Eurythmics

 Eurythmics

 Annie Lennox – circa 1986

 “But there’s just one thing and I really want to know / Who’s that girl / Running around with you? / Tell me / Who’s that girl?” – ‘Who’s That Girl’ (Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart)

The girl with the shoulder-length mop of blonde hair peers forth wistfully from beneath fluttering long eyelashes.  The young man with sideburns and a quiff of greasy dark hair glares, unmoved.  An androgynous creature with bright orange hair mowed into a harsh crew-cut maintains an inscrutably blank visage.  The girl is Annie Lennox.  The young man is also Annie Lennox.  And the androgynous creature is very definitely Annie Lennox.  This is the music video for The Eurythmics song ‘Who’s That Girl’.  Obviously, the answer to that question is not going to be simple.

‘Eurythmics’, as a noun, is a system of expressing musical rhythm in bodily movement.  ‘Eurythmic’, as an adjective, means in or of harmonious proportion.  So in the same way that a correctly balanced shape or figure is symmetrical, a flow of sound in pleasing equilibrium is eurythmic.  The word is derived from the Greek eu, well; rhuthmos, rhythm.

Annie Lennox is born on Christmas Day, 25 December 1953, in Aberdeen, Scotland, a ‘port city’.  She is the only daughter of a boiler-maker who also plays the bagpipes.  Annie is raised in a two-room tenement.  Her father encourages her to study piano and flute to help brighten up their lives.  Aged 17, Annie leaves the Aberdeen High School for Girls, having proved sufficiently talented to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Music in London, England.  There, the young lass adds harpsichord to her instrumental skills.  Annie Lennox remains in the halls of academia for three years but ‘gives up in a rage just prior to final exams’.  To make ends meet, she works as a waitress while spending nights in her London flat ‘setting strange poems to music at a large, ornately carved harmonium’.

The person fated to become her musical partner is David A. Stewart and his past is also unusual.

Dave Stewart is born 9 September 1952 in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England.  His father is an accountant and his mother is a practising child psychologist with a special interest in the relation of colour to taste.  Accordingly, young Dave is treated to such dishes as blue porridge or green potatoes.  In 1966, Dave Stewart attends his first live concert, a show by The Amazing Blondel.  He is so impressed, he stows away in the van as the band leaves.  He is dutifully returned to his parents but, since they are in the process of divorcing, Dave is keen to branch out on his own.  Fortunately, he has endeared himself to Blondel and gets to spend subsequent school holidays travelling with the band.  By 1969, Dave Stewart is part of a ‘folk / rock’ band called Longdancer.  In 1973, he marries a teenage bride.  Longdancer are signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records label but ‘blow their six-figure advance on cocaine and speed’.  Dave himself embarks on ‘a year-long LSD binge’.  At the end of that, Dave swears off acid, only to find his young wife, who joined him on the LSD binge, has sworn off him.  She runs away with the lead singer of The Sadista Sisters, an all-girl group.  Dave’s divorce is finalised in 1977.

Dave Stewart strikes up a friendship with Peet Coombs, ‘a destitute London singer-songwriter’.  In a restaurant, Coombs and Stewart meet Annie Lennox.  They visit her flat and listen to this lonely blonde girl and her strange tunes.  Dave thinks she seems like the Phantom of the Opera.  So, of course, he falls in love with her.  Dave moves in with Annie.

A band is formed by the trio of Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart and Peet Coombs.  Founded in 1976, The Tourists consists of: Annie Lennox (vocals), Dave Stewart (guitar), Peet Coombs (guitar), Eddie Chan (bass) and Jim Toomey (drums).  With German producer Connie Plank at the controls, The Tourists begin to record.  In their songs, The Tourists’ ‘fuse new wave energy with well-crafted pop’.  They release three albums: ‘The Tourists (1979) (UK no. 72), ‘Reality Effect’ (1980) (UK no. 23) and ‘Luminous Basement’ (1980) (UK no. 75).  The Tourists are best known for a cover version of Dusty Springfield’s 1963 hit ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ (UK no. 4, US no. 83, AUS no. 6) and a less successful original song, ‘So Good To Be Back Home Again’.  In December 1980, during a tour of Australia, Pete Coombs quits and the group, ‘dead broke’, call it a day.  ‘Lennox and Stewart come undone, both as individuals and as a couple’.  It takes “eight years to untangle”, Dave Stewart notes, “a complicated relationship.”

Over ‘a year of intermittent estrangement’ the two try to piece together their separate lives.  Annie Lennox is ‘reluctant to leave home, wracked by a list of irrational phobias’ and succumbs to ‘nervous exhaustion’, eventually going into therapy.  Dave Stewart ‘drifts back into drugs’ and has ‘multiple car crashes’.  Both of them suffer incapacitating depression.

