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Monday, February 28, 2011

"Everybody Loves A Happy Ending" - Tears For Fears Song Analysis

Our friend David Das asked for an analysis of Tears For Fears "Everybody Loves A Happy Ending" so here it is. This is the title song from the 2000 reunion album of the band, which features Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.

TFF is known for their Beatlesqe songs and images and this song is no exception. As with all analysis, we'll break the song down into four parts - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and performance.

The Song - The song is very interesting in that it doesn't really follow the standard pop format of verse, chorus, repeat, add bridge, etc. It goes like this:

Intro, intro with additional instruments and vocals, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, outro

The outro is not a verse and it's not quite a chorus, it's another section entirely, and that's what makes the song unique. It ends essentially with a bridge and a D section.

The Arrangement - Like most great music productions, this song has a lot of development and tension and release. As far as development is concerned, listen to how each section that repeats (like the intro and the verses) changes thanks to new sonic textures, and even mix elements, being introduced. In terms of tension and release, Happy Ending is opposite of most songs, since the verse is very large and tense sounding, and the release comes from the sparser chorus with a different rhythmic feel. The bridge then breaks down to just a guitar, drums played with brushes, and vocal that gets augmented with vocal harmonies as it repeats. Then the outro gets loud and mean and becomes the peak of the song until the tension is released at the very end with a very John Lennon-esqe vocal part.

Since the song has so many completely different sections, lets just look at the intro as an example of the mix elements.

The 5 elements of the mix (check out this post for an explanation) look like this:
  • The Foundation - As is the norm, the Foundation element is the intro is held down by the bass and drums.
  • The Pad - There's a synth/organ that's framing the chord changes by just playing footballs (whole note chords).
  • The Rhythm - There really isn't a rhythm element in this case, but there doesn't have to be either. As long as there's no more than 5 elements, the listener will not be overloaded with information.
  • The Lead - A synth plays the line, then is augmented with both a clean baritone guitar and a sitar (a TFF trademark) at the very end of the intro.
  • The Fills - The second pass of the intro has a high distorted guitar line enter playing counterpoint to the lead. The vocals also sing an answer line in the spaces that become a fill.
The Sound - A mix that's this dense in places sometimes has instruments that are buried, but more often than not in this song, they're intended to blend into on another to create a new sonic element. That's what happens throughout the song. For the most part, everything is pretty in your face, with short ambiences, or double-tracks to add a sense of space and environment. The exceptions is the high guitar line in the second half of the intro with the repeated eighth note delay that's intentionally pushed back in the mix.

The Performance - Happy Ending is extremely well made and performed, but there are flashes a greatness in sections of the song. I love the fast bass fill that appears at 1;10 and the harmony vocals on the second verse and the bridge. The sparseness of the  bridge is also a nice change.

It would take a lot more to cover everything in this song, so just enjoy the great production as you listen.

Also, feel free to send me your suggestions of songs to analyze.


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Dirk said...

Hi Bobby,
I'm wondering as which arrangement element the piano in the verse could be considered?
And also, I think I can hear an accoustic guitar in the intro. Is that a rhythmic element or part of the foundation?
And last but not least, does a countermelody always fall in the fill category?

Btw your blogs are great, and I ecpecially like the song analysis.

Anonymous said...

So many Beatles parallels. The BGV's in intro remind me of Lennon. The alarm clock reminds me of A Day In The Life. The unexpected bass lines in places where a more conservative bassist might have just played the root reminds me of McCartney. "All your love will shine on everyone" is a Beatles paraphrase. Then you have that middle section ("darkness of the day") sounds like something out of McCartney's self-titled 1970 album.

Very interesting comment you made about the chorus actually being anticlimactic compared to the verse - the opposite of the usual - but used to great musical effect.

Great observations, thanks Bobby.

Bobby Owsinski said...

The piano in the verse is more of a foundation element. Sometimes elements do cross-over though. The whole idea is to keep them to a maximum of 5.

I'm not hearing the acoustic guitar in the intro, but I'm not listening on my big monitors. The MP3 compression doesn't help much either. It would probably be the rhythm component if it's there.

A countermelody isn't always necessarily a fill. It all depends in how it's used.

Dirk said...

Ok, thanks.
As for suggestions for other songs to analyze, I'd love to hear your take on "Some kind of nature" by Gorillaz. The whole album is exceptionally well arranged and written imho.

awesome_wells said...

I couldn't agree more, very well executed. Along the lines of several songs by XTC.

Thanks for your blog and your books!



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