Eurythmics: Greatest Hits

Eurythmics - Greatest HitsSynopsis: One of the first and best of the English New Wave bands of the 1980’s, the Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) are well represented in this amazing DVD collection. Hot on the heels of their recent successful reunion album and tour, here are 21 of their classic tracks.

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Eurythmics: Greatest Hits 7.75

eyelights: Sweet Dreams. Missionary Man. the gender equality and gender-bending aspects.
eyesores: Right By Your Side.

Eurythmics is a pop duo that was predominantly active during the ’80s. During that period, over the course of eight albums, the Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart-fronted band was a fixture of the music video shows and a staple of pop radio. Buoyed by their signature song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, Eurythmics propelled themselves to the top of the charts with countless hit singles.

I was never a big Eurythmics fan. I wanted to be. I even tried. I loved the videos that played incessantly on my local music video countdown show. But when I would pick up one of their albums, I found myself bored; the hooky songs that were released as singles were often lost in a sea of less interesting material. To me. And at the time (who knows what I would think now…).

Still, being the music junkie that I am, I once bought their ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation CD for posterity’s sake. The price was right, of course, because I usually avoid compilations like the plague – they’re a collection of tracks that were never meant to be played together – and frequently, taken out of their proper context, the songs don’t work as well. It also doesn’t represent a band’s output properly.

But get it I did, and it became a go-to disc for when I wanted to listen to the band. I soon discovered that I liked pretty much most of the songs on that disc – probably 15 of the 18 tracks.  It was one of those incredibly rare times when I was satisfied with a highlights disc, quite frankly. It was so good that I have since reconsidered the band, keeping in the back of my mind a plan to revisit their albums someday.

And so it was that I picked up this video compilation. From the library. I wasn’t really in the mood to invest a lot of money, given my past experiences with the band, but I was willing to expand a little bit. I figured that a DVD set revisiting some of their smash hits along with some of the lesser-known fare would be a good place to start – especially since all of the songs were now very familiar to me.

Unlike the CD, the ‘Greatest Hits’ DVD is in chronological order. Interestingly, some of the videos were not released at the same time as their single counterparts, thereby skewing the sequence. For instance, “Love is a Stranger” was their fifth single, but appears after their sixth single, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – no doubt due to having been re-released after the latter’s massive worldwide success.

Most, but not all, of the videos are compiled here, with “Never Gonna Cry Again”, “Revival”, “Shame” and “The Walk” being noticeably absent – as well as everything after “Angel”, which consists of another four videos.. The reasons behind the first exclusions could be their limited commercial success or the fact that some of these (such as “Revival”) were not released in all markets. Most of the latter were released after this compilation.

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): Driven by a rhythmic keyboard lick, this über-catchy single took the world by storm, and I was hardly impervious to its charms. The sound of Annie Lennox’s dispassionate singing backed by passionate background vocals, made for quite the interesting mélange. It is one of my favourite Eurythmics tracks, and certainly one of my favourite ’80s hits.

The video begins in a boardroom with a decidedly new wavey, androgynous, Annie Lennox looking down at us in an authoritative fashion. Donning a black suit and sporting short, orange hair, she is as dispassionate, if not robotic, as her vocals are. This part is pretty straight-forward, but it doesn’t remain this way for long: by the chorus Lennox and Stewart are seen meditating side by side. Then they’re outside playing cellos in costumes. Surrounded by cows (Seriously… there’s even a cow wandering behind Lennox in the boardroom). Then the duo end up in a cow pasture, and are soon in a small boat on which Dave plays the cello again. Then Lennox wakes up in bed – with a nice plug for the song on her bedside table. It’s surrealistic and stylish. Me likes it. 9.5/8.5

2. Love Is a Stranger: Backed by a sequencer, this is a light-weight dance-pop track. The biggest hook is Lennox’s vocal during the chorus, which displays a certain amount of range. She would show her full range in just a few years, of course, but this was a taste. The song is okay but it works way better attached to the video for some reason.

For this video, Lennox is all dolled-up in a blonde wig, being driven around by Stewart in an old Brit car. She takes off her wig and gets out, makes a phone call. Then she hangs out in a bathroom dressed in a black leather dress and black wig. There’s also a shot of her without make-up, beautiful, pristine, and inserts of a wooden puppet. I’m not sure what the puppet means here. 7.0/7.5

3. Who’s That Girl?: I like this song because it has a changing rhythm, starting with a delicate a cappella, building up, becoming delicate, …etc. The chorus is fantastic, with Lennox’s deep voice hitting like a ton of bricks when she sings “Tell me”. To me, as catchy as the chorus is, that bit is the punch of the song.

