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Annie Lennox, with her partner Dave Stewart in Eurythmics and The Tourists, and as a solo artist, has enjoyed tremendous success over the past 30+ years. Her long string of classic singles include “Why,” “Walking on Broken Glass,” “No More I Love You’s,” “Would I Lie To You,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” and of course “Sweet Dreams (are made of this).” She is an icon and an accomplished humanitarian who has worked tirelessly to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. On Christmas Day she turned 59, so it’s a perfect opportunity to look back and explore a selection of some of her lesser-known tracks. If you’re only familiar with the big hits, you’re missing out on some stunning material by one of the great visionary artists our time.
This haunting ballad was the 2nd single from Eurythmics’ sadly overlooked “1984 (For the Love of Big Brother)” album, released in 1984. It was meant to be a soundtrack to the film version of George Orwell’s “1984” directed by Michael Radford, but very little from their recordings were used in the film. Despite this, the album itself is superb, a collection of dark electronic soundscapes that stands on its own as a concept album based on Orwell’s chilling classic. “1984 (For the Love of Big Brother)” is undoubtedly one of the most unjustly overlooked albums of the ’80s, and it is ripe for re-discovery (and a reissue would certainly help). First single “Sexcrime (1984)” was a moderate hit in the U.K. but American radio stations wouldn’t play it, and “Julia” barely made a dent in the charts even in the U.K. A true shame, because it’s a stunning track, with an amazing vocal by Lennox over beautifully layered synths and featuring a superb acoustic guitar solo by Stewart. The video features Lennox at her most dramatic and beautiful. “Julia” is a track that should be featured on every Eurythmics “Greatest Hits” compilation, but instead it’s known mostly by die-hard fans. Annie Lennox fans who have never heard it or seen the video will be amazed at how a song this sublime could be so unknown. Hopefully that will change at some point.
After taking several years off following their 1990 album “We Too Are One,” Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox both spent several years working on solo projects. They reformed as Eurythmics for the 1999 album “Peace,” which was supported by an extensive tour. The album didn’t gain much traction in the U.S., despite it being a strong collection with some terrific commercial material. The nostalgic and wistful “17 Again,” with its call-back to the classic single “Sweet Dreams,” is particularly powerful, and features a stunning video. Like many other tracks on “Peace,” “17 Again” deserves a much wider audience. Also worthy of mention is “I’ve Tried Everything” and “Anything But Strong.”
Eurythmics’ 1987 album “Savage” is widely regarded by fans as one of their finest, but it was met with a decidedly lukewarm commercial response in the U.S. when it was released. The duo filmed videos for each of the album’s tracks, and opening track “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)” set the tone for the loose storyline about a woman struggling to escape a maddeningly mundane existence by giving way to the multiple personalities that bubble to the surface. “Savage” is a return to their more electronic and experimental sound after the commercial pop-rock of the “Revenge” album, and overall is a superb piece of work. As good an album as it is, there’s not much that is really commercial, and “Beethoven” is not the type of song that had a prayer of getting airplay in the U.S. (although it did get some play on MTV). It’s a brilliant piece of work, and once again displays Annie Lennox’s amazing capacity for wonderful dramatic performances in her videos as she brings to life a truly fascinating character.
When Dave and Annie released their breakthrough album “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)” in 1983, they had recorded a number of highly experimental tracks which ultimately became b-sides. One of them is “Monkey, Monkey,” which appeared in the U.S. as the flip side to the “Love is a Stranger” single. It wasn’t available on CD until it was included as a bonus track on the reissue of the “Sweet Dreams” album several years back (although they seem to have lost the original master tapes, as the version on the CD is clearly taken from a vinyl source — you can hear the pops and clicks quite clearly). It’s a fascinating glimpse into another side of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, and their willingness to create bizarre and wonderful sonic experiments. Fans who think of Annie Lennox as only a commercial pop/adult contemporary singer need to hear some of the other work she’s done to really get a full picture of Annie Lennox as an artist. “Monkey, Monkey” is an obscure nugget from the early ’80s electronic/new wave period, but it illuminates Dave and Annie’s more experimental side — and it still sounds spellbinding and beautifully weird.
