Just a scant eleven days ago, my younger son and his wonderful wife welcomed to the world their first child, a beautiful boy named Crosby. Crosby follows his female cousin by a year and two weeks, Sloane, the beautiful and crazy daughter of my older son and his beautiful wife. Now, my wife and I are the grandparents of two children, and it’s the best! It’s a great feeling to know that your boys are turning into the men that you knew they were always destined to become but like every teen before them, fought like hell not to become them. I am so very proud of all four of the young parents, but all of this has made me a little nostalgic lately. So, bare with me people as I take us back to the Eighties, when I was much more naive and a lot more irresponsible.
Back around July 4, 1982, I was working as a corn detassler, an old-time job that kids in Indiana grew up doing, where you manually pulled the tassles from the tops of corn stalks to ensure the corn’s hybrid purity, keeping the plants from being pollinated from other corn species from miles away. It was always a short season, but you could make a couple of grand in those four weeks, paying for college expenses all year long thus making your college job mostly play money. Anyway, about two months earlier I had been activated as a brother in my college fraternity, and the guys who were living in the house at Ball State to take summer courses were planning a Independence Day celebration. Since work was off that weekend, I naturally went up for the festivities.
When I arrived, the house was uncommonly subdued, even for the summer sessions. It seems the guys had just hacked into the cable service and wired the house’s television with some pirated cable programming. Walking in I noticed the six young men sitting in front of the glow of the television like zombies, mesmerized by what they were watching. Since my mom had gotten cable a few years earlier at our house, I just figured they had discovered the quality soft-core programming of Cinemax with their constant moving pictures of naked female breasts. I was all set to give them crap when one brother mindlessly said, “Keller! Sit! It’s MTV!”
Immediately, I watched as Bow Wow Wow performed “I Want Candy” right there in Muncie, Indiana, on television! Slowly, I sat down on the couch as I too became a zombie in front of the television. When the first commercial break finally happened fifteen minutes later, I looked at all six guys sitting in the front room and noticed that they all looked like hell-warmed-over. Finally, I asked, “How long have you all been watching this?” Someone replied, “Since 10 o’clock last night.” Quickly, I looked at my watch, and it read 6:00 pm. “Shit! You guys have been up for 20 hours straight?!” And, in unison, they all said, “Yes.” Needless to say, I called Domino’s to order a couple of pizzas for us, collected the money, went to the refrigerator for some refreshments for everyone, and took my place back on the couch. I figure right then and there that it was going to be a very long night.
I will admit that the nineteen-year-old version of me, a guy I must have eaten years ago, stayed up all night watching MTV, eating pizza, consuming refreshing beverages, never realizing how hot it was in the house, and not responding to the girls who were popping in and out that day. One of my pledge brothers and I spent 12 hours watching MTV that first time. I was finally hearing all these great English artists from the UK that I had read about for the past couple of years but had yet to actually hear. But, they all were getting played on this country’s first nationwide radio station, only you could see how cool these artists looked and what the VJs looked like. Immediately, like males all over the US, I was infatuated with Martha Quinn, who looked like nearly every girlfriend I ever had (brown hair and petite).
Over the next couple of years, MTV influenced music and fashion everywhere. All of a sudden, and finally in my mind, much of the music that had dominated my high school days were out and all these cool new wave artists were in. Now, we were dancing at frat parties to the sounds of Prince, Eurythmics, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, INXS, and the rest, setting the stage for some of the finest pop music ever produced during that decade. Lyrically, things were equally cynical and pure, while musically we were all over the place with technology pushing music into directions never before imagined. Much like most teens and twenty-somethings coming of age, Gen X believed they were living through something of a Golden Age in music. And, to this very day, I believe we did. This belief stems from the fact that we took the Boomers’ pop/rock music and made it our own, much to the chagrin to those very same supposedly open-minded Boomers, who took constant pot-shots at our music much like their parents did to their music in the Sixties and Seventies.
So, this week, I am going to turn back the clock to my era, those Eighties. But, first, how about a quick disclaimer. The Eighties sucked in many social manners, what with AIDS, a continued ingrained bigotry toward other races and sexual orientations, the Cold War antics, the Iran-Contra crap, the coke and crack epidemic and its aftermath, among so many other ills. But, the music was often magical and transcendent. And, MTV led the way. Without it, how quickly would have new wave, alternative rock, hair metal, dance music and all the rest been disseminated?
