ROCKWiRED REWiND: EURYTHMiCS' 1985 ALBUM BE YOURSELF TONiGHT
was the year that pop music grew a heart with the advent BOB GELDOLF's BAND AID initiative which had kicked off in late 1984 with the release of the now-classic Holiday pop tune DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS which featured vocals from just about every major recording artist popular on MTV at that time from across the Atlantic. Months later US artists, led by MICHAEL JACKSON and LIONEL RITCHIE, would pick up the slack and launch the USA FOR AFRICA initiative with the single WE ARE THE WORLD featuring just about every artist who was able to make it to the GRAMMYs that night with producer QUINCY JONES capturing the historic pop moment on reel to reel and video.
Who knew that the world of pop music had within itself a need to want to make the world a better place for you and for me? Of course the idea that music changes the world is a notion that is scoffed at now but these days there is no piss and vinegar figure like the guy from THE BOOMTOWN RATS leading a global charge such as this. Later that year BAND AID and USA FOR AFRICA cranked it up a notch with LIVE AID - a Transatlantic benefit concert that had the whole industry hitting a live stage and doing their part to end famine. Of course these days the pop music feat is most remembered as the bookend of that QUEEN biopic a couple of years back. When I was a ten year old boy in 1985 the music industry was truly an industry and not a talent show complete with iconography and songcraft to spare. If BAND AID and USA FOR AFRICA was as political as the machine got, fine by me.
Of course, given all of the extra publicity that goes along with such goodwill, it was easy to notice those artists who were noticeably absent from the all of the zeitgeist. It was easy for me to notice that EURYTHMICS - one of pop's more demonstrative acts of that time - hadn't made a peep.
You see, ANNIE LENNOX and DAVID STEWART knew a thing or two when it came to the "look and feel" of pop music. If there was ever any doubt, all one had to do was check out their 1983 bluesy electropop breakthrough single SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) and the accompanying video which found the duo sporting matching suits while surveying a field of cows as if they were prospectors from some BLADE RUNNER-styled milieu. And who could deny LENNOX her chilling blue-eyed gaze and robotic allure? If anyone thought her peach colored buzz cut was gender fuck, they had no idea how fucked gender norms could get until they saw the video for the duo's other synth hit LOVE IS A STRANGER where LENNOX portrays a high end prostitute, a PVC clad dominatrix and a pimp of unspecified gender that moves like a robot at that video's unsettling conclusion.
EURYTHMICS made one hell of a first impression in the world of pop music with their 1983 album SWEET DREAMS and its forementioned singles. That same year, they released the album TOUCH which was preceded by the singles WHO'S THAT GIRL and RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE. The former was a chilly, synth-charged torch song where LENNOX displayed her innate acting chops in its music video playing a lovelorn nightclub singer and an ELVIS-y looking chap who come together at video's end for a kiss. The latter is a chirpy calypso-styled misstep cheapened by a live performance video with LENNOX dressed in a hideous safari outfit. Oh well! The prize was the single HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN which combined MIKE KAMEN's Wagnerian strings with shoo-wops and elevated pop music into the realms of fine art. Why the single didn't go all the way to number one on BILLBOARD's HOT 100 like SWEET DREAMS did is anybody's guess. I was just a lad but EURYTHMICS had me where they wanted to the rest of the American public - thirsty for more.
So when the single WOULD I LIE TO YOU? hit the radio the week that my fourth grade year was coming to a close, I had no idea it was a EURYTHMICS song. The duo's latest single didn't begin with an eerie minor synth progression but with a STONES-y guitar lick and a stomping bass drum. Before long a brass section right out of a STAX session pipes in and the listener is hooked as the song's rousing chorus is established thanks to LENNOX's multi-layered vocals. As a vocalist, LENNOX has cut loose before in previous albums but in this song she emerges as an R&B powerhouse rejoicing in the fact that she has the strength to move one from a relationship that ain't going nowhere. At the song's halfway point the revving of a motorcycle engine can be heard in case there was any doubt that this wasn't pure unadulterated rock n roll. Following STEWART's guitar solo (which echoes the EURYTHMICS track THE FIRST CUT from the TOUCH album) the stomping soul rock number comes back to its mighty chorus and first verse and the surprising number goes out like a rocket with STEWART's guitar riffs, the four to the floor drumming and that glorious brass section. Who knew that a UK duo famous for their electronic sound had this in them?
