Too Tall to Feel Small: The Case for Eurythmics' Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group
Potent and Ferocious
Propelled by two major international hits, the album's eccentricities didn't prevent it from climbing into the Top 10 around the world, including a peak of #3 in the UK. Fortunately, fans wouldn't have to wait long for the follow-up. Eurythmics have always worked expeditiously in the studio, and their third album Touch was finished while "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was still climbing the US pop chart. Working with engineer Jon Bavin at the Church Studios in London (where the duo had graduated from a basic 8-track recorder to a shiny new 24-track), Eurythmics completely recorded and mixed Touch within a span of only three weeks.
Released on 14 November 1983 in the UK and elsewhere (in the US, where "Love Is a Stranger" was still riding in the pop chart, it was pushed back to early 1984), Touch was Eurythmics' first #1 album in the UK, and a global smash. In the US, Touch went platinum and reached #7, a remarkably high placement for such an idiosyncratic collection of songs reflecting a wildly diverse palette of influences.
The first UK single, "Who's That Girl?", bitterly expresses the sting of betrayal and shattered illusions. Gliding over an exotic synth that intersects with pulsing strings, Lennox swoons with elegant heartbreak. Her underlying rage occasionally breaks through the facade of careful self-possession ("there's just one thing!") before she slides back into icy poise, repeatedly demanding, "who's that girl running around with you?" It's a masterful performance that artfully exemplifies the effectiveness of Lennox's deft vocal theatrics in conveying changing subtleties of meaning.
In America, the first taste of the new album came in January 1984. "Here Comes the Rain Again" is a majestic interlacing of synths, cinematic strings (arranged by the late Michael Kamen), and Lennox's tautly dramatic vocals. With its darkly atmospheric video a regular fixture on MTV, "Here Comes the Rain Again" reached #4 in the US, and remains one of Eurythmics' most cherished recordings. It has been performed to powerful effect in a number of different styles, including with piano accompaniment (as Lennox recently did during a sublime appearance on The Talk) with only acoustic guitar, and even with a searing full-throttle rock arrangement as it was presented on the Revenge tour.
The album's other hit is "Right By Your Side", a festive departure for Eurythmics that cuts through their sometimes biting cynicism with vibrant Caribbean color. Stewart mimics a steel drum and marimba via a Voyetra-8 synthesizer, but the boisterous horns are the real deal. The sax is performed by Martin Dobson, a session pro also known for his live work with R&B greats like Marvin Gaye, Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations and Martha & the Vandellas. The 12" single, with a colossal extended mix that stretches for over 12-minutes, is worth seeking out for vinyl-heads.
Touch lurches from the deranged hyper-funk of "The First Cut", to the sauntering electro-R&B of "Regrets", to a swaying aural acid-trip, "Aqua". The powerhouse closer is "Paint a Rumour", which splices exotic keyboard flourishes, odd vocal chanting, and restless bursts of horn over a methodically bubbling rhythm. Touch is a sonic brew of Kraftwerk with elements of Motown and synthpop and then filtered through one of the weirder Grace Jones albums. In other words, it's distinctly Eurythmics, and there's no other album quite like it.
Eurythmics' next project regrettably seems consigned to its fate as one of the great lost musical gems of the '80s. They were hired by Virgin founder Richard Branson to create a soundtrack for a film adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, being directed by Michael Radford. They did not realize that Radford had zero interest in their music, did not want to use it in the film, and had commissioned a separate orchestral score without their knowledge. As a result of this giant communication breakdown, only bits and pieces of Eurythmics' work ended up in the movie.
Perhaps it's for the best. What they created transcends the soundtrack it was meant to be, and it should not be dismissed as a mere curio or side-project. Released on 12 November 1984, 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) is best taken as a conceptual album based on the themes of Orwell's novel, and in that context it's nothing less than triumphant. 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) features several menacing synth-based pieces, often with walloping tribal rhythms, over which Lennox improvises wordless vocalizations that range from lovely and soulful to frantic and deranged. The album's overall feel is sinister, at times starkly beautiful and at other points harrowing and ominous, much like Orwell's masterwork itself.
