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Everybody Wants to Rule the World: A Perfect Song Explained

Everybody Wants to Rule the World: A Perfect Song Explained

The decade associated with greed and excess has a perfect anthem in Everybody Wants to Rule the World. 

Pop music is chock full of songs about desire. However, this great 80s classic moves beyond romance and explores the human desire for power. With a unique sound and simple instrumentation, the track sticks in your head long after you listen to it. 

Few songs from the 80s are quite as enduring as Tears for Fears’ signature number. Join us as we explore the story behind the timeless tune.

Let’s check it out!

Who Originally Wrote Everybody Wants to Rule the World?

Tears for Fears is an English band that was part of the Second British Invasion, thanks to their airtime on MTV. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith founded the band together. The two met as children in Bath, England. 

Their first band, Graduate, found minor success in the late 70s before the group dissolved. Smith and Orzobel went on to form Tears for Fears in 1981. Their debut album produced three hit singles in the UK, including Mad World. 

Ian Stanley was a keyboardist the pair had met during their time with Graduate. Though Tears for Fears is essentially a duo, Stanley was a full-time band member for the first two albums. 

Band members Orzobal and Ian Stanley penned Everybody Wants to Rule the World with producer Chris Hughs. They recorded the track for Songs from the Big Chair, the second Tears for Fears album released in 1985.

Chris Hughs got his start as a drummer for Adam and the Ants. As a producer, he worked with some of the greatest names of the 80s, including Wang Chung, Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, and Robert Plant. He served as producer for the band’s first album and returned to help record Songs from the Big Chair. 

No 80s hit is complete without a music video. Not surprisingly, MTV helped the song skyrocket to the top of the charts. It also helped the band find international success for their second album, including the smash hit Shout. 

What Was the Creative Process for Everybody Wants to Rule the World?

The song was a last-minute addition to Songs from the Big Chair. The band had spent months working on Shout. Towards the end of the recording process, Orzobal played two simple chords on the acoustic guitar. 

While he was initially uninterested in developing it further, the others convinced Orzobal to develop the chords into the iconic hit. Getting the lyrics right was the only hiccup. The original tune started with the line, “everybody wants to go to war.”

The dark themes explored in the lyrics clash with the light music. Orzobal sings about the warfare and misery that go hand in hand with the desire for power. 

The song was the most straightforward on the album. Chris Hughs described the effortless recording process as bland compared to Shout. 

When Was Everybody Wants to Rule the World Re-recorded?

The band reworked the tune into a song for Sport Aid, a charity to help with famine relief in Africa. Sport Aid created the biggest mass sporting event of all time, the Race Against Time. Twenty million people worldwide walked, jogged, or ran a 10k to raise money for the charity. 

In addition, they released a charity record which included Everybody Wants to Run the World. The song peaked at #5 on the UK singles chart. The tune features a dancier beat and synth horns, giving it more of a world music sound. 

Sport Aid raised enough money to donate $37 million to help fight hunger. 

Who Has Covered Everybody Wants to Rule the World?

Tears for Fears released several versions of the song since the initial release. But it’s also inspired several artists to cover the tune with their distinct sound. 

Gloria Gaynor

While the disco icon is best known for I Will Survive, this cover is certainly worth listening to. Gaynor uses the full power of her voice to make the song her own. She sings with syncopated rhythms to dance around the familiar melody and keep you listening to the lyrics. 

The song appeared on her 1986 album The Power of Love shortly after the success of the original. It’s a nice contrast to Orzobal’s more detached vocal performance

Patti Smith

The great punk poet laureate herself recorded a version of the song for her 2007 cover album Twelve. The signature guitar cords have a western rock sound, and her raw voice captures the ideals presented in the original.  

While Curt Smith loves Patti Smith, he wasn’t a fan of the cover because it sounded too much like the original. 


Even at the age of 16, Lorde was showing her talent. The New Zealand-based singer recorded her version of the song for the 2013 movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. 

The eerie drumbeat turns the laid-back tune into a war march. Lorde’s layered vocals are sinister and genuinely bring out the original spirit of the lyrics. In fact, it’s a fitting anthem for the film’s villain, President Snow. Orzobal enjoyed Lorde’s interpretation, and the duo used this version to open shows on their 2019 tour. 

What Is Tears for Fears Doing Now?

After the release of the third album, Smith and Orzobal had a falling out. Smith was tired of Orzobel’s slow, methodical methods. The two split in 1991, though Orzobal kept working under the Tears for Fears name. 

Eventually, they reconnected over a routine contract signing. They started touring again in the 2000s. The success of Gary Jules’ Mad World cover from the Donnie Darko soundtrack helped renew interest in the band. Their 2004 album spawned a Top 40 hit. 

In 2021 the band had to cancel their tour after Curt Smith broke four ribs in an accident. But it didn’t slow down the success of their new music. In 2022, they released their fifth album together, The Tipping Point. The songs reflect current political topics and the death of Orzobal’s wife, who struggled with depression and substance abuse. 

Shortly after the new album’s release, Everybody Wants to Rule the World found its way back to the top of the charts. Impressive for a song that came out nearly 40 years ago. 

Still Relevant Today

The duo behind Tears for Fears may not be young anymore, but their music continues to inspire. Everybody Wants to Rule the World’s enduring success proves that the song is still relevant even after all these years. 

Love and heartbreak have dominated pop music for many decades. But Tears for Fears took a chance to explore other timeless themes. The new wave sound may date their material. But it can still capture younger audiences and stay relevant for years to come.

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