This song was born when Roland Orzabal came into the studio with a two-chord progression that he had in his head--the producer thought it was cool, and told him he should write a song around it. It was the last track of the album that they recorded, they were burned out on recording, and essentially just put their first ideas to tape and went with it. They had already decided that "Shout" and "Head Over Heels" were the big singles off of the album (which, in fairness, they were--just not as big as this song). Lesson: well, what is the lesson? 99.9% of the time stuff you dash off without really putting effort into it or thinking about it sounds exactly that way--like tossed off crap. Somewhere there is some magic in just "letting go" of something, for some definition of "letting go," which nobody actually knows. Finding that magic: hard.
Actually, I do have a larger lesson here. It's somewhat long, and in two parts. Bear with me for a bit. I have read that Roland Orzabal was off-the-hook OCD about the way his music sounded. For instance, he apparently spent six weeks getting the drum track for "Badman's Song" (The Seeds of Love) just right. Now, I love "Badman's Song"--it's probably on my all-time top 20 something-or-other list--and, no mistake, the drums on this track are incredible. But I'm about 94.6% sure that in the alternate universe where they only spent a couple of days on that drum track, I like the song just as much (the other 5.4% of me thinks that I'm wrong about everything and I'm wasting my time doing this analysis and recording music in general, and should just stick to my day job). I would venture to say, in fact, that the only people who listen to that song and hear the six weeks of effort are 1) Roland Orzabal, and 2) the drummer that he tortured for 6 weeks (possibly also 3) the recording engineer, 4) the producer, 5) Curt Smith). I'm a huge (HUGE) believer in the idea that the only person you can ever satisfy is yourself, and so you should do what's necessary until you're satisfied with your efforts. I'm also a huge believer in the idea that if it takes you six weeks to record one track for one song on one album, you need to re-evaluate your criteria for satisfaction.
That was the first part. The second part is related to a recent experience I had doing a song for this forthcoming tribute album. I recorded it and spent a week or so mixing it, and then sent it off to the guy who owns the record label. He said: great song, the mix is a little fuzzy ("woolen" was the word he used), we can probably fix that in mastering, but maybe take another crack at it? So I went back to it, and I worked on the mix off and on for the next two weeks. I was never quite happy with it, and the average listener wouldn't have noticed a lick of difference between my first mix and my second, and it's as likely as not I made it worse. I sent it back to the label anyway, label said great job, let's get it mastered. A couple of days later the engineer sent me a copy of the mastered version and it sounded like a different song. It was all bright and shiny and sounded like something on the radio. Lesson: while your piece of art could always be better, sometimes you reach the limits of where you can take it and have to let it go or hand it off to somebody who knows more than you.
Anyway, this song. Nice beat that shuffles and drives at the same time (they stole it from a Simple Minds song, according to Wikipedia). On the verse the two-chord structure leaves a space for the singer, like they're taking turns: synth plays two chords, singer sings "welcome to your life," synth plays two chords again, singer sings, "there's no turning back," and so on. You don't really get anything concrete out of the lyrics other than, "everybody wants to rule the world." I never thought of that as a universal sentiment myself, but it's catchy. Also on Wikipedia I read this:
Originally the song was called "Everybody Wants to Go to War"I might be wrong, but I don't think that a song with everything exactly the same except that the they sing "Everybody wants to go to war" instead of "Everybody wants to rule the world," is a hit song. Is that true? It just seems like it changes everything about it. This should tell us something, but I'm not quite sure what it is.