The hyper "Sexcrime (1984)" is the only real pop/rock track, and it's an unusual one, with sampled bits of Lennox's vocal creating an oddly jittery effect. Of course, since it has the word "sex" in the title, US radio stations wouldn't touch it for fear someone might be offended. As a result "Sexcrime (1984)" did well in American dance clubs but was barely a blip on the US pop chart. In the UK and elsewhere, the song was another major hit for the duo. The album's absolute high point is the majestic "Julia", a slow and atmospheric song with celestial synths and an eerily gorgeous vocal arrangement. Stewart's acoustic guitar solo as the song winds to its conclusion is jawdroppingly beautiful. "Julia" was released as the album's second single but proved too subtle for mainstream radio, falling just shy of the UK Top 40.
Other highlights include the starkly disquieting "Ministry of Love" and the ghostly "For the Love of Big Brother", which might have made for an interesting single. "Doubleplusgood", a berserk cacophony of Orwellian propaganda, feels more pointedly relevant now than when it was recorded over three decades ago. Released on Virgin rather than RCA, 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) was not included in the 2005 reissue series of Eurythmics' studio albums, and to this day remains shamefully out of print. Hopefully that will change, as it's an album that deserves to be heard.
After the disappointing response to 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), Eurythmics quickly moved forward with a major expansion of their sonic canvas. They have always been informed by R&B influences, and Lennox in particular is effusive about her passionate love for classic Motown. When translated through the mostly electronic prism of their prior albums, this aspect of their sound isn't always obvious. That all changed on Be Yourself Tonight, on which they skillfully meld rock and R&B on their most consistently strong batch of material yet. Be Yourself Tonight, released on 29 April 1985, is a reflection of Eurythmics' increasing clout and visibility as they welcomed several high-profile guests into their musical universe.
"Would I Lie to You?", a blistering rocker with rapid-fire horn riffs, dense walls of guitar and an aggressively soulful vocal that Lennox absolutely nails, was the album's lead single. Throughout their career, Eurythmics always worked with top-tier talent, and there's no better example than "Would I Lie to You?": the swinging bass is provided by Nathan East of the acclaimed jazz group Fourplay, and frequent collaborator Olle Romö rocks the drums. Fans expecting more dark electronica were certainly surprised, but the stylistic shift didn't prevent the single from becoming an international smash. It reached #5 in the US, and MTV aired the fiery performance clip in heavy rotation.
"Would I Lie to You?" marked a vital turning point for Eurythmics. Not all artists can execute such a dramatic stylistic leap while maintaining their authenticity and not sounding like posers trying on a different style just for the sake of it. Eurythmics' versatility and chameleon-like qualities, much like Prince and David Bowie, are only possible because they have the talent and musical chops to pull it off. For Stewart and Lennox, it really wasn't as much of a departure as it seemed, considering they had rocked hard both with the Tourists and on In the Garden. Still, most fans had only experienced their synth-driven work at this point, and "Would I Like to You?" is an unambiguous declaration that Eurythmics would never be tied down by expectations or trapped in a stylistic box.
"There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)", the second single taken from Be Yourself Tonight, landed Eurythmics their only #1 single in Britain. Lennox's fluttery vocal showcases her magnificent range, and Stevie Wonder's ebullient harmonica solo -- recorded in one take at four in the morning -- brings another level of aural bliss. The arrangement is one of the duo's most ambitious, with a swinging gospel-flavored bridge and a soaring operatic vocal provided by singer Richard Cross.
The third single, "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves", is an iconic feminist anthem that remains a musical beacon of equality to this day. Eurythmics managed to convince Aretha Franklin to duet on the track, and both singers deliver knockout performances. Lennox is never overshadowed by the legendary diva, confidently trading lines with one of the all-time greats. The recording is a mishmash of widely divergent styles that fuse to perfection: the eccentric British pop duo, the Queen of Soul, a gospel choir, and three members of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Stewart had recently collaborated with Petty and company on their hit single and video "Don't Come Around Here No More", and they returned the favor by providing a rock-steady foundation for the women to sing their hearts out.
The sleek R&B/electronica hybrid "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)", with its terrific call-and-response vocal and a woozy brass arrangement, was the final single. Dean Garcia, a key contributor on both Touch and Be Yourself Tonight, who later formed the edgy '90s electro-rock duo Curve with Toni Halliday, plays bass on the track. Although it was a sizable hit internationally, even an expensive cutting-edge computer animated video wasn't enough to push it into the American Top 40.
