It’s difficult to write about a song that I genuinely dislike, especially one I dislike as much as Sowing the Seeds of Love. Certainly, I have said some harsh things about the songs discussed herein, but the truth is that I do enjoy all of those songs to some degree; there’s some nostalgia at play, but I wouldn’t still be singing along with them after all these years if I didn’t on some level want to be listening to the song at all.
I do have, to be fair, some warm memories of Sowing the Seeds of Love; it played at my prom, so whenever it comes on I do think of my prom date, a handsome redhead in a bell-bottomed tux, saying “never has a song used more words to say less,” and I appreciate anew the warm wisdom shared by a slightly older man, before moving on to remember how In Your Eyes is not quite the ideal slow dance jam you’d think it would be.
It may be a fool’s errand to try to discuss lyrics I know to be meaningless, but we’re in this together, you and I; we’ll get through this, I assure you.
(I kid! I know I’m the only one reading this. Still, one must press on.)
Sowing the Seeds of Love has loftier goals than the majority of love songs from the ’80s. It does not trifle with romantic love, the simple yet confounding attraction between a man and a woman that dominated the airwaves back in the day. Instead, it attempts to traffic in capital-L Love, that strikes not out of the blue but a deliberate love that can be cultivated and harvested; a love that pervades the universe. Like the Force, only slightly more granular.
That the song has lofty goals cannot be held against it. Everyone, I’m sure, living through troubled time (which, if history is anything to go by, will always be all of the time) imagines that they will be the one to write the next Imagine. What can be held against Sowing the Seeds of Love is that it absolutely fails. For example, consider the very first line:
It’s high time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man.
Whereas Imagine begins by inviting the listener to alter their own beliefs, even if only momentarily, Sowing the Seeds of Love asserts that the first step in reaping love is to assure your own correctness by defining an other who needs to do all the changing. Which, I guess, is solid; you probably won’t finish a project if you think you’re wrong for doing it – that’s why I abandon so many posts half-way through. In this case, the target for this enforced self-improvement is the “common man”. Not this one, presumably, as you don’t get a look that smooth without having figured a thing or two out. No, Tears for Fears is referring to the everyday man going about the ’80s trying to live his life and not understanding that he’s doing it all wrong. Sting’s father, who spent his life building the ships that would one day kill him – he’s probably who they’re talking about. If he hadn’t been killed in that industrial accident, the love of Tears for Fears would have set him free, surely.
Of course, it’s not only the little guy that Tears for Fears is unafraid to face; later in the song, they do speak some truth to power:
Politician granny with your high ideals
have you no idea how the majority feels?
I have to admit that this is the first time it occurred to me that Tears for Fears might be a British band. But even I know that “Politician Granny” is a burn on Margaret Thatcher, even if I don’t know specifically why everyone seems to have hated her, although, as a contemporary and ally of Reagan, I can certainly make a couple of guesses. None them, though, have anything at all to do with high ideals; indeed, given the current state of things, where we’re really scraping the bottom of the intellectual battle, it’s peculiar to think of high ideals as a bad thing. Even in terms of the song, it’s an odd slight: isn’t love the highest ideal of all? Can we really hope to cultivate it without the highest expectations in all arenas?
Furthermore, does it really matter that Granny has no idea how the majority feels when they are so in need of having their views shaken up that it’s the very first line of the song? Unless there’s a difference between the majority and the common man, but I believe the primary way to become common is to be plentiful, which is definitely what the majority is, so I think they’re probably the same.
Tears for Fears thinks it’s a problem, though.
So without love and a promised land
we’re fools to the rules of a government plan.
Kick out the Style
Bring back The Jam!
There’s nowhere in the song those last two lines wouldn’t be a complete non-sequiter, but of course Tears for Fears is the guy who tells you which bands you have to like. In fact, this whole song is less an ode to the power of love than it is to teen-aged petulance. Because, regarding the first part of the quote, the notion of a promised land has caused a lot of problems over the years, so I’m not sure what the lament is here, unless it’s like when a child wishes he was adopted because his real mom wouldn’t make him do anything uncool like wash the dishes or follow the rules of their government. Which is not to say there are not many horribly oppressive regimes in the world, but if you think that God has fewer rules than the government. . . I mean, I don’t even know how to address that. Except maybe to point that the very first rule that man broke is the reason everyone isn’t already living in the promised land in the first place.
That same high school attitude can been seen elsewhere in the lyrics. In the second chorus, they sing
Sowing the seeds, the birds and the bees, my girlfriend and me in love.
That’s the only time in the song the girlfriend is mentioned, but it does make it seem like the entire song was maybe written to show off how these guys are getting laid.
Luckily, amid all the talk of girlfriends and implying of the mad sex they’re doing, the song does provide a clear, actionable plan for how you too can help spread the seed of love. (Which, now that they’ve mentioned a girlfriend, takes on an uncomfortably literal meaning.) The instructions are so clear that even the common man should be able to follow them:
Feel the pain, talk about it if you’re a worried man, then shout about it
Open hearts feel about it. Open minds think about it.
Listen, I know I am a cynical robot, but “feel about it” is exactly the sort of advice that makes people hate hippies. Are feelings important? If you’re programmed to feel them, sure. But feeling for the plight of the less fortunate – or just the common – will in no way lessen misfortune, unless it moves a person to act. This an unfortunately unromantic view, certainly, and a difficult one to get people to consider, especially when they have the option just to feel, man. But feelings -important though they may be – can only be the first step. Similarly, sowing the seeds of love is a great first step, but love doesn’t harvest itself, and in fact it won’t grow and take root without constant tending. And this is the problem with Sowing the Seeds of Love; it’s not just that it uses a lot of words to say nothing, but in believing its own profundity it confuses identifying a problem with proposing a solution.