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Sep 09

EURYTHMICS – “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)”

FT + Popular96 comments • 6,654 views

#553, 27th July 1985, video

Pop’s flight to quality continues apace – Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo on this song is his fourth appearance on a UK No.1 within a year. The mid-80s were a time for safe musical investments, and vintage black pop became the safest of all – who could go wrong with soul? On the Eurythmics’ parent album Aretha Franklin herself took a turn. She and Wonder lent an air of borrowed distinction to the band’s more classicist proceedings – a risky effect, casting pop stars as social climbers on the ladder of taste.

But if the chill and poise of Eurythmics’ synth-pop work are nowhere to be found on “There Must Be An Angel”, it has an oddness all its own. The record is carried by Annie Lennox’ deliberately showy melisma, its startling rococo trills indeed suggesting the presence of the divine… albeit in one of its kitschier aspects.

If you accept – or even, dare I admit, enjoy Lennox’ performance then there’s a lot to like about the single: it’s one of their most direct tunes, and the way the Wonder solo bounces in incongruously after the arch, wordy middle eight adds to the feeling of delightful overripeness. There’s genuine bliss (sorry, blee-eee-ee-e-e-e-iss) in amongst all the decoration, though Dave Stewart has a bad day: “Angel”‘s main failing is how thin and twangy it sounds, those ugly plucked kzoing! noises a particular threat to an otherwise pleasingly flightly record.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    wichita lineman on 1 Oct 2009 #

    Re 59: She seems phoney, and her voice seems soulless*, no matter how theatrical and strong it is. I detect no real emotion.

    * which may well be the same thing as haughtiness and glassiness.

  2. 62
    Conrad on 1 Oct 2009 #

    59, Rosie, When you say “better singer” what do you mean?

    Better technically?
    Better at what?

  3. 63
    Steve Mannion on 1 Oct 2009 #

    Worst retirement ever.

  4. 64
    abaffledrepublic on 1 Oct 2009 #

    #7: the vocal is also sampled on the House Crew’s fantastic ‘Keep The Fire Burning’ from around the same time.

    This was never my favourite Eurythmics single, but I liked it well enough and still do. I was ten at the time, and it took my dad to point out that Lennox’s vocal was a dig at all those OTT romantic songs, examples of which are to come later this year. It’s certainly better than the shocking ‘Thorn In My Side’ or their grab for authentic soul realness on that Aretha Franklin collaboration, a trend that became all too prevalent post-Live Aid as it was decided that fun was off the agenda and that people really should be listening to something that’s good for them.

    On the subject of better singers, isn’t it true that a voice doesn’t have to be technically brilliant, but can still be distinctive and communicate with the audience? Messrs Brown, Tennant and Sumner spring to mind, and the comment ‘he can’t sing’ has been directed at singers from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Rotten.

  5. 65
    Rory on 1 Oct 2009 #

    @58: Just to clarify, my mention of Tori Amos and Eddie Vedder was in respect to their early incarnations as “Y Tori Kant Read” and as a hair-band LA rocker (as “exposed” by Rolling Stone), rather than their being imitators of others.

    I don’t think it’s that instinctive really. Pearl Jam never sounded like Nirvana clones to me, and there was plenty of room on my shelves for both; when I read the Rolling Stone exposé of Vedder I decided I just didn’t care, because it didn’t change how I felt about his music. Similarly Radiohead and the raft of bands that have supposedly ripped them off. Ultimately I find this idea of authenticity not that helpful when considering popular music, in the same way as the popist/rockist debate various of you have rehearsed here before. You mention the Ting Tings: a calculated melange of indie and pop influences if ever there was, but producers of accomplished pop in their own right, surely? I don’t expect them to have a long and deep career, but they owned that particular moment, as so many of the acts we consider here have done before them. [Checks bunny roadmap. Oops. Shuts up on that score.]

    The Eurythmics owned a lot more moments than most.

  6. 66
    wichita lineman on 1 Oct 2009 #

    Re 65: I got the reference, and didn’t think any of these names were clones, but it’s the bandwagon-jump followed by desperately serious artiste thing (Amos, Vedder, Eurhythmics) I find hard to take. I’m all for end result over dues paying, and often think the ersatz trumps originality. But if you stick “cultural engineer” in your passport you deserve ridicule.

    As for Annie Lennox’s voice, I’m very fond of So Good To Be Back Home Again and Love Song For A Vampire, so it’s all about what she does with it rather than the instrument itself.

  7. 67
    Alan on 1 Oct 2009 #

    -I suggest that anybody who doesn’t recard quality of voice as paramount in song has no business commenting on it.

    Suggest all you like. But no.

    I like this. It was a big song of the summer. I’d give it a 7

  8. 68
    Steve Mannion on 1 Oct 2009 #

    I’ve come to like ‘Little Bird’ too re Annie solo.

    I feel I must toss Propaganda into the hat of Dave and Annie’s similar but superior contemporaries – trying to imagine Lennox doing ‘Duel’ or ‘Dr M’ or even Act’s ‘Snobbery And Decay’ but it’s not QUITE happening, regardless of ways in which Lennox may better Brucken technically – fairly different characters just often in a similar place. There seems a strong Horn/Lipson influence on ‘Beethoven (I Love To Listen)’ and other tracks on ‘Savage’ tho. And of course Lipson went on to produce AL’s first three solo albums.

    A timely reference at least, with ‘Duel’ (one of my favourite songs ever ever) dropping out of the charts (having peaked at a criminal #21) around the same time that the Rivvies (as no-one called them) chimed in with a rapid 4 week dash to the summit.

