Re: Eurythmics

At the peak of their pop success in November 1986, Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox told Melody Maker magazine: ‘I’m an angry person. I’m angry generally. The world is not a place to be passive in. I didn’t ask to be born…’

Lennox played at Sadler’s Wells the other night to rave reviews, her first London gig for over 10 years. I’d like to have been there; her music makes much more sense to me live than on record. And her solo work appeals more than Eurythmics – they’re so much part of the UK pop furniture that maybe I can’t really judge anymore, though ‘Love Is A Stranger’ always seems genuinely beguiling.

But then I saw some footage that made me re-assess their whole career. The penny dropped. A fascinating documentary has appeared online capturing Annie and Dave demoing their enormo-selling 1985 album Be Yourself Tonight in a fairly cheap Paris studio complex.

The songs are stripped down to just drum machine, a few keyboards, guitar and vocals, and what comes across is the sheer joy of creating this music, a world away from Annie’s ‘anger’. She brings the songs to life with skill and courage and Dave Stewart’s guitar playing is wittier and flashier than I’d ever heard it before (and he gives good interview too). I’ve since compared these early run-throughs to the album versions and they’re so much better; wish they’d had the guts to release them as they were.

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Whistle Test: Best Of The 1980s?

What a treat to watch a special live edition of ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ on BBC Four the other night (UK readers can watch it again here until 23rd March). The excellent Bob Harris returned to present – but where was Annie Nightingale? We saw a bit of her in her ’80s presenting pomp, but sadly she wasn’t in the studio.

The special reminisced unashamedly about a time when the musicians ran the music biz, and also documented the fascinating history of music TV with an interesting mix of guests (Joan Armatrading, Toyah, Chris Difford, Ian Anderson, Dave Stewart, Danny Baker) and live performances (Kiki Dee, Gary Numan, Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Richard Thompson). Not exactly a cutting-edge, youthful lineup, but the musicianship was at an exceptionally high level.

Alongside ‘The Tube’, ‘Whistle Test’ was THE music show to watch in the mid-’80s, aided by some very agreeable presenters such as Nightingale, Andy Kershaw, Richard Skinner, David Hepworth, Ro Newton and Mark Ellen. The only real caveat was that – as Richard Williams pointed out during the special – the show possibly didn’t feature enough black artists. But it provided me with some formative musical memories – here are some bits from the ’80s incarnation that lodged in my brain (most unfortunately with dodgy sound/picture quality):

8. The Eurythmics: ‘Never Gonna Cry Again’ (1981)

Maybe a less than brilliant song but Annie’s vocals and stage presence are spellbinding. And I like the flute interlude. Also look out for an amusing cameo from Holger Czukay, who creeps onstage (to Annie’s annoyance?) like Banquo’s ghost.

7. Prefab Sprout: ‘When Love Breaks Down’ (1985)

One of the first things I saw on the show. A tender reading of a classic song.

6. Joni Mitchell Special (1985)

Fascinating mini feature about Joni’s painting, ostensibly to promote her album Dog Eat Dog.

5. It Bites: ‘Calling All The Heroes’ (1986)

One that has only come to light recently, but I would have been blown away by it had I seen it at the time. A special mention for man-of-the-match John Beck on keys.

4. Propaganda: ‘The Murder Of Love’ (1985)

The ex-Simple Minds rhythm section (Derek Forbes and Brian McGee) are cooking on this ZTT classic, as is Bowie/Iggy/Prefab guitarist Kevin Armstrong.

3. PiL: Home/Round (1986)

Chiefly remembered for a great two-guitar frontline (John McGeoch and Lu Edmonds) but I was also fascinated by John Lydon’s red headphones and suit.

2. Peter Gabriel So Special (1986)

One of the more illuminating interviews about So plus an interesting solo version of ‘Red Rain’.

1. King Crimson: ‘Indiscipline’ (1981)

Another corker that’s come to light recently, unfortunately shorn of its witty Annie Nightingale intro here. Pity poor Adrian Belew – Fripp’s gaze hardly moves from him throughout.

Six Dodgy Vocal Performances Of The 1980s

Vocal-BoothIt’s fair to say that the 1980s spawned more than a few overproduced records. Certainly in the second half of the decade, itchy-fingered knob-twiddlers were very quick to swamp a track with all the latest technical gizmos.

But it’s also a producer’s job to get the best out of the musicians and singers he/she is working with, and to that extent the 1980s produced a surprising amount of suspect vocal performances.

Of course, there’s such a thing as good out-of-tune (Dylan, Chrissie Hynde, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Lou Reed, Boy George, Wayne Coyne) but there’s also just…out-of-tune.

Producers often claim that a ‘pitchy’ vocal is acceptable if the emotional force is there, but sometimes you just have to say: ‘Let’s try that one again’ (apparently rarely a problem for one-take masters David Bowie, Aretha Franklin and Billy Mackenzie, though the latter would insist on endless retakes, driving many collaborators to distraction). And there was a lot of money floating about in the ’80s so we can’t really blame time or budget pressures.

Here are seven takes that were probably best left on the cutting room floor. More suggestions please.

6. Yazz: The Only Way Is Up

Maybe it’s the timbre, maybe it’s the pitching, but there’s just something so wrong about the vocals on this huge hit that drove many to distraction in 1988.

5. Wah!: Story Of The Blues

Where to begin? The whole song sounds pretty out-of-tune to me…

4. The Eurythmics: There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)

This is a weird one. Of course Annie is a fantastic singer, but virtually the whole middle eight sounds just ‘out’ to my ears. The fact that her voice is so high in the mix doesn’t help.

3. The Smiths: Shakespeare’s Sister

Morrissey was always on the verge of a bum note, often in a good way, but this pushes it way too far.

2. Bette Midler: Wind Beneath My Wings

Another toe-curling vocal, particularly the ‘ad-libs’ towards the end.

1. The Communards: Don’t Leave Me This Way

Jimmy Somerville’s inimitable soprano is usually pretty damn foolproof but something goes seriously awry in the intro to this kitsch uberhit. I blame guest singer Sarah Jane Morris.