In 1980, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox arrived in America for the first time with their pop-rock band The Tourists and were immediately consumed by the enormity of the country.
“We were driving into New York and were like, ‘Whoa,’” remembers Stewart. “We put on the TV, and it was a commercial with a car salesman who was talking really fast. We had never seen commercials like that in Britain. It’s all BBC with no commercials, but there it was, just bam, bam, bam.”
When The Tourists split in 1980, so did Stewart and Lennox, who were a couple for five years prior, but the two continued experimenting with a new sound and formed Eurythmics—a name Lennox pinched from the late 19th century learning exercise Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which involved varied dance movements linked to specific musical rhythms. They released their debut, In the Garden, in 1981.
Recording across Europe and out of Stewart’s Crouch End studio The Church—which was built in an actual house of worship and attracted the likes of Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Madonna, and others wanting to test the acoustics in the North London cove—by 1983, Eurythmics were also spending more time in the U.S. following the explosion of their second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)and the instantaneous fame following their video for the title track. The video premiered during the zenith of music television and was montaged by an androgynous, scarlet-headed Lennox, cows, and other surreal imagery.
“I got to love America and I got to understand why everything was so epic,” says Stewart. “In Britain, you would go to a club and it’s just the band playing with maybe one backlight or something. When you got to America, it was all rock shows, and if you look back through all sorts of industries, whether cars or food, everything [in the U.S.] was massive. You get a sandwich at a deli, and it was a meal for seven people.”
He adds, “The freeways are so long and go for thousands of miles, whereas in Britain, you can get from London to Scotland in five hours, but five hours driving east from Los Angeles you’re still on the same road. We started to understand the gravitas and the epicness of being in the middle of America where there were 2,500 miles on either side of you.”
That all-too-familiar feeling of something bigger than themselves returned to Stewart and Lennox when Eurythmics were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on November 5. “Being English, Annie and I didn’t really understand how, in America, it’s perceived as this epic thing,” says Stewart of their oblivion of the induction. Several months earlier, he and Lennox were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2005, the duo also entered the UK Music Hall of Fame. “We knew it was a big thing, but the closer we got to it, we kept being informed that it’s ‘the thing,’” adds Stewart. “You can’t win three of them like an Academy Award or a Grammy. We realized as we were tumbling towards it that, ‘Oh, it’s getting serious now.’”
he scope of the band’s legacy also came into focus for the two around their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, and though words like “legendary” or “legacy” are just labels to Lennox, she welcomes the recognition in regards to the music she and Stewart made as Eurythmics. “I take awards lightly because I know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into being an artist,” says Lennox. “But that is the name of the game. All artists, singers, and songwriters are communicators. That’s what we do. We’re communicating to people at a heart level, an emotional level, an intellectual level, a poetic level. We’re trying to say the thing that you can’t put into words, but you’ve put some words there, and there’s music, and there it is.”
More than 47 years since they first met, their connection remains palpable, and one always rooted in mutual regard. After releasing eight albums together—their most recent being Peace in 1999— Stewart says that one thing he and Lennox never did was argue.
“Funny enough, Annie and I have never really had an argument,” shares Stewart. “I think we found each other when she was 21, and I was 24, and we’ve never really had a ‘row,’ when you’re shouting at each other. It always boils down to this one word: respect.”
It didn’t hurt that in the studio, they both always agreed on the direction of Eurythmics songs. “That’s why we made records in a ridiculously short time,” Stewart says. “We were on tour after Sweet Dreams for ages, then we went in the studio to make the next record Touch , and we wrote all the songs from scratch, recorded, and mixed them in three weeks with ‘Here Comes the Rain Again,’ and all these songs. Then we did the same thing with the next album with ‘Would I Lie to You?’ and ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)’ … and the same with the next album.”