CHECK OUT THE MUSIC VIDEO FOR WOULD i LiE TO YOU?
All of this excitement generated by the single had me wondering what the music video was going to be like. Having etched out a reputation as a chameleon in pop music who could change her look with every promotional video, it was strange to see LENNOX emerge as quite simply a bleached blonde rocker. The video for WOULD I LIKE TO YOU? opens with the quiet EURYTHMIC DAVID STEWART in the backstage of some venue sporting jeans, a leather jacket and the trade mark sunglasses, beard and scruffy hair and wondering where ANNIE is. Not much of an actor the banter between he and his bandmates is thankfully kept to a minimum. We cut away to a biker pulling up with his motorcycle and LENNOX hopping off the bike. The biker grabs our songbird by the shoulder asking if she' going to be late tonight and in her thick Scottish drawl replies she may not be there. The couple scuffle briefly and LENNOX walks away to which her asshole boyfriend shouts, "Queen bitch! I hope your your voice gives out."
A shaken LENNOX makes it backstage just seconds before the band is to go on, but when STEWART advises that LENNOX be herself tonight, a noticeable attitude change takes place and before long ANNIE, DAVE and the band are rocking out before a more than an enthusiastic crowd - the kind that only exists in rock videos from the eighties. Of course the infectious good time can't last forever. ANNIE's biker boyfriend jumps the stage demanding that she come with him now and by simply issuing the song's mighty chorus, our heroine knocks her oppressive boyfriend off the stage and the crowd does their bit to carry him out of the venue. LENNOX - the platinum blonde rocker - is emancipated from the confines of an abusive and controlling relationship and from here the celebration looks like it could go on all night. The video may lack the more stylized approach that we've come to expect from EURYTHMICS, but director MARY LAMBERT gives the proceedings a grittiness that this soul rock stomper deserves. And of course, this video is another pop classic for this most dynamic duo.
ith WOULD I LIE TO YOU? serving as the clarion call for EURYTHMICS' fourth album, it should've been no surprise that BE YOURSELF TONIGHT was going to be a different kettle of fish. Anyone who was expecting icy electronics mixed with intoxicating world rhythms and LENNOX's sparse lyrics were going to have to settle for the electronics being relegated to the background and a more conventional pop rock aesthetic to seize the day. But it all comes to a crackle and a pop in the most effervescent way. It would've been all too easy to have recorded an album full of gritty rockers and called it a day but co-EURYTHMIC and album producer DAVE STEWART took a few notes from legendary producer QUINCY JONES' work on MICHAEL JACKSON's THRILLER album from 1983. BE YOURSELF TONIGHT boasts a pleasant R&B pulse that not afraid to raise the rafters as it does on WOULD I LIE TO YOU?, the foot stomping (I LOVE YOU) LIKE A BALL AND CHAIN or the incendiary suffragist anthem SISTERS ARE DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES, nor does it mind taking a more subdued approach as it does on the horn charged slow burn of IT'S ALRIGHT (BABY'S COMING BACK). However, EURYTHMICS are first and foremost a pop duo and can't keep such saccharine sweet moments as THERE MUST AN ANGEL (PLAYING WITH MY HEART) or such curious rock/electronic studio exercises as HERE COMES THAT SINKING FEELING and CONDITIONED SOUL a secret.