Lennox is dressed like a lounge singer with a long blonde wig, sitting on the stage of a cabaret. Stewart is at a table with some women. Most of the video consists of her singing and him going around with a variety of women. It ends with Dave at a table, alone with pictures of his conquests, and Lennox kissing a drag version of herself – pretty daring stuff for the time. Take that, Katy Perry! 8.0/7.5

4. Right by Your Side: I hate this song. Really hate it – especially when accompanied by this video (because I don’t despise it nearly as much on the compilation). Bloody hell… the calypso elements kill me, and I can’t stand the xylophones.

The video is merely a stage performance. Lennox is dressed flamboyantly, in white with leopard print hat, wrap and gloves. She and Stewart get carried away and dance. Watch those Caucasians dance! Yuck. Still, the video isn’t poorly produced or anything like that. 2.0/7.0

5. Here Comes the Rain Again: A softer, poppy yet melancholy song, this one is based in keyboard, but it has the added heft of an orchestral arrangement overtop, which adds layers to the track. Lennox’s voice is slightly sultry here, which adds an extra dimension to what could have been a depressing number.

This video starts with Lennox outside on a cliff, wrapped in a shawl. Stewart is always lurking around, filming her with a video camera. Then she sits inside at a mirror, then walks around in the dark with a lantern. She goes outside, and he’s still videotaping/watching her. It ends with her by the water and then going through the woods. Bah… it doesn’t have to make sense: it’s a pretty video. 8.0/8.0

6. Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four): This is a repetitive, dancey song rooted in samples – in particular, Lennox’s voice. It was on the duo’s soundtrack to the film ‘1984’. I like the vocoder effect, but there’s otherwise not much to it for me. Amazingly, it was one of their biggest hits in the UK, selling over 200 thousand copies there.

Lennox has blonde hair here, short on the sides, and long on top – a man’s cut, traditionally. It looks good on her. She is singing at a mic, while the others are at a mixing board. They’re all wearing jumpsuits reminiscent of the clothing in ‘1984’. Then they’re outside playing their instruments in the dark. That’s about it, aside from some footage from ‘1984’ intercut throughout.  6.75/6.5

7. Julia: Another single from the soundtrack to ‘1984’, there’s really not much to this song. If anything, it’s a demonstration of Lennox’s vocal ability, with only minimal keys and harpsichord in the background to accompany her. ‘s alright.

The video is as minimal as the song. It consists of shots of Lennox from the shoulder up, naked, singing in front of a black backdrop. She’s wearing minimal make-up. Simple, beautiful, lovely. 5.5/7.0

8. Would I Lie to You?: Unlike the previous singles, which were predominantly synthpop tracks, this super catchy anthem is more of an r&b-based number, with guitar and horns. Driven by background singers, it’s yet another demonstration  of Lennox’s vocals – in this case, her soul voice. Yeah, it’s one of my favourite of theirs; it’s infectious.

As the band are getting ready backstage before a show, Lennox arrives, having had a fight with her bf. Ticked off, she comes out kicking ass for their performance. She displays confidence, clearly not taking crap from anyone. Later in the video, the bf arrives and climbs on stage to confront her. She pushes him into the crowd and he gets carried away by the crowd. It’s simplistic, but fits the song relatively well. 8.25/6.5

9. There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart): Another massive hit, this catchy soul-based number (featuring harmonica by Stevie Wonder) used to play all the time in 1985. I used to love this song, back in the day, but it hasn’t aged well; it’s a bit light.

This is a period piece video, taking place in an old theatre. Lennox is performing for Louis XIV (Stewart in wig, make-up and costume) and his entourage. She’s got long blonde hair extensions and is dressed in white. Appropriately enough, given the song, she affects a beatific demeanour. With her on stage are background singers, dressed in white or as angels, and there are other costumed characters and children in the back. For the bridge, to up the ante, a choir of soul singers shows up. In the end, the king is pleased with the performance and showers them with money (gold leaf?). 7.5/7.5

10. Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves: Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, together? What a vocal pairing! Those voices are remarkably potent, and quite impressive, but the song is average (even for a feminist anthem). A little trivia: it was originally conceived as a duet with Tina Turner, but she was unavailable. I would have liked to hear that.

This is a simplistic video. Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox are singing alone on a stage with a black background. Archival footage of historical female figures plays on a screen above them. Sometimes these images fill the screen. During the solo, there’s a shot of Stewart playing his guitar wildly in an array of changing outfits. Okay, not great. 8.0/7.0

11. It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back): I don’t have much to say about this one. It doesn’t suck, but it isn’t great either. It’s okay, if a bit slow. I’m really surprised to know that this was a single, truth be told. It wasn’t much of a hit, though.

