When the ’70s ended, punk rockers were left with lingering doubts as to the viability of their chosen musical path. The early threads of post-punk had already been sown when the decade ended, and other artists could be seen cradling a dense and foggy pop affection that would forever alter the musical trajectory of the ’80s. But somewhere in the middle of all this chaotic transitioning, there were bands who saw the opportunity to meld and rearrange all these emerging sounds into a clear and cohesive, albeit fledgling, aesthetic that sought to blend euphoric melodies and sardonic lyrical narratives. And in this lead wave sat two musicians whose work would shape the modern musical landscape in ways that neither of them could have predicted.
Built around the collaborative muses of Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, Eurythmics took the compelling ideas surrounding new wave, electronic music and synth pop into uncharted areas, creating a new dancey rock atmosphere where their songs could live and evolve without fear of restriction. Their early work was influenced by krautrock and various psych bands, although they would steer toward a warped pop aesthetic on subsequent releases. By using experimental sounds to redefine the upper limits of pop and rock music, they were able to find a dense and remarkable intersection where there still existed some danger and mystery for them to explore.
Although the band was officially formed in 1980, the roots of their music go back a little further. Lennox and Stewart first met in 1975 in a London restaurant where she worked. They immediately developed an emotional and musical rapport and found themselves performing alongside one another for the first time in a band called The Catch in 1976. They released one single before the band changed its name to The Tourists, and they would go on to a measure of success. But by all accounts, the experience for Lennox and Stewart wasn’t pleasant, and they soon yearned to be free of the band’s musical confinement. They set out to make pop music on their own terms.
Their decision to become a duo and call themselves Eurythmics was done in a hotel in Australia. After they made the commitment to leave The Tourists and follow their own musical direction, they found themselves messing around with a portable mini-synthesizer in the town of Wagga Wagga, determined that they would be the only permanent members and songwriters—but they would call on different musicians to help out when needed. They eventually signed to RCA Records. Lennox and Stewart lost their romantic ties around this time, severing their personal relationship but continuing to explore their professional one.
They absconded to Germany to record their debut, “In the Garden,” with producer Conny Plank, and the resulting songs were heavily inspired by psych, krautrock and post-punk sounds. Members of Blondie, Can and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft helped add an air of authenticity to the band’s eclectic rhythms and electronic wanderings. And though the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it gave them the needed push to continue exploring these specific rhythmic avenues and performing live as a duo backed by prerecorded tracks and different electronic backdrops.
In 1982, they acquired a loan to build a small studio at Chalk Farm in London. Stashed away above a picture framing factory, this space allowed them the freedom to record and experiment without fear of endless studio fees and outside opinion. The work they started there was much more electronically inclined, moving away from the skewed rock leanings that littered the songs of their debut. The first few singles they released from these sessions didn’t really connect with radio stations or fans, and success still eluded the band. On top of that, their strenuous DIY tour routine was having a physical effect on both artists, as Lennox was diagnosed with having at least one nervous breakdown and Stewart was hospitalized with a collapsed lung.
Their fortunes radically changed in 1983 when their sophomore record, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” was released and its title track raced up the charts, propelling the duo into immediate stardom. The prevalence of the striking music video for the song also greatly helped bring their distinctive appearance to people who might never have heard them. An earlier single, “Love Is a Stranger,” was rereleased and became another hit for the band. But this record was more than the sum total of its hit singles—it possesses a brazen and formidable pop vision, one that would help shape pop music in ways that wouldn’t be fully understood until many years had passed.
Tracks such as “Wrap It Up” (their version of a song made famous by Sam & Dave) and “The Walk” reveal a prescient awareness of just how far pop had come and just how far it could continue to go. “Love Is a Stranger,” with its high-register vocals and deep melodies, was the perfect way for people to be exposed to their refined and expansive new sound. Lennox and Stewart were looking to completely upend expectations, and with tracks such as “This Is the House,” with its flailing trumpet lines and multilingual vocals, and “Jennifer,” which could pass for a lost track from Chromatics, they were able to indulge in their every pop whim and craft a deliriously detailed and mesmerizing musical perspective.
So while most people will undoubtedly recognize the album’s title track, there is so much more to this record than just a globally recognized hit (although that song is still as wondrous and remarkable as it was all those years ago). “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” came at a time when genres were beginning to bleed into one another and the boundaries between sounds were blurring to an unprecedented degree. And it was in this environment of musical osmosis that Eurythmics found their rightful home, a place where assumptions and musical guidelines could be shattered and pieced back together at a moment’s notice. It was the ’80s, and anything seemed possible.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.