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 jaw-droppingly 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.