It seems like the only solution is for Lennox and Stewart to reunite, not as a couple, but as musical partners.  And so the duo becomes The Eurythmics in 1981.  The name seems to be Annie’s idea since it is ‘inspired by the Greek dance Annie learned as a child’.

The major difference between The Tourists and The Eurythmics is synthesisers.  While The Tourists were a functional band, Lennox and Stewart alone can’t manage such a performance.  Synthesisers – programmable electronic keyboards – solve the problem…at least to some extent.  In the studio, both Annie and Dave play keyboards and Annie provides the vocals.  Live, Annie concentrates on being the visual focus while Dave noodles around on keyboards and sundry tapes and devices.  As time progresses, the duo is augmented by various hired hands, sometimes on record, but, especially, on stage.  Yet Eurythmics never becomes a band; it always remains, officially, a duo.

Synthesiser groups like The Human League and Depeche Mode predate Eurythmics.  These spotty youths see the synths as the future, computerised music rising up to replace the dinosaurs of the old cult of the guitar hero.  Later groups like Duran Duran and Culture Club see synthesisers only as an accessory to their experiments with fashion and pop music.  The Eurythmics fit somewhere between the two phases of synthesiser oriented artists.  Dave and Annie are a bit older than any of these pseudo peers so their attitudes are not the same.

Eurythmics’ songs are jointly credited to Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart as songwriters.  They wittily use the name DNA Music for their publishing.  That is, D ‘n’ A, as in Dave ‘n’ Annie, as well as the biological term DNA for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, the genetic code of life.

In Cologne, Germany, The Eurythmics make their first album.  Old colleague Connie Plank produces ‘In The Garden’ (1981).  The album is only issued in Europe.  It is ‘a rigidly electronic sounding album, very Germanic, haunting and cold’.  On the cover, Annie Lennox displays a shorter, blunt haircut than in her days in The Tourists, but her strawberry blonde tresses give no indication of what lies ahead.  ‘In The Garden’ ‘fails to capture the public’s imagination’.  Annie Lennox has a breakdown.  Dave Stewart has an operation on his lungs.

Once the two of them have recovered, Lennox and Stewart begin playing some live gigs in clubs in London.  Annie Lennox wears a jet-black wig.  One night in 1981, one club patron believes he recognises Annie as that girl from The Tourists and grabs at her hair.  The wig comes away in his hand and all around the club jaws drop.  Annie Lennox now has bright orange hair close-cropped to her skull.  Word spreads quickly in the circles of the image conscious: ‘She is a man.  He is a woman.  She does it with mirrors.’  Whatever the story, everyone wants to see for themselves and make up their own minds.

Annie Lennox herself explains: “I didn’t want to be perceived as a girly girl on stage.  It was a kind of slightly subversive statement and what’s even more subversive about it is that I’m so not gay.  I’m completely heterosexual.”

Borrowing money, Eurythmics adjourn to the Chalk Farm district of London to cut a new album, ‘Sweet Dreams’ (1983) (UK no. 3, US no. 15, AUS no. 5), released in January.  ‘Love Is A Stranger’ (UK no. 6, US no. 23, AUS no. 17) is built on springy synthesisers with tom-toms simulating an underlying heartbeat.  In a coolly controlled voice, Annie Lennox sings “Love is a stranger in an open car / To tempt you in and drive you far away.”  As the song builds, she alters to a helium high pitch, asserting “And I want you so / It’s an obsession.”  This last word drops down again to the accompaniment of an eerie echo.  MTV, the U.S. cable-television network devoted to music videos, refuses to air the song ‘until it’s “proven” that Lennox’s character is indeed her, and not a male transvestite’.  In the video for the title track, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 6), Lennox wears a man’s business suit, her delicate features offset by the tangerine buzz-cut.  ‘Sweet dreams are made of this / Who am I to disagree?” she asks, before going on to warn, “Some of them want to use you / Some of them want to get used by you / Some of them want to abuse you / Some of them want to be abused.”  Discriminating between Eurythmics albums is not simple, but ‘Sweet Dreams’ is probably the best.  There may be other more hit-laden, commercially successful works to come, but ‘Sweet Dreams’ holds up well over time and delivers the most original sound.  It captures the decisive moment of their arrival as a force.