For the past three albums STEWART received accolades for his work behind the recording console and with BE YOURSELF TONIGHT he emerges as a star in his own right with some ace guitar playing. On albums such as SWEET DREAMS or TOUCH, one could sense that STEWART wanted to take certain moments into orbit with his guitar playing and with key tracks on BE YOURSELF TONIGHT he finally gets to do so. Earlier output from EURYTHMICS painted LENNOX as an aloof ice queen. While BE YOURSELF TONIGHT doesn't shake that sensibility entirely, the more conventional pop approach does allow the chanteuse to be over the top and less restrained and the change is most definitely welcome.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the guest stars on this album. As mentioned at the top of the article the world of music in 1985 was all about putting as much star power as possible behind a worthy cause and while BE YOURSELF TONIGHT didn't save the world, the effort is a delectable pop rock opus with contributions from talents as celebrated as STEVIE WONDER, ARETHA FRANKLIN, ELVIS COSTELLO and BENMONT TENCH, STAN LYNCH and MIKE CAMPBELL of TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS. Despite the guest appearances, it is DAVE and ANNIE who emerge as the stars and that is saying a ton when you've got the QUEEN OF SOUL on your album.
THERE MUST BE AN ANGEL (PLAYING WITH MY HEART)
Even as late as 1985, there was this argument that music videos took something away from the experience of listening to music. Why couldn't the listener paint their own picture in their head of what a song should "look like?" Having come up in the music video age I can honestly say THERE MUST BE AN ANGEL wouldn't be the classic it became without its delightful music video. Just like RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE from the TOUCH album, THERE MUST BE AN ANGEL stands out by a mile on an album largely devoted to romantic disillusionment and finds itself overcome with joy and glee. It is too sickeningly sweet a disposition for one to find in a EURYTHMICS song. Only when we see the video do we understand that the song is high camp. Cleverly set during the Restoration period, DAVE plays a king surrounded by nervous courtiers who are anxious to witness their majesty's reaction to a performance. Something to do with angels if you hear them whispering amongst each each other. The costumes are garishly over the top and STEWART seems to be relishing his role as king and not as a mysterious figure in the background. A hush comes over the king's court and a light shines on LENNOX. Not the blonde rock chick but as an angelic figure with long golden locks of hair and a long white gown sweetly trilling the song's opening la-di-da. Despite the presence of such a radiant beauty before him, King STEWART is unmoved and even a little bored but when LENNOX gets some gospel backing during the song's bridge and a child dressed as an angel starts jamming out on the songs famous harmonica solo (played by STEVIE WONDER) his majesty has a change of heart. The king is delighted by the performance, the courtiers celebrate, LENNOX takes her bow and doves are released and the final shot is on King STEWART winking at the camera. Strangely, the song is EURYTHMICS' only single to top the charts in the UK.
(I LOVE YOU) LIKE A BALL AND CHAIN
If any song should've been a follow up to the raucousness of WOULD I LIE TO YOU? it should've been ...BALL AND CHAIN. One could imagine a finely stylized video to run in contrast to the camp and sweetness of THERE MUST BE AN ANGEL but sadly no such decision was made. What we are left with is a dark horse EURYTHMICS hit made memorable for its stomping percussion, STEWARTS' lethal guitar licks, LENNOX's betrayed growl backed by the CHARLES WILLIAMS SINGERS who gave LENNOX's voice the perfect counterbalance. In terms of subject matter we've been here before - bad love that feels good - but if the formula ain't broke, why fix it?
SISTER ARE DOIN' IT (FOR THEMSELVES)
The age of MTV gave birth to a profound feminine power in music. The airwaves were filled with sounds and images from the likes of MADONNA, CYNDI LAUPER, TINA TURNER and PAT BENATAR. Hell, even some of the men took to wearing eyeliner. With the world of pop music embracing its feminine side why not write a song about it? Strangely enough it was TINA TURNER who was first approached to take part in what would become one of the greatest feminist anthems, but being hot off of her success with PRIVATE DANCER, one can only assume that the tonal shift from that album and single to SISTERS... was too much for the comfort of one's career. However, THE QUEEN OF SOUL was available and that was the energy and presence that was needed to set this fucker off. SISTERS... is the kind of rabble rousing that both women and men can stand up and take part in. ARETHA FRANKLIN left her incendiary mark on the proceedings but LENNOX was certainly no slouch. The sisterhood between these two was strong when recorded. Too bad it didn't translate that well on video.
