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"Mad World" is a song by the British band 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.[1]

Two decades later, the song made a popular resurgence when it was covered in a much slower, minimalist style by composers Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for thesoundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko in 2001. This version reached #1 in the UK in December 2003, and also became an international hit.


 [hide*1 Background


"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".[2]

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.[3]

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"![4]

—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.[4]

—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.[5]

—Curt Smith==Meanings[edit]==

[3] The song was influenced by the theories of Arthur Janov, author of The Primal Scream.[citation needed] 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.[6]

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.[4]

—Roland Orzabal

It's very much a voyeur's song. It's looking out at a mad world from the eyes of a teenager.[4]

—Curt Smith==Song versions[edit]==

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 collection Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82–92).


"Ideas as Opiates" is a song that originally served as the B-side to the "Mad World" single. It was later re-recorded for inclusion on The Hurting. The song takes its name from a chapter title in Arthur Janov's bookPrisoners of Pain and features lyrics related to the concept of primal therapy. The song is musically sparse, featuring just a piano, drum machine, and saxophone. An alternative version of this song titled "Saxophones as Opiates" was included as a B-side on the 12" single and is mostly instrumental.

That's the chapter from Janov, and it's really a reference to people's mindsets, the way that the ego can suppress so much nasty information about oneself – the gentle way that the mind can fool oneself into thinking everything is great.[4]

—Roland Orzabal

It really was all about that kind of thing – the psychological answer to religion being the opiate of the masses, whereas we thought ideas were, more than anything else.[4]

—Curt Smith==Music video[edit]==

[1][2]Curt Smith in the "Mad World" music video

The promotional clip for "Mad World", filmed in late summer 1982, was Tears for Fears' first music video. It features a gloomy looking Curt Smith staring out of a window while Roland Orzabal performs a bizarre dance outside on a lakeside jetty. A brief party scene in the video features friends and family of the band, including Smith's then-wife Lynn.

According to Curt Smith, "When we made the video in a country estate on the cheap, we bussed all our friends and family up from Bath and had a fun day. The woman who's having the birthday party in the video is my mum."[2]

The music video was directed by Clive Richardson who was notable for his work at that time with Depeche Mode.

Track listings[edit]Edit

7": Mercury / IDEA3 (United Kingdom) / 812 213-7 (United States)
  1. "Mad World" – 3:32
  2. "Ideas as Opiates" – 3:54
7": Mercury / IDEA3 (Ireland) / 6059 568 (AustraliaEurope) / TOS 1411 (South Africa)
  1. "Mad World" (World Remix) – 3:30
  2. "Ideas as Opiates" – 3:54
7" double pack: Mercury / IDEA33 (United Kingdom)
  1. "Mad World" – 3:32
  2. "Mad World" (World Remix) – 3:30
  3. "Suffer the Children" (Remix) – 4:15
  4. "Ideas as Opiates" – 3:54
12": Mercury / IDEA312 (United Kingdom) / 6400 677 (Europe)
  1. "Mad World" – 3:32
  2. "Ideas as Opiates" – 3:54
  3. "Saxophones as Opiates" – 3:54

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Year Chart Position
1982 UK Singles Chart 3
1983 Australian Singles Chart 12
1983 German Singles Chart 21
1982 Irish Singles Chart 6
1983 New Zealand Singles Chart[7] 25
1983 South African Singles Chart 2
1983 Swiss Singles Chart 10

Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version[edit]Edit

"Mad World"
Single by Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules
from the album Donnie Darko (Original Soundtrack) and Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
B-side "No Poetry"
Released 2001

15 December 2003

Format CD
Recorded 2000
Genre Piano rock
Length 3:06
Label Sanctuary

"Mad World" achieved a second round of success almost twenty years later after it was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for 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 vocoder on 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.[8] Later in 2006, the song was included in the commercial to the videogame Gears of War,[9] which helped moved it up the chart.[10] A performance on the eighth season of American Idol by Adam Lambert also briefly increased its sales and interest in the song.[11][12] The song reached No. 11 on the Rock Digital Songs chart.

Track listings[edit]Edit

CD1: Sanctuary / SANXD250 (United Kingdom)
  1. "Mad World" – 3:06
  2. "No Poetry" – 3:59
  3. "Mad World" (alternate version) – 3:37
CD2: Sanctuary / SANXD250X (United Kingdom)
  1. "Mad World" (Grayed Out Mix) – 6:45
  2. "The Artifact & Living" – 2:26
  3. "Mad World" (video) – 3:20

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Chart (2003/2004/2007/2009/2010) Peak


UK Singles Chart 1
US BillboardModern Rock Tracks 30
Australian Singles Chart 28
Austrian Singles Chart 13
Belgium Flanders Singles Chart 23
Canadian Digital Singles Chart 1
Danish Singles Chart 6
Dutch Singles Chart 4
French Digital Singles Chart[13] 11
German Singles Chart 3
Irish Singles Chart 2
Portuguese Singles Chart[14] 1
Swedish Singles Chart 10
Swiss Singles Chart 53
New Zealand Singles Chart 37

Year-end charts[edit]Edit

Chart (2004) Position
German Singles Chart[15] 14
Chart (2000–2009) Peak


UK Top 100 Songs of the Decade 53[16]


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Germany (BVMI)[17] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[18] Platinum 50,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[19] Platinum 600,000^

  • sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone

Chart positions for Adam Lambert's version[edit]Edit

Chart (2009) Peak


Canadian Hot 100 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
U.S. Billboard Pop 100 30

Popular culture[edit]Edit

  • 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.[10]
  • 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 & SistersCold CaseCSIDead Like MeSmallvilleThe Cleveland ShowThe OCJerichoThe Mentalist and Helix. The Lambert version has appeared in ERFlashForward and General HospitalCurt 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[edit]Edit

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

Samples and quotations[edit]Edit

  • 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.

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