Featuring Lennox superimposed over shots of rotoscoped, animated cityscapes, the video puts Stewart in the role of the song’s “baby” and that he’s making his way back to her via plane, train and automobile. Pretty much everything but our duo is animated, with all sorts of unrelated animation thrown in on top of that. It’s a weird mix of ’80s and ’50s aesthetic. But it has an appealing quality to it. 6.5/8.0

12. When Tomorrow Comes: This is a decent pop-rock song in an r&b vein, but it’s nothing special. What I notice most on this one, really, are the background vocals. But it’s a nice change from “It’s Alright”.

Lennox and Stewart, along with their backing band, are all standing on a beige set, clad black with white shirts. Stewart does tons of rock guitar posturing to start the performance, during which the others remain still. Then Lennox starts singing at the camera, immobile. For some reason she’s standing in something white (snow?) . The bassist, drummer, background vocalist and saxophonist don’t do much, but each get a chance to perform at various points. Lennox finally lets loose towards end, but it’s still an otherwise plain video. 6.75/7.0

13. Thorn in My Side: Rooted in a nice guitar lick, this is a higher energy song than most of the Eurythmics singles; it’s catchy, vibrant. The chorus is kind of fun, what with Lennox’s vocal gradation. I’d say that this is middle-of-the road Eurythmics stuff. It probably didn’t stand out much on radio at the time.

Eurythmics are on a blue set, backed by the same band as in the “When Tomorrow Comes” video. Lennox is holding a rose (this is otherwise known as symbolism. Ha). There are shots of bikers sitting at tables, with model types at another, watching the band perform. Lennox’s performance is too theatrical here. Not sure why she made that choice. Anyway, at the end, Lennox lays her hands on the models in succession (as though she were a preacher), leaving a gold dot on their foreheads. Meh. 7.5/6.5

14. The Miracle of Love: A pretty little ballad, this is nothing really all that exceptional. There are nice vocal layerings on the chorus,, but that’s about it. It’s nice.

This is a mostly black and white, sometimes under-saturated video. Its focus are close-ups of Lennox, with a small shot of Stewart playing guitar in a barred spacer, surrounded by candles. There are inserts of archival war footage (soldiers, nuclear explosions, …etc), which is discrepant given how tender the song is. During bridge, there are rapid, blurred cuts of the pair performing, then the video returns to war footage. Not sure what the intention was here. 7.5/6.0

15. Missionary Man: This is a song that has grown substantially on me since I first heard it. Because the video had disquieted me at the time, I ignored the song for a long time. BIG mistake. This number has edge and it’s soaked in sex. In fact, I could easily see this track being used for a strip show. It’s now one of my all-time favourite Eurythmics song (in competition with “Sweet Dreams”). Even though Marilyn Manson covered the latter, I’d love to hear an industrial version of this one. That would be amazeballs. Actually, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet; it seems like a natural fit.

The first shots in this video is a room full of scientific equipment, much like the set of an old ’50s sci-fi film, with Stewart concocting something. Eventually it is revealed that his experiments create a plastic/waxy-looking Lennox bust – that starts singing even before her head is fully formed. We are then shown the same backing band as in videos 12 and 13 (in the same clothes, too!) performing the song. Then Lennox is shown walking down a white hallway (featuring pillars with busts on them) dressed in some sort of leather dom get-up. There are also shots of her face in stop-motion, stuck in some weird contraption, getting fine-tuned. When we finally see her perform, it’s staggered, robotic. I guess this all suggests that she is an android, build by Stewart. How this ties up with the song I don’t know. But it looks cool. 9.0/8.0

16. Beethoven (I Love to Listen to): As an intro to the ‘Savage’ album, this song makes sense. It feels like an prologue of sorts, with a repetitive, remix-like vibe to it and spoken word vocals. Somehow, it was released as the first single to the album. It just doesn’t make sense, as there’s nothing to it aside from its message – which is potent, being a female empowerment tune. That doesn’t make it a worthy radio single, though. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it even charted. Wouldn’t surprise me, quite frankly.

While I’m not a big fan of the song as a single, the video is pretty awesome. Dressed up like a “regular” house-wife, in a shirt, skirt and shoulder-length brown hair, Lennox is sitting on a couch knitting. She then goes up the stairs, starts to clean up the bathroom, put things away in bedroom, tidying up – after which we are introduced to her little daughter, sporting a blonde wig and powder blue dress, hopping around manically before settling down in chair behind Lennox. Eventually, Lennox has a meltdown, goes to a darkened make-up room and remodels herself in a blonde wig, lots of make-up and a sheer dress. Basically, she looks like a drag queen. She then trashes her house and leaves, walking away in the concrete jungle. I love the message of the video even if the song is a bit thin. 3.0/9.0

17. I Need a Man: This is a really bold track, thematically and musically – it’s all in your face. Lennox basically sings all that she doesn’t want in a man. It’s a list of demands and her insistent vocals are really amazing here. It’s supported by an excellent bass rhythm throughout. I didn’t like it so much at first, but it’s grown on me considerably over the years.

