn Slack/Down covered Mad World for his album “Zombies”, changing some of the lyrics to better suit the theme of the album.
  • Danish Trance and House producer covered this song together with Outlandish’s leadsinger Isam Bachari and Danish Electronic Percussion group Safri Duo

Samples and quotations

  • Wale (rapper) samples a version of the song on his track “Vanity” on his album The Gifted.
  • Prozak samples the song on the track “American Princess”, from the Strange Music compilation Strictly Strange 08 (2008).
  • British dubstep artist The Bug, with vocalist Warrior Queen, included the song “Insane” on the album London Zoo (2008). The song ends with a quote from “Mad World”.
  • Orbital sampled the song on “The Moebius”, the first song on their debut album.

Tears for Fears

Origin Bath, England
Genres New wave, pop rock, synthpop
Years active 1981–present
Labels Epic, Gut, Mercury, Fontana
Associated acts Neon, Graduate, Mancrab, Oleta Adams
Members Roland Orzabal
Curt Smith
Past members Ian Stanley
Manny Elias

image by KeithEric

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