Side A of BE YOURSELF TONIGHT was all about going for that pop rock moment that was going to resonate with radio and serve as a springboard for that big MTV moment. Once side B commences, CONDITIONED SOUL gives us a moment to chill. Opening with chimes, an uncredited pan flute and a moody synth progression it feels like we are back to the TOUCH sessions from two years earlier. "When will you make up your mind?" wails LENNOX at the intro. The listener can sense disappointment and betrayal in the air but the subdued number is all about romantic resignation. A static groove (similar to that of DON'T COME AROUND HERE NO MORE by TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS) is established by the rhythm section of OLLE ROMO on drums and DEAN GARCIA on bass which provide enough of a boost for LENNOX's synths and vocals and STEWART's guitar soloing to roam free. CONDITIONED SOUL is more of a musical exercise than a pop moment and on an album full of pop moments, a chance to cut loose from the confines of a pop song is most welcome.
Where SISTERS... was an incendiary moment with larger-than-life lyrical trade-offs between LENNOX and FRANKLIN, ADRIAN is a subdued, wistful bit of sixties sounding pop with ELVIS COSTELLO harmonizing while LENNOX leads the way. There is some interesting guitar work from MIKE CAMPBELL and DAVE STEWART but the song is bit repetitious and is just a cut above being a b-side to one of the album's singles. Maybe the song could've benefitted from a sturdier arrangement and a more vocal guest star a'la BOY GEORGE.
IT'S ALRIGHT (BABY'S COMING BACK)
Ever since the release of SWEET DREAMS..., LENNOX's contralto has marked the singer as a blue-eyed soul artist despite the fact that she has always been more of a pop singer. With IT'S ALRIGHT (BABY'S COMING BACK) LENNOX pays a loving tribute to that other blue eyed soulstress, DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, in a way that is more personal than when her former band, THE TOURISTS', covered SPRINGFIELD's 1963 hit I ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU YOU six years earlier. Opening with a robotic pulsing synth bass, IT'S ALRIGHT.. finds its groove instantly with a percolating brass section. LENNOX eases into the song as if it were an overstuffed chair and delights in the news of a lover coming back into her life. Adding a little extra oomph is STEWART's delectable jazz guitar solo at the song's middle. The music video for the song combined animation and a bare shoulder LENNOX with a mop of blonde hair no longer bearing any resemblance to the robotic figure we first met in the SWEET DREAMS video. No wonder PLAYBOY named her sexiest woman in 1985.
HERE COMES THAT SINKING FEELING
Whenever there is a new love to be found, you can always trust LENNOX to know that there is the possibility of hurt that will come along with it. Anyone with an understanding of the humanities knows that such observations are as old as human nature but LENNOX and STEWART have spun this very outlook flawlessly into pop gold up to this point. When we hear the duo getting up to this sort of thing on a deep cut, we've got a feeling this is coming from real life. HERE COMES THAT SINKING FEELING is a studio creation that could never be brought to life on stage. The track is a studio mash up combining the duo's electronic smarts with their need to rock out and the results are ecclesiastic thanks to the looping of the brass, and MIKE KAMEN's astounding strings.