The video is basically a continuation of the previous one. At the time, Eurythmics decided to film a video album featuring videos for each of the songs on ‘Savage’ (albeit, not in the same order – much like Blondie’s ‘Eat to the Beat’ video album). Unlike the previous video, this one is anything but elaborate. It starts with Lennox in her wig and sheer dress, in front of a pale blue backdrop in the middle of a rock-walled set. She performs wildly in low lighting, with the camera moving fast. That’s it. It’s simple, uneventful, but somehow it works because of having the other video as a lead-in. Separately, it’s pointless. 8.0/5.0

18. You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart: This is a pretty ballad, but it feels a bit thin musically. Perhaps it’s just a question of age, because I imagine that it would have sounded great back then. The lyrics, however, remain true today and have a universal quality to them.

This one begins with long shots of a desert, with Lennox walking in the distance. Close-ups reveal her grim-faced, with blonde spiky hair and in a long coat, standing in a heart scrawled in the sand. Soon thereafter, she’s back in her housewife garb (from “Beethoven”), standing in middle of the side walk, hugging herself in a self-soothing manner. She then goes into a grocery store, taking stuff from store shelves. Following that, there are head shots of Lennox’s three personas (housewife, vamp and herself) on a black background, which ends with Lennox dismissing the other two. Next, she’s in front of a strip club, after which she’s back in the desert, embracing a man in her arms. The background spins and she is now delighted, not grim-faced. I like what they were going for here. Lennox certainly had a feminist bend during that era. 7.0/8.0

19. Don’t Ask Me Why: A melancholy number, this one starts with keys before kicking in. It has a good rhythm, but it’s average pop-rock fare. The final part builds up nicely. It’s the highlight of the track for me.

Lennox walks onto stage in a glittering dress. Band looks like a cool jazz group, in the shadows with red curtains behind them. Lennox is in the spotlight, as is Stewart in the few shots he is in. There are inserts reminiscent of the white ‘We Too Are One’ album cover, with Lennox in the foreground and Stewart out of focus in the background. Both the song and video are nice but not unforgettable. 6.75/7.0

20. The King and Queen of America: This is simplistic pop-rock, very keyboard driven. Frankly, it works better with video due to kitsch aspect of the latter, but otherwise it’s nothing outstanding.

For this video, Lennox and Stewart play a variety of different roles: Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a rich couple in Vegas, a cheerleader and football player, the President of the USA and the First lady, a game show host and his assistant, Elvis and Marilyn, Hugh Hefner and a Playboy Bunny, cowboys, a regular couple with their grocery cart, glam rockers, and Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker. I’m sure that they had lots of fun with this one. I had fun watching them, quite frankly. Oh, there’s also a bunch of American pop culture-related news and film footage intercut throughout. 6.75/7.75

21. Angel: A midtempo ballad, there’s not much to it. The chorus is the best part; it features beautiful vocal harmonies. Beyond that, it’s alright.

Half of this video is in black and white. It begins with some hands being placed on a table. Then we realize that we’re at a séance with six people (including Lennox and Stewart). Lennox sings with her eyes closed, suggesting that she’s channeling. There are colour shots of her outside, at dusk, with leaves falling around her, and others of her in an empty room with the wind blowing through the curtains. I imagined that these might be visions she’s getting during the séance. Meanwhile, Stewart is caught in a hallway, trying to make his way to her. When he gets there, she’s sitting at a desk in that (once empty) room and there are fires everywhere. It’s a visually-intriguing video. 6.5/8.0

As I watched this compilation, I was impressed by the quality of many of the videos – even in the earlier days. This is in contrast with many bands of the day, who didn’t have the budgetary means by which to put together such productions. Sure, there are mundane ones along the way, but Eurythmics often had method. And if not that, then there was madness. Sometimes they had both.

Aside from their artistic quality, Mostly, I was particularly impressed by the female empowerment and gender-bending images and messages that the band put forward – especially given the time. The gender-bending ones made me feel a bit uncomfortable at the time, but looking back, I feel that Lennox’s style and approach certainly was a magnificent step forward for gender equality. I’m very impressed.

One thing that this DVD did, however, was bring me to wonder about the make-up of the band during the mid-’80s. While they’re officially a duo, with no other official members, the backing band for many of the videos was the same. Was it because they were all shot during the same period? Or maybe they were the studio session band? Were they the live band, maybe? Or were they just there for the video?

That’s not really important, in the end (well, maybe to some, but not to me). What’s significant is that this DVD has  gotten me to reconsider Eurythmics altogether. I had already thought about going through their catalogue at some point, but never really felt the impetus to. Now, having rediscovered them for their more ground-breaking socio-political outlook, I want to know more about them.

Don’t ask me why, but I suspect that there’s more Eurhythmics on my horizon.

Dates of viewing: March 2-7, 2014

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