Typically writing on the spot, both rarely allowed anyone into their space while creating. “We wouldn’t let anybody else in the room or near us,” says Stewart. “We’d write a song very quickly, sometimes in 20 minutes, then go back in to the engineer and say, ‘Alright, we want to record this now,’ and he would go, ‘Right, when did you write that?’”
Though often written hastily, the songs never sounded rushed or sloppy, says Stewart, but more labored over, crafted, and complex in the words, music, and arrangements. “We’re both very musical, and we’ve had different musical backgrounds, but we had a common love of certain things,” says Stewart. Writing different manifestos on a piece of white card, something Stewart continues to do to this day, each “flash card” held the key principles of a song.
“On [the track] ‘Sweet Dreams,’ we wrote ‘soul music’ and ‘electronic,’ and on the other side, it would say what we didn’t want,” adds Stewart. “If we ever found ourselves wandering on the other side, we quickly stopped.”
Recorded in 1982, “Sweet Dreams” is still as “fresh” today as it ever was, says Lennox. “People seem to still be remixing it and playing it at clubs, at parties, and in stadiums to celebrate a goal,” she says. “I never knew that song would be used as a tool in that regard, but music can be used in almost any practical way that we want. That’s how music is used in our society, but very often it’s a disposable thing. I suppose the difference before digital downloading is that people waited to get a physical copy of an album, and it almost felt like you owned a part of that creation when you received it, because it was something manifest physically. You could see the lyrics and touch it.”
Music is also magic, and the alchemy of Eurythmics, which has earned the duo numerous accolades and recognition and kept them connected, comes down to one thing for Lennox. “It’s the music that we’ve made,” she says. “The music is everything. The music was always everything. That’s what kept us together—making music and our fascination because it’s so mysterious this whole process. Music, it comes out of the ether. It’s a thought construct, and then it’s thought playing with itself.”
Lennox adds, “You think a thought down with an instrument, and you’re hearing it back, sonically, and it’s just an idea. Then you’re thinking, ‘What is this?’ Very rarely some songs come, to me anyway, all in one piece. Others are just threads of ideas that you have to develop and progress and sit with and try to lay it like an egg.”
More than 17 years before their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Stewart and Lennox released two new singles: “I’ve Got a Life” and “Was It Just Another Love Affair?” off their Ultimate Collectioncompilation. Both also performed on the CBS special The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles in 2014 and again in 2019 in New York City for Sting’s benefit concert for The Rainforest Fund.
In no way is the Rock Hall an indicator of a chapter closing for Eurythmics. The future of Eurythmics is the same as its past and its present, a double-swing door that has allowed both artists to explore their outside creative interests. Though another Eurythmics album might be a “stretch,” admits Lennox, it’s never out of the question.
“We always said, ‘Never say never,’ and I thought that was a good place to land,” shares Lennox. “I love the notion of just being able to dip in and out. And that was always what we did so one could pursue individual independent interests. Otherwise, it’s not natural.”
Lennox adds, “Obviously, some bands stay together and they love it and that’s what they do, and it’s very identified. Other people, I would say if you’re human, you have other interests and tendencies. You grow. You change. You shift. Your values might change. Your likes and your dislikes, everything might drift apart, and I think that’s healthy. That’s definitely what happened with us.”
By the mid-’80s, while the duo was still riding high, Stewart was already co-writing the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985) and penning “Ruthless People” with Mick Jagger for the 1986 film of the same name, while continuing to write and produce for the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, Jon Bon Jovi, Bob Geldof, Bryan Ferry, Sarah McLachlan, Celine Dion, No Doubt, and more recently Joss Stone. He also continues to dip into film, stage, and television—even producing the NBC songwriting competition show Songland.
Lennox, meanwhile, has released eight solo albums from her 1992 debut, Diva—which included the hits “Why” and “Walking on Broken Glass”—through Nostalgia in 2014. Her current passion is centered around her work and activism on issues including women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate change.