The follow-up album, ‘Touch’ (1983) (UK no. 1, US no. 7, AUS no. 4), arrives at the end of the year.  At the Grammy Awards, Annie Lennox sets tongues wagging by showing up to present an award as ‘a sideburned siren…a dead ringer for a gender-bent Elvis Presley’.  “I would have been perfect as a man,” she observes, while also confessing, “I just wanted to be perplexing.”  This new persona features in the video for ‘Who’s That Girl’ (UK no. 3, US no. 21, AUS no. 20), sharing screen time with her red-brick diva and a flouncy, blonde-wigged variant.  In the song, Lennox coos, “The language of love slips from my lover’s tongue / Cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun / Don’t hearts get broken / Just like china cups? / The language of love has left me broken on the rocks.”  ‘Who’s That Girl’ is as synthesiser based as previous hits, but ‘Touch’ shows sign of expanding musical ambitions.  ‘Right By Your Side’ (UK no. 10, US no. 29, AUS no. 15) is a fruity number sounding like an updated version of a 1940s Hollywood glamour girl number.  ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ (UK no. 8, US no. 4, AUS no. 16) still has synthesisers, but it is the pizzicato strings and swooping violins (or the synthetic equivalents thereof) that claim interest as they patter like raindrops.  Annie states, “I want to walk in the open wind / I want to talk like lovers do / Want to dive into your ocean / Is it raining with you?”  David A. Stewart assumes production duties with this album after co-producing their previous disc.

In March 1984, Annie Lennox marries Radha Ramen, a Hare Krishna devotee.  Despite her attention grabbing public image, Lennox proves more protective of her personal life.  She allows that, “He’s a very special person who has provided me with a great deal of support and stabilising.  The whole thing was kept unannounced because we wanted our privacy to remain unspoiled.”

The Eurythmics are hired to produce the soundtrack to the movie ‘1984’ (1984) based on the 1949 George Orwell novel.  It seems like a perfect fit.  In ‘1984’, Winston Smith is psychologically crushed by the oppressive regime of Big Brother.  Eurythmics’ human vocals are set amidst swathes of electronics.  The album is titled ‘1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother)’ (1984) (UK no. 28, US no. 93, AUS no. 22).  The single, ‘Sexcrime’ (UK no. 4, US no. 81, AUS no. 5), is misunderstood by some listeners unfamiliar with the novel.  In the ‘newspeak’ of the future, a ‘sexcrime’ is simply an unauthorised tryst.  The vocals in the chorus are chopped and edited until it stutters like a malfunctioning program.  A vocoder (electronically modulated voice) shadows this with repetitions of “1984”.  ‘Julia’ (UK no. 44) is an ode to Winston Smith’s partner in ‘sexcrime’.

Annie Lennox’s brief marriage to Radha Ramen ends in divorce in 1985.

By 1985, the wave of synth pop acts is fading.  Eurythmics stay ahead of the pack by drastically reinventing themselves.  The ironically titled ‘Be Yourself Tonight’ (1985) (UK no. 3, US no. 9, AUS no. 1) sees them switch from cold synthesisers to hot retro soul music.  Dave Stewart is now playing guitar.  The first single, ‘Would I Lie To You’ (UK no. 17, US no. 5, AUS no. 1), shows Annie Lennox sashaying across the stage in a sequinned and fringed little black dress.  Her hair is still short but is now spiky peroxide-white blonde.  Big guitar chords, thumping drums, a chorus of horns and a throaty organ form the backdrop as Annie fires up with the words, “My friends / Know what’s in store / I won’t be here anymore / I’ve packed my bags / I’ve cleaned the floor / Watch me walking / Walking out the door.”  If there are any doubts about whether a pale Scots lassie can sing music normally associated with the blacks of the southern states of the U.S.A., they are allayed when Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, duets on the feminist anthem ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’ (UK no. 9, US no. 18, AUS no. 15).  On ‘There Must Be An Angel’ (UK no. 1, US no. 22, AUS no. 3) it appears that, through sheer force of will, Eurythmics conjure up Stevie Wonder to play harmonica.  ‘It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)’ (UK no. 12, US no. 78, AUS no. 32) may feature a seemingly automated rhythm, but the brass lends it heat and vitality.  Annie tells a returning lover, “And I’ll be / The ticking of your clock / And I’ll be / The numbers on your watch / And I’ll be / The hands that stop the time / I’ll even be your danger sign.”

‘Revenge’ (1986) (UK no. 3, US no. 12, AUS no. 15) is marginally less fiery.  Songs like ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ (UK no. 30, AUS no. 7) and ‘Thorn In My Side’ (UK no. 5, US no. 68, AUS no. 12) are more like well-considered works of pop music than soul.  More full-blooded is ‘Missionary Man’ (UK no. 31, US no. 14, AUS no. 9), introduced with Annie’s proclamation, “I was born an original sinner / I was born from original sin / And if I had a dollar bill for all the things I’ve done / I’d have a mountain of money piled up to my chin.”  As she contemplates messing with a missionary man, she is warned to “Stop what you’re doing / Get down upon your knees / I’ve a message for you that you better believe.”  The wailing harmonica and gospel shouts of ‘Missionary Man’ are in sharp contrast to the slow and stately ‘Miracle Of Love’ (UK no. 23, AUS no. 14).

