What a difference a few years makes. Something happened to the duo of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, better known as Eurythmics after their icy 1981 debut In the Garden. By the time Sweet Dreams was released, they had traded the cold and mechanical sound from former Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank for polished up alt-pop that bumped Lennox’s voice front and center in the mix. No longer sounding like a glamorous android, but more like a soulful art pop diva in waiting.
In the process of placing more emphasis on Lennox’s soulful tenor, the Eurythmics went from college rock cutout to featured artist status. The new sound retained some of the cold synths from before like the simple Martin Gore styled melody on “The Walk” or the hyper cool mechanical drone of “Love Is a Stranger”, one of Sweet Dreams hit singles.
The biggest change of course was Lennox’s voice. Dave Stewart, who played most of the instruments and arranged many of the songs is a virtual one man band. Stylistically there were Depeche Mode like moments but more often Stewart’s diverse compositions hinted at the soulful power pop that the Eurythmics would later grow into.
Songs like “Somebody Told Me” with its odd looped bass sound shows the versatility of Lennox’s voice as she jumps from crooner to rowdy man handler in a busy cover of the Tom Jones song “Wrap It Up”. Sweet Dreams is the point in the Eurythmics catalog where Lennox leans towards a soulful delivery regardless of the style of song.
It was that bit of soul combined with a supermodel persona turned on its head that made the Eurythmics such a treat to see and hear. The albums most iconic song is its biggest hit. “Sweet Dreams” embodied this ideal to the max, launching a juggernaut of successful singles. Lennox crafted an androgynous look that took full advantage of the power of music video. The song itself happened purely by accident as Stewart was said to have been inspired by an old music box being played backwards. The song’s Kraftwerk-like minimalisim against Lennox’s soulful delivery was a fresh alternative to the regular ’60s influenced British blue eyed soul.
Her new world savvy look, became the perfect vehicle for defining her style in an era when many female artists were at the extremes of aping Madonna or Cyndy Lauper’s look. It was a striking stylistic alternative to everything else out there (except for maybe Grace Jones) and perfectly contrasted the masculine overtones of the song.
Lennox’s early image also made her a gay icon right alongside Madonna, Morrissey and Boy George. Ironically this would be more the case as a solo artist by which time she had long move on from androgyny.
It would not be long however before the Eurythmics would transcend any cult status and enter the mainstream with cover features on Newsweek and Rolling Stone magazines.
The title track was wildly popular and had become a part of American pop culture. As a teenager I vividly remember the songs line “some of them want to abuse you, some want to be abused by you’ being appropriated by a minister of all people in the noisy Apostolic church of my youth. The Eurythmics had penetrated society to that extent and had become ubiquitous, despite their somewhat experimental tendencies.
This was the beginning of an upward trajectory for the band as Lennox would become a respected fixture in rock, pop and R&B after projects with George Michael and Aretha Franklin. Lennox was called the “Greatest White Soul Singer Alive” as recently as 2012 by VH-1.
Lennox was not the band’s only successful member as Dave Stewart who seemed to prefer being in the background would become a sought after musician, arranger and producer after the success of Sweet Dreams.