“How on earth can we even talk about the future when we don’t have one?” asks Lennox. “We don’t have one, and that’s the truth that no one’s saying that needs to be said. It needs to be shouted. It fills me with outrage that no politician seems to have really put any real commitment behind this dire situation. This is a planetary situation that we’re not just facing. We’re already here.” She adds, “I just want to be part of things that are positive. It’s like the Titanic. At least we can go down trying.”
At the time of this interview, Stewart was in his home studio in Nashville after a recent return from Rome, where he was working on the music and a film titled Time as a Masterpiece, a story following the abstract passing of time within one’s life. He shot portions of the project prior to the Rock Hall induction while continuing to work on a film linked to his recent solo albumEbony McQueen, which documents his musical awakening from the ages of 14 to 16, between 1966 and 1968. Stewart likens that film to the 2007 Irish music drama Once, as it spans his soccer dreams, first loves, and familial upheavals to hearing Delta blues for the first time and his discovery of radio and the sounds of The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and Small Faces. Working with producer David Parfitt, who produced the 1998 romantic comedy Shakespeare in Loveand the Oscar-winning 2020 drama The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins, Stewart hopes to be the first to film in his hometown of Sunderland in Northern England.
“Sunderland is a coal mining and a shipbuilding town, but they are now building film studios along the river, so I hope to be the first movie using them, and in my hometown,” says Stewart. “It is a total full circle.”
When it comes to these arts, there is no end in sight for Stewart. “The word ‘retire’ is a funny word,” he says. “I didn’t think I had a job anyway, so how could I retire? I’m just pleased that music chose me.”
Nowadays, when he and Lennox catch up with one another, the initial subject always veers back to their trove of memories together. “Every time we ever FaceTime or talk to each other, it starts off being about whatever the subject is and usually goes immediately back to, ‘Remember that Greek restaurant we went to in 1978?’ Or, ‘Remember when Charlie Wilson played keyboards for us on our tour in 1988?’” says Stewart.
Remembering Eurythmics’ solid live performances, Stewart recently posted a vintage photograph on Instagram from the duo’s Revenge tour, supporting their fifth album of the same name in 1986, which stirs another memory.
“We had a great girl dancer from Columbia, and in the front of the stage, instead of a curtain, there was this black PVC, like jeans with a zipper,” remembers Stewart. “It was sort of like [The Rolling Stones’] ‘Sticky Fingers’ on the whole stage. So this girl pretended she was in the audience and she would climb over the security and get up on the stage and climb up the metal nuggets of the zipper because they were quite big, and the audience was like, ‘What the hell?’ They loved it.”
Hanging from the ring on the zipper, the audience cheered her on to pull it down. “She would swing on it, and it would pull down, and we were behind,” says Stewart. “We had little mini trampolines, so when it pulled apart we were in midair and we would land and there was voices on either side from our song ‘Sex Crime’ and the audience was going bananas. It was a total rock ’n’ roll show.”
He adds, “That’s why I think being inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, for me, was great because instead of some thinking, ‘Oh, that’s the “Sweet Dreams” synthesizer duo,’ it’s like, ‘No, we were a fucking full-on assault of the senses.’”
For Stewart, the recent Rock Hall induction may just be the beginning of something new for Eurythmics. Performance-wise, Stewart says they get offered to do something often, and he is open to playing shows with Lennox again. “It could be opening up another thing,” says Stewart. “Obviously, we were smashing,” he adds of their Rock Hall performance of “Sweet Dreams,” “Would I Lie to You?” and “Missionary Man.”
As for the future of the Eurythmics, it’s the same as it always was: Never say never.
“I always see music as a ship you launch out into the sea,” says Lennox. “You never know where the destination is. You’ll never know. You don’t know who the passengers are, and you’re hoping that ship is gonna sail. It applies to everything that we’re doing in life.”
She laughs, “And it applies to everybody, not just famous, legendary songwriters like me.”
Story appeared in the January-February Legends Issue of American Songwriter. Read online version, here.