BETTER TO HAVE LOST IN LOVE (THAN NEVER TO HAVE LOVED AT ALL)
With the three album that precede BE YOURSELF TONIGHT, EURYTHMICS have always managed to tie things up in a nice little bow and BETTER TO HAVE LOST IN LOVE... is no exception. Once again MIKE KAMEN's strings lift the number to a state of grandeur on the order of a classic MOTOWN recording a'la (REACH OUT) I'LL BE THERE as LENNOX lays it all on the line how she's go to move on from a past love and look to the future. Not lacking on pomp or drama the effervescent track cruises like convertible on a freeway. The ride is so pleasant that you almost don't pick up the fact that KAMEN's strings are echoing the chord progression set forth in SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) at the song's conclusion.
o say that the combined talents of ANNIE LENNOX and DAVID STEWART had come a long way is an understatement. In the space of six years they enjoyed their first taste of fame as members of the power pop band THE TOURISTS and then struggled getting the public to go in on this idea of theirs called EURYTHMICS which didn't hit pay dirt until 1983 with the release of SWEET DREAMS. In the year and a half that followed LENNOX and STEWART blazed a trail of pop glory marked by mystery and sheer showmanship. They even landed a gig scoring the movie 1984 and released the eerily effective soundtrack album 1984 - FOR THE LOVE OF BIG BROTHER. Of course controversy ensued when the film's director MICHAEL RADFORD lambasted the duo for hijacking his film with their score leading to a war of words between the director and the duo resulting in the eventual removal of EURYTHMICS' music from the film. BE YOURSELF TONIGHT helped move the duo beyond troubled waters and into incandescent glow of platinum sales. Sadly because of LENNOX's trouble with vocal nodules, no tour followed the release of BE YOURSELF TONIGHT but a steady stream of video releases managed to keep the duo and the album afloat.
Critical response to the album was favorable despite the album's more conventional approach. ROBERT CHRISTGAU of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote: "New wave's answer to SHIRLEY BASSEY is finally connecting with those of us who won't settle for voice-plus-hooks not because she shows signs of having a soul, but because she shows signs of having a brain. Of course, the two go together--her lush, brassy emotionalism is more coherent partly because it's grounded, less taken with alienation as a way of life. DAVE STEWART's guitar doesn't hurt either. And neither do ARETHA, STEVIE, or ELVIS."
GEOFFREY HIMES of the WASHINGTON POST declared: "The EURYTHMICS duo of DAVE STEWART and ANNIE LENNOX raise their much underrated songwriting and performance skills to a new level on their fifth and best album, BE YOURSELF TONIGHT. STEWART has proved his breadth by co-writing and co-producing the strongest cuts on the recent albums by THE RAMONES and TOM PETTY. LENNOX proves her breadth on this album by more than holding her own on duet vocals with ARETHA FRANKLIN and ELVIS COSTELLO."
With BE YOURSELF TONIGHT going platinum on both sides of the Atlantic it was clear that EURYTHMICS were going to stick around for a little bit. Sure there may have been some apprehension about the duo abandoning their more experimental and electronic assets in favor of guitar licks and the vocal histrionics that go along with a more streamlined pop music experience, but so what? In my experience EURYTHMICS fans are divided into two camps - the ones who prefer the duos' synthesizer-centric work and those who don't mind them rocking out a bit. I personally played the album to death that summer and when my family traveled for vacation I recorded the contents of my vinyl copy onto a cassette and listened through my SONY Walkman. Thirty five years after the album's release, BE YOURSELF TONIGHT still resonates today. Hell, the singer ANNIE LENNOX became on this album was PINK before there was a PINK. BE YOURSELF TONIGHT would be EURYTHMICS' final album to go platinum Stateside before LENNOX would take her music making into her own hands with her solo debut DIVA (1992) and its follow up MEDUSA (1995). While LENNOX and STEWART may have achieved notoriety through their earlier releases as EURYTHMICS, it was BE YOURSELF TONIGHT that cemented LENNOX's reputation as an ace vocalist and songwriter and STEWART's penchant for laying down tracks as he would for just about every major recording artist that's out there. In my own humble opinion, the world could use the combined talents of these two once again.
CORRECTION: Earlier it was printed that BOB GELDOLF founded USA FOR AFRICA. He founded BAND AID.RELATED LiNKS:
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