"The title was my idea. It's a bit perverse but then you've got to understand our sense of humour. The 'Big Chair' idea is from this brilliant film called Sybil about a girl with 16 different personalities. She'd been tortured incredibly by her mother as a child and the only place she felt safe, the only time she could really be herself was when she was sitting in her analyst's chair. She felt safe, comfortable and wasn't using her different faces as a defence. It's kind of an 'up yours' to the English music press who really fucked us up for a while. This is us now – and they can't get at us anymore."
—Curt Smith explains the album's title, March 1985
The album title was derived from the 1976 television film Sybil about a woman with multiple personality disorder who only feels safe when she is sitting in her analyst's "big chair".
Once the band had finished a lengthy touring and promotion schedule for the album, they took an extended hiatus from the music industry. In 1989, their third album, The Seeds of Love, marked their return. A companion video documentary entitled Scenes from the Big Chair was released in late 1985.
Melody Maker said, "None of you should really be too surprised that Tears for Fears have made such an excellent album... [it's] an album that fully justifies the rather sneering, told-you-so looks adopted by Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal on the sleeve" before concluding, "An awful lot of people will, of course, go on and on about overcoats, The Lotus Eaters and an alleged lack of depth. And an awful lot of people will have to eat an awful lot of words." In a retrospective review published in Allmusic, Stanton Swihart commented "In the loping, percolating 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World', Tears for Fears perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the mid-'80s while impossibly managing to also create a dreamy, timeless pop classic. Songs from the Big Chair is one of the finest statements of the decade."
In 1998, MFSL remastered and re-issued the album with an extended "Head over Heels" (running 5:24) and two bonus tracks (extended mixes of "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World").
The album was remastered and re-issued on CD in 1999 with bonus tracks, including B-sides and remixes. The tracklisting is based on the Special Edition cassette version of the album, which featured five B-sides as bonus tracks—including three tracks ("The Conflict", "The Marauders" and "Broken Revisited") from the The Hurting period. In addition to these tracks, it includes two remixes.
The album was re-released again in a deluxe edition 2-disc format in 2006 with the full collection of B-sides and many alternate versions and remixes of the album's tracks.
In some US editions, the live reprise of "Broken" was omitted, and the end of "Head over Heels" led directly into "Listen". On these same US editions, the full 5:06 version of "Mothers Talk" was replaced with the 3:53 short version.
"Head Over Heels/Broken (live)" is erroneously listed as "Head over Heals/Broken (Live)" on the remastered CD.
"Mothers Talk" (U.S. remix) on the remastered CD is the correct version of this remix, but has had additional reverb applied to it. The 1999 remaster is the only CD on which this "extra reverb" version can be found.
"The Way You Are" (7" version) – 4:49 (Orzabal, Smith, Stanley, Elias)
"Mothers Talk" (short version) – 3:53
"Shout" (edit) – 4:03
"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (7" version) – 4:08
"Head over Heels" (David Bascombe 7" Mix) – 4:15
"I Believe (A Soulful Re-Recording)" – 4:41
"Mothers Talk" (U.S. remix) – 4:13
"Shout" (U.S. remix) – 8:02
"Shout" (Dub Remix) – 6:49
"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Urban Mix) – 6:06
"Mothers Talk" (Beat of the Drum Mix) – 8:54
"Broken/Head over Heels/Broken" (Preacher Mix) – 8:00
Track 4 was intended to be "Everybody Wants to Run the World" but was mistakenly replaced by a repetition of the album version (incorrectly labeled as the '7" version', but such a version does not exist); the album's liner notes confirm this.
Track 7 is labeled "U.S. remix" on the packaging but is in fact a different version from the real "Mothers Talk" (U.S. remix) on the original vinyl singles. On CD, the real "U.S. remix" can be found on the compilations The Millennium Collection: The Best of Tears for Fears and Shout: The Very Best of Tears for Fears.