In 1987 Dave Stewart marries for the second time.  His spouse is Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama, a trio of female vocalists.  The couple go on to have two sons, Sam and Django.

In November comes the next Eurythmics album, ‘Savage’ (1987) (UK no. 7, US no. 41, AUS no. 15).  The cover, and the video for the first single ‘(I Love To Listen To) Beethoven’ (UK no. 25, AUS no. 13), show Annie Lennox adopting the guise of a blonde-wigged housewife floozy who seems to have seen better days.  Dramatic though it may be, she is quickly back to the short blonde hairdo and familiar pop sounds of ‘You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart’ (UK no. 16, US no. 64).  ‘Savage’ also contains the best song of Eurythmics’ career, the shocking ‘I Need A Man’ (UK no. 26, US no. 46, AUS no. 78).  Over big guitar chords and a burbling bass, Lennox screams “Wa-owww!” like a she-wolf and bellows the title.  Who would be brave enough to deny her?  “Baby, baby, baby, don’t you shave your legs,” she insists, “Don’t you double comb your hair / Don’t powder puff / Just leave it buff / I like your fingers bare.”  It’s impossible to take seriously, but lots of fun.  Annie continues, “There’s just one thing that I’m looking for / And he don’t wear a dress / I need a man!”  It is ‘one of Lennox’s finest vocal performances’.

In 1988 Annie Lennox gets a man.  She marries Israeli film and record producer Uri Fruchtmann.  Their first child, a boy named Daniel, is stillborn in December 1988, but they subsequently become parents to two girls, Lola (born 1990) and Tali (born 1993).

‘We Too Are One’ (1989) (UK no. 1, US no. 34, AUS no. 7) is the next Eurythmics album.  The highlight is ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ (UK no. 25, US no. 40, AUS no. 35).  ‘Revival’ (UK no. 26, AUS no. 14), ‘The King And Queen Of America’ (UK no. 29, AUS no. 72) and ‘Angel’ (UK no. 23) are all on this disc.  Yet despite their unhindered sales, Eurythmics close up shop after this project.

Dave Stewart’s marriage to Siobhan Fahey ends in 1996.

Eurythmics reunite for one more album, ‘Peace’ (1999) (UK no. 4, US no. 25, AUS no. 8).  The cover shows Annie Lennox still with short hair, but it is now quite dark.  ’17 Again’ (UK no. 27) seems to sum things up: “You in all your jewellery / And my bleeding heart / Who couldn’t be together / And who could not be apart.”

Annie Lennox and Uri Fruchtmann divorce in 2000.  On 4 August 2001, Dave Stewart marries Anoushka Fisz, who bears him two daughters, Kaya and Indya.  On 15 September 2012 Annie Lennox weds Mitch Besser, a South African gynaecologist.

Eurythmics were interesting for their daring redefinition of what makes a woman beautiful.  In her own brave way, Annie Lennox challenged preconceptions without ever losing her own sense of identity.

But The Eurythmics were musicians, not fashion designers or models.  Part of the reason for their success was probably the love Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart once shared.  ‘Both artists relied heavily on each other’s considerable talent and, as former lovers, they knew better than most their strengths and weaknesses’.  Dave and Annie believed in each other when it seemed no one else did, when others dismissed them as oddballs.  In a way, Eurythmics was the slow unwinding of that bond.  As they became more confident and well defined as separate individuals, their work as a duo seemed to become less important to them.  Or, at least, Eurythmics was no longer essential to their lives.

‘Lennox was one of the most visually striking female performers of her era, with a voice of rare quality.  Stewart stayed in the background, using his talent as a producer and songwriter’.  It was ‘the bittersweet left-of-centre love songs sung by the cool voice of Lennox which brought The Eurythmics success around the world’.

Sources:

  1. ‘The Little Oxford Dictionary’ (Clarendon Press, 1975) p. 184
  2. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 276, 278, 279
  3. ‘The Australian Contemporary Dictionary’ (Collins Press, 1969) p. 181
  4. sonicnet.com – ‘Eurythmics’ as at 28 August 2001 p. 1, 2
  5. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 77
  6. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 140
  7. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) (10 October 2010, guardian.co.uk)
  8. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 358
  9. wikipedia.org as at 21 January 2013

Song lyrics copyright BMG Music with the exception of ‘Love Is A Stranger’ (Warner / Chappell / C. Control)

Last revised 19 August 2014

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