Before Eurythmics, Dave and Annie were members of a power-pop band called The Tourists. They achieved moderate success in the U.K. with a handful of singles, most notably their cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You.” They released three albums before breaking up, and Dave and Annie left to form Eurythmics. There is some great material in The Tourists’ catalog worth discovering, particularly this track from their final album, 1980’s “Luminous Basement.” “One Step Nearer The Edge” is a slow rocker with a remarkably mature vocal by Lennox, and a hint of the experimental rock/pop that Dave and Annie would explore in the coming years as Eurythmics. This track is possibly The Tourists’ finest moment (and, incidentally, it’s credited as being written by Ann Lennox).
We go even further back in the past for this nugget, the first single for Dave and Annie. Working with Pete Coombs, who would join them in The Tourists, the track “Borderline” was released in 1977 under the name The Catch. It wasn’t a hit and it’s very difficult to find, but it’s worth tracking down. Featuring a very young Annie Lennox on lead vocals, it’s actually a very nifty pop song. A fascinating musical artifact, this is the song that started it all.
Fifteen years after “Borderline,” Annie Lennox released her first solo album, “Diva.” It was a widely-acclaimed smash and an undisputed classic. One track recorded during the sessions, “Step by Step,” didn’t make the album — it was included on the Japanese pressing as a bonus track, and it appeared as the b-side to the single “Precious.” It’s an odd exclusion, given the obvious commercial strength of the song. Perhaps she felt the upbeat pop track didn’t fit with the rest of the material on the album, which is mostly rather mellow. It might have been a hit had she included it and released it as a single. Producer Stephen Lipson, who worked with Annie on “Diva,” certainly agreed. He would produce it for Annie’s Arista Records label-mate Whitney Houston, who earned a hit five years later with her cover featured on the soundtrack to “The Preacher’s Wife.”
In 1995, Annie released her stellar covers album “Medusa,” which featured her take on a wildly diverse collection of songs and included the massive hit “No More I Love You’s,” originally recorded by The Lover Speaks. One track recorded during the sessions that was left off the album, but appeared as a b-side, is her wonderful cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 single “Heaven.” Another strange exclusion, as it sounds like it might have made for a terrific single. Instead it has languished in obscurity – – a shame. The melody suits Annie’s voice perfectly, and she performs it to perfection.
Following the death of Princess Diana, a wide variety of artists contributed to a 2-CD set commemorating and celebrating her life. Annie contributed a re-recording of “Angel,” a Eurythmics song that originally appeared on their 1990 album “We Too Are One.” The original version is certainly beautiful, but Annie’s piano-based remake is perhaps even more powerful. A wonderful song, and a great choice by Annie to revisit for a terrific compilation of songs and artists.
In 2005, legendary musician Herbie Hancock released an album called “Possibilities,” which featured Hancock working with a variety of vocalists on cover versions. His recording with Annie Lennox is an exquisite take on the Paula Cole track “Hush, Hush, Hush,” a somber and poignant song about a young man dying of AIDS. The original version by Cole, featuring Peter Gabriel, is incredible, but Annie performs her version with grace and power. Her recording with Herbie Hancock does justice to an extraordinary song.
These are just a handful of the countless amazing songs that Annie Lennox has recorded over her 35 year career. It’s easy sometimes to get a hits collection and assume there is nothing else worth discovering. Like many great artists, some of Annie Lennox’s best moments were never singles, and some weren’t even on the albums. She has an extraordinary body of work that is worthy of discovery for casual fans who are familiar with just the hits. While we await new material from Lennox, now is the perfect time to go back and explore some of her great albums, with The Tourists, Eurythmics and as a solo artist. Happy 59th birthday to Annie Lennox, and here’s to many many more!