Eurythmics (Contemporary Musicians)
One of the most successful pop acts to emerge in the 1980s, the British group Eurythmics combines the strong, often brooding, vocals and lyrics of Annie Lennox with the pop instrumentation and scoring talents of guitarist Dave Stewart. The duo burst onto the music scene in 1983 with their international hit-debut album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). And over the next nine years they released a string of hit recordings that demonstrated their trademark fine line between themes of passion and disdain, optimism and angst, and a music style which eventually nestled itself somewhere between New Wave synthesizer pop and American soul. Eurythmics' compelling, almost at-odds, sound was complemented by their diverse stage and music video personalities, with the dynamic Lennox sporting a chameleon-like array of gender-bending image transformations, and Stewart often off to the side in the role of aloof and absorbed musician. Both the music and image of Eurythmics are reflected in the origins of their name, derived from the Greek term for the art of harmonious body movement, through an expressive and synchronized response to improvised music.
Lennox's and Stewart's musical and personal partnership (they were lovers before Eurythmics) is belied by very different backgrounds. Born in the northern Scottish seaport of Aberdeen, Lennox was the daughter of a boilermaker who played the bagpipes, and grew up an only child in a small two-room tenement house. She played both piano and flute as a girl, and at seventeen was proficient enough to study flute at London's Royal Academy of Music. Lennox became exasperated with the academy, however, and left before graduating. "I'd been taught that there was a perfect phrasing, a perfect sound, a perfect dynamics," she told Freff in Musician. "But there is no perfect. The most perfecting this is to express yourself, totally, but nobody teaches you that." To offset the academy's rigors, Lennox began composing songs on a reed organ in her London flat and practiced singing. Already fond of the Scottish folk songs of her youth, Lennox discovered singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and the soul music of Stevie Wonder. Once she listened to Wonder's music under the effects of marijuana. "It was such a revelation to me to listen with very heightened senses to the music; it touched me," she told Barbara Pepe in Ms. "It was something that in the future I wanted to aspire to, that depth of subtlety and profound statement through music."
Dave Stewart, on the other hand, was born into a prosperous family in Sunderland, England, the son of an accountant and a bohemian mother who left her husband to become a writer and, eventually married a French Zen Buddhist. Stewart's pre-Eurythmics music career was variedo say the least. His early interests were medieval ballads and the songs of Bob Dylan, and at the age of fifteen, he stowed away in the van of the folk-rock group Amazing Blondels, travelling with the band for a time. He later worked as a guitarist for an off-shoot of the black African group, Osibisa, and as a composer-arranger for the Sadista Sisters (leaving his first wife to run off with one of the group members). In 1969, he was a guitarist for the group Longdancer, which obtained a contract with Elton John's Rocket Records, only to break up after squandering most of their advance money on drugs. Stewart himself checked out on a year-long affair with LSD and was nearly fatally injured in a car crash in West Germany, surviving a major operation on a collapsed lung. He eventually cleaned up his act, ran a record store for a time, and teamed up with a singer-songwriter named Peet Coombs, who was looking for work in London. By the age of 25, as a Rolling Stone contributor writes, "Stewart was a walking jukebox with a past."
From Tourists to Eurythmics
In the mid-1970s, Stewart and Coombs were dining in a London restaurant, where their waitress was Lennox, who was about to chuck her ambitions to be a singer-songwriter for a career as a music teacher. She invited them to her place, and the three struck up an immediate musical kinship; Stewart and Lennox soon after became lovers. The trio formed a group called Catch, which by 1978 came to be called The Tourists, a folk-pop group. The Tourists released three moderately successful albums, and had a British top-five single with their cover of an old Dusty Springfield record, "I Only Want to Be with You." Disputes with their recording label, however, led The Tourists to break up in the 1980s, and Lennox and Stewart likewise dissolved their personal relationship. The two decided to continue working together as musicians, however, and named themselves Eurythmics. Stewart remarked to a Rolling Stone interviewer: "We are the only couple I know that lived together and then virtually on the week we stop living together we form Eurythmics and become famous as a couple. Usually it is the other way around."
Eurythmics' first album, In the Garden, was recorded in a West German studio. Further troubles with record management, however, led Stewart and Lennox to construct their own studio, which they installed in a warehouse attic and eventually moved to a sixteenth-century church in the Crouch End section of London. "The Church," as it was known, became a meeting place for local musicians, and Stewart began experimenting with recording equipment, synthesizers, various instruments, and an array of unlikely musical sounds. Eurythmics' second album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), was entirely recorded and mixed in their private studio, and incorporated such sounds as the roar of a subway train, voices of people in their neighborhood, and musical pitches from water-filled milk bottles. Two singles off the album, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and "Love Is a Stranger," became international hits, and Eurythmics were on their way to becoming pop superstars. The title track, bolstered by its video, combined an alternating husky and piercing Lennox vocal and ruminating lyrics, with a catchy New Wave-pop and funk-influenced score by Stewart. The song displayed what would become vintage Eurythmics. As Stewart explained to Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "In our music we like to have the sense of two things battling at once. You have to have something that sounds nice on the surface, but underneath there's an ominous side." Lennox concurred, adding that "most really inspired music has a kind of friction about it. There's an element of danger, of roughness and crudeness that goes along with something very melodic."