From this point forward, nearly all of Eurythmics' singles performed better in the UK and elsewhere around the world than in the US. The same was true for many artists who emerged from the new wave era and the early years of MTV. Part of the reason is that starting in 1986 and progressing through the end of the decade and into the '90s, dance/pop and R&B started to dominate the Top 40 airwaves. The situation for Eurythmics was exacerbated by the departure of their most enthusiastic patron at RCA. After the change in leadership at the label, Eurythmics became a lower priority for RCA in America, and they'd manage only one more Top 20 appearance stateside despite maintaining a steady stream of hits globally from their next three albums.
Following the success of Be Yourself Tonight, Eurythmics continued to reinvent themselves, typically with spectacular results. Revenge, released on 30 June 1986, is a hard-edged rock album designed to provide material for the band to play its biggest shows yet. It succeeded beyond all expectations, eventually becoming Eurythmics' top-selling album worldwide, and launching the most successful tour of their career. Revenge shows that Eurythmics can rock 'n' roll with the best of them on the big stage, and it never for one instant feels less than genuine. Lennox and Stewart were fully invested in everything they did, and that reverence for their own work is apparent in music that remains vital and fresh all these years later.
Revenge was partially recorded at the familiar confines of Conny Plank's studio in Germany, where In the Garden had been created just as they were tentatively emerging from the Tourists. What a difference five years makes. Eurythmics were now global stars, and their confidence and clear artistic vision made for a very different result than their somewhat nebulous debut. Revenge wasn't named by accident. It had been a long, arduous road for Eurythmics to get to this point, and they came into the proceedings with a chip on their shoulders that's reflected in the brash edginess of the new material.
"Missionary Man" is a behemoth of an opener, badass and seething with aggression. Joneice Jamison's knockout vocal adds another dimension, much like Merry Clayton did for the Stones on "Gimme Shelter". "Missionary Man" is Eurythmics at their most potent and ferocious, with whip-sharp lyrics and a daring video featuring Lennox decked out in leather, bleached blonde hair, and projecting the demeanor of a dominatrix from Hell. The single was their final Top 20 appearance on the US pop chart and their only #1 on the US mainstream rock chart. It also landed them a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
While "Missionary Man" spearheaded the album in America, Britain and the rest of the world got the richly melodic guitar-pop gem "When Tomorrow Comes". Lennox gets plenty of praise for her vocal and performance abilities, but she's underrated as a songwriter. "When Tomorrow Comes" contains some of her loveliest lyrics: "Last night while you were lying in my arms / and I was wondering where you were / you know, you looked just like a baby / fast asleep in this dangerous world / every star was shining brightly / just like a million years before / and we were feeling very small underneath the universe."
Second single "Thorn in My Side" is a bitter rejoinder, a blunt rebuke to a no-good cheater set to an old-school rock 'n' roll vibe. The sax comes courtesy of Jimmy "Z" Zavala, a first-rate pro who's worked with artists as diverse as Rod Stewart, Dr. Dre, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Yes, Etta James and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (he also provides the wicked harmonica licks on "Missionary Man"). Blondie drummer Clem Burke is rock-steady throughout, playing on all ten of the album's tracks.
Revenge also yielded "The Miracle of Love", an achingly gorgeous and uplifting tonic for Eurythmics' often acerbic and cynical observations on love and humanity. During the 1986 holiday season, the ballad became yet another worldwide hit for the duo. Despite this, RCA didn't even bother to release the single in America, having essentially abandoned the album after "Thorn in My Side" failed to reach the US Top 40 despite going Top 5 in the UK.
Even after the immense worldwide trek in support of Revenge, Eurythmics kept moving forward with barely a moment to pause for breath. Stewart had purchased a large and unwieldy synclavier from Buffy Saint-Marie, the wife of famed producer and songwriter Jack Nitzsche. Clueless as to how to program it, Stewart called on his trusted accomplice Olle Romö and they set up to record at a château in the French countryside.
Lennox stayed in Paris while working separately on the lyrics and vocals, a departure from the duo's usual songwriting approach. The singer was initially apprehensive about the musical creations Stewart offered, but she again drew from her personal life and suddenly the album began taking shape. Lennox was in the midst of a particularly dark period in her personal life, and when inspiration finally struck, her songwriting sharply reflects this turmoil. Rock history is littered with examples of powerful work arising from personal struggle and tumult, and the album that emerged from these tense sessions certainly fits that definition. Savage is arguably the finest album of Eurythmics' career.
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