So, today, I would love to look back at the career of a duo who I likened to Ike & Tina Turner in that this group had one compelling, soulful big-voiced female focal point of a lead singer backed by a musical genius guitarist/keyboardist. I am talking about the great Eurythmics. This duo began as a synthpop group yet ended the decade by making some of the most compelling and dramatic yet soulful pop/rock of rock’s history. Annie Lennox was the beautiful yet androgynous lead singer who was backed by the musical genius of multi-instrumentalist and producer David A. Stewart. Together, Eurythmics created the soundtrack of many of our lives and continue to do so.
Unfortunately, I never got to see them live though I have read epic tales of their performances. If you doubt Stewart’s musical genius, just remember that he co-wrote AND co-produced Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ classic “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” And, Lennox’ powerhouse house vocals could keep up with anyone in the business as she proved when the duo teamed with Aretha Franklin for the great “Sisters Doin’ It for Themselves.” And, as a reminder, both of those songs were released in 1985!
Therefore, in an ulterior motive to keep Eurythmics in the minds of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters, allow me to remind you of this duo’s greatness with my favorite 25 songs by Eurythmics.
25. “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)” (Savage, 1987)
24. “The Walk” (Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), 1983)
23. “The King and Queen of America” (We Two Are One, 1989)
22. “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart” (Savage, 1987)
21. “The Miracle of Love” (Revenge, 1986)
20. “When Tomorrow Comes” (Revenge, 1986)
19. “Julia” (1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), 1984)
18. “Never Gonna Cry Again” (In the Garden, 1981)
17. “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” (1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), 1984)
16. “17 Again” (Peace, 1999)
15. “Don’t Ask Me Why” (We Two Are One, 1989)
14. “It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)” (Revenge, 1986)
13. “I Need a Man” (Savage, 1987)
12. “I Saved the World Today” (Peace, 1999)
11. “Thorn in My Side” (Revenge, 1986)
10. “I’ve Got a Life” (Ultimate Collection, 2005). The swansong, so far. This is Eurythmics at their most soulful and vulnerable.
9. “Right by Your Side” (Touch, 1983). This song is so underrated. This is the duo at their most playful, doing a little calypso number via synthesizers, displaying just how magically real Stewart could make those synthetic musical notes sound.
8. “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (with Aretha Franklin)” (Be Yourself Tonight, 1985). This is the powerhouse soul standard of the Eighties, matching the Queen of Soul with a truly worthy duet partner.
7. “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)” (Be Yourself Tonight, 1985). This song is special in my household since I would often come home from med tech school to find my young wife singing this song to our older son when he was a baby. For as cynical as I normally am, I do have a soft, gooey side.
6. “Missionary Man” (Revenge, 1986). This song represents the tough, arena rock side of this band, with some of Annie’s strongest feminist vocals backed by Stewart’s chunkiest guitar riffs and that fantastic harp-blowing just takes the song to a whole new level. I can’t believe this was not a big hit here in the States.
5. “Here Comes the Rain Again” (Touch, 1983). This is the ultimate endgame of the cool, detached synthpop sound with some terrific vocals.
4. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), 1983). This song is so iconic, that I probably will catch hell for placing it so low. I mean, it’s been covered by seemingly everyone: Marilyn Manson, Fitz & the Tantrums and Weezer, to name a few. And while it kicked off the band’s career with a number one, I still find the next three songs more compelling.
3. “Who’s That Girl?” (Touch, 1983). Oh my! Where do I begin? Annie’s been done wrong, and she’s not taking any crap any more! Uh, I was in this guy’s position several times when I was dating girls, and it’s no fun. No man ever wants to be in this position for the lyrics to ring true. Seriously, all of that changed when I met my wife.
2. “Love Is a Stranger” (Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), 1983). This is a fun synthpop dance song containing some slightly unnerving lyrics. I want to dance to it, but Annie’s lyrics are so haunting that I take pause these days. But, it’s cynicism seems to be a perfect metaphor for Gen X.
1. “Would I Lie to You?” (Be Yourself Tonight, 1985). I am a HUGE sucker for soulful guitars, horn sections and flat-out Stax/Motown-influenced pop/rock songs. And, this song has everything in spades! You can dance, jam, air-guitar, air-band, karaoke, pick your poison, to this song, and that’s what I love about it. This is the Eurythmics at their most seemingly uncontrolled, reckless and rock & roll ever. This song alone should be reason enough to induct them in the RRHOF, let alone the other 24 songs I listed.