Launched World Tour
1984 was a busy year for Eurythmics. Their second album, Touch, was released and had more hit singles, including "Here Comes the Rain Again," "Right By Your Side," and "Who's That Girl?" On an extensive world tour in early 1984, Lennox developed what would become a recurring problem with nodes on her vocal cords, and had to rest her voice as much as possible. The same year, Lennox startled many when she performed on the 1984 Grammy Awardsurythmics were nominated for Best New Artistnd sang "Sweet Dreams" dressed in Elvis Presley garb, complete with sideburns. Coupled with their music videos, in which Lennox sported short-cropped, orange-dyed hair, a haughty demeanor, and mannish clothes, Eurythmics became as famous for their music as for what Holden described as a look of "elegant transvestitism." Lennox explained to Rolling Stone that her androgynous look was intended to "detract from what people had come to expect from women singers. . . . Ironically, a different kind of sexuality emerged from that. I wasn't particularly concerned with bending genders. I simply wanted to get away from wearing cutesy-pie miniskirts and tacky cutaway push-ups."
Influenced by Lennox's Scottish "Soul"
Future Eurythmics' albums showed an increasing influence of soul. 1985's Be Yourself Tonight included a feminist anthem duet with "queen of soul" Aretha Franklin, entitled "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," while another track, "There Must Be an Angel," featured Stevie Wonder on a harmonica solo. Although many reviewers in the past commented on an iciness in Eurythmics' music, particularly Lennox's vocals, their music on Be Yourself Tonight and subsequent albums displays a continual warming up of styles, and a confidence in approach. Regarding 1986's Revenge, Jon Young in Musician wrote that Eurythmics have an ability "to make records sound good." Stewart "uses studio smarts to construct tracks that are models of streamlined efficiency," while Lennox "takes firm command of a melody from the very first line." Commenting on the 1988 album Savage, Ken Richardson wrote in High Fidelity: "The tick-tock of technology remains, but Dave Stewart works a lot of human touches into the mix.. .. And Annie Lennox, though still showing off her impeccable vocal technique, gives warmth a chance and, equally welcome, sings bare for a spell."
Lennox's wide-ranging and expressive voice has often been singled out as one of the strong points of the Eurythmics' sound. Describing herself as coming from an "earthy" working-class Scottish family, Lennox commented to Rolling Stone on the "sout" of her music. "I suppose it's all to do with people who have some knowledge of povertyhe struggle.... I can't say that I really know the black experience, but there's something in knowing about the rich and poor and the differences in class and not being able to get this and that." Reviewers have noted a Scottish strain of melancholia permeating Lennox's lyrics as well, even in her most upbeat moments. Stewart commented in Rolling Stone that "certain people have the feelingt's a kind of angst. And Annie has it. It's the way they approach things. That is soul, and there's a lot of soul in Scottish folk songs. It's very passionate stuff."
Parted But Not Disbanded
Eurythmics' 1990 album, We Too Are One, turned out to be their last, at least temporarily, as the following year Lennox and Stewart took a break from working together. "We just need to go away and do something different," she told Mat Snow in Q. "We've been through such a lot and never had a break, like a divorced couple that want to be apart, though when we split up as a couple, we knew we still wanted to be in a group. Wanting to make music was what kept us together. But now we need space if we're not to destroy the goodwill that exists between us." The future of Eurythmics is unclear, and their last album, according to a Stereo Review contributor, "doesn't represent any bold new developments." Instead, "it reaffirms the talent and ability of one of rock's most captivating duos."
In the Garden, RCA (United Kingdom), 1982.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (includes "Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]" and "Love Is a Stranger"), RCA, 1983.
Touch (includes "Here Comes the Rain Again," "Right by Your Side," and "Who's That Girl"), RCA, 1984.
Be Yourself Tonight (includes "Would I Lie to You?" and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves"), RCA, 1985.
Revenge (includes "Missionary Man"), RCA, 1986.
Savage (includes "I Need a Man"), RCA, 1988.
We Too Are One (includes "Revival" and "Angel"), Arista, 1989.
Greatest Hits, RCA, 1991.
Eurythmics Live (video recording), Polygram, 1987.
(Lennox as contributor) Red Hot & Blue, Chrysalis, 1990.
Greatest Hits (video recording), BMG, 1991.
Contemporary Newsmakers, 1985 cumulative edition, Gale, 1986.
Hill, Dave, Designing Boys and Material Girls: Manufacturing the '80s Pop Dream, Blandford Press, 1986.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, revised edition, St. Martin's, 1989.
White, Timothy, Rock Stars, Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1984.
Creem, July 1984; August 1985; September 1985; December 1986.
High Fidelity, May 1988.
Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1986.
Melody Maker, January 29, 1983; July 9, 1983; November 19, 1983; May 4, 1985; November 22, 1986.
Ms., February 1986.
Musician, November 1983; July 1985; November 1985; August 1986.
New Yorker, March 14, 1988.
New York Times, July 17, 1983; February 5, 1984; August 3, 1984; September 3, 1989; November 12, 1989.
People, December 19,1983; May 20,1985; November 27, 1989.
Q, May 1991.
Rolling Stone, September 29,1983; June 20,1985; October 24, 1985; September 11, 1986.
Stereo Review, January 1990.
Michael E. Mueller