  9. 69
    Rory on 1 Oct 2009 #

    One thing that bothers me about the idea of the authentic original being paramount is that it privileges those fortunate or obsessive few who follow lesser-known acts and can keep track of who came first; and to cast the larger public as cattle (as you do in the deliciously written teardown you link @50, punctum) assumes that they made exactly the same choices that the privileged few made, and rejected the “superior” options.

    Nobody in my neck of the woods had heard of the Associates or the Cocteau Twins in the 1980s, because our local offshoots of multinational record companies hadn’t exposed us to them; and we’d heard half a dozen Eurythmics singles before “Wood Beez” turned up. I still only know of the Associates because the Divine Comedy covered them (and only know of them because I moved to Britain).

    As for ABC, also mentioned in that “ancient survey”: eh? The two were hardly mutually exclusive in the public’s affections – ABC were huge! Certainly with my Eurythmics-loving brother, whose favourite album for a while was The Lexicon of Love (which sits happily on my shelves nowadays too).

    I get the feeling that the Eurythmics are in some eyes a bit of a scapegoat for the pop-will-eat-itself turn of the mid-1980s, specifically in relation to this album and this year. Okay, fair enough that they share some of the blame, if that was in fact such a terrible turn of events, but weren’t Spandau Ballet first at the banquet? And Wham? And, and…

  10. 70
    Rory on 1 Oct 2009 #

    @66 – fair enough re the serious artiste pose, but were the Eurythmics really that guilty of it? And isn’t this song, in particular, a rejection of any such pose? I remember them being covered by the Australian music press in the same breathless pop prose as plenty of goofy 1983-1985 acts, rather than being held up as serious artistes.

    And even if they had adopted a serious artiste pose… well, so much of pop is about donning the appropriate costume, isn’t it? Why should that one be off limits? Say it often enough, and people might even believe it… Vedder and Amos have certainly been in it for the long haul.

  11. 71
    ace inhibitor on 1 Oct 2009 #

    I’m with the irritables. McDonald in revolution in the head talks about the distinction between lennon’s horizontal tunes and mccartney’s vertical tunes. seems to me the preference for glacial-synthpop-eurythmics is also a preference for lennox’s lennonist horizontal moments, variations around 2/3 notes (sweet dreams, here comes the rain) over her mccartneyist vertical moments (this one); classically-trained or no, I think restraint suits her better.

  12. 72
    Mark M on 1 Oct 2009 #

    Re 58: Janice Long was in the evening slot on R1, bringing us (from memory) some gothery (the Skeletal Family), established alt heavyweights (New Order etc), noisy newcomers (the Mary Chain), some yanks (the Long Ryders), a bit of reggae (Black Uhuru, say), the aforementioned Propaganda, a bit of Microdisney, Latin Quarter (whose Radio Africa is a perfect illustration of how terribly clumsy well imformed politics can sound in song)… A evening to daytime crossover I remember that year was Sophia George’s Too Girlie Girlie; I reckon Big Sound Authority’s This House probably fell into that category.

  13. 73
    Conrad on 1 Oct 2009 #

    Rory, I don’t know if my reference to faking and ‘for real’ (which is not an expression I like, but I couldn’t think of another way to put it) is confusing this, or if I’m not expressing myself well (probably;)) but I’m not promoting ‘authentic’ (whatever that is) as = good.

    Nor do I think being “original” is paramount.

    I love artifice in pop as much as the next roxy music fan. I lap up pretentiousness if done with style and verve (but not Verve). I love manufactured pop where the manufacturer and artist are in cahoots and have brilliant ideas – from the monkees to dollar to spice girls. Equally I love Led Zep and the Stones; Diana Ross and Outkast (to pick some random non obscure examples).

    I make no distinction between all these acts in one particular sense. They all move me in some way, and this in part I attribute to their belief in what they are doing.

    I just don’t buy that with Dave Stewart in particular, who has always struck me as a bit of a chancer.

    And even then, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if they had done something to win me over but they didn’t, perhaps couldn’t – as my response to music is often conditioned not just by what I hear but how I view the people making it.

    Actually, this is probably more incoherent then my earlier posts…

  14. 74
    Rory on 1 Oct 2009 #

    It was the goatee, wasn’t it? He looked like the Master!

  15. 75
    swanstep on 2 Oct 2009 #

    A point that may be floating beneath some of the disagreements here: a lot of the gals I had a chance with loved the Eurythmics, and looking back I definitely felt a little grumpy about feeling this (self-interested!) pressure to like them more than I did. This had been true about motown/big chill soundtrack stuff a few years earlier too, and in both cases it took a while for me to connect to the music (or not as the case may be) independently of the gendered social pressures with which I’d originally associated and then resented them.

    Rory mentioned the pub-stomp appeal of ‘If I lie to you?’ above…. but, for me at least that didn’t help at the time because classist/snobbist aversion to rawk was in full swing (I wasn’t giving Cold Chisel or acdc or even Springsteen the time of day in 1985 I can assure you)… My post-1990, say, ears completely agree, however, that ‘If i lie to you?’ is an astonishingly confident belter of a song, and an amazing #1. Those same ears of course *loved* Chisel and Bruce (and small doses of acdc). And when _Diva_ hit at the height of grunge it was revelatory. Anyhow… if I’m honest, 1985 Eurythmics were caught in a few personal, cultural head- and cross-winds, and even now my responses to that music are impure because of that. Reading various comments above suggests I’m not alone!

  16. 76
    Rory on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Oops, a couple of corrections to my first comment @28 (must have misread some chart columns somewhere): “Sexcrime” reached number 5 in Australia, not the 20-something position I had in mind, which made that their biggest hit up to that point (one up even on “Sweet Dreams”); and “Sisters” was the third Be Yourself Tonight single there, not the first (which would explain why it only reached number 15: everyone had bought the album by then).

  17. 77
    Matthew K on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Re #69 – Rory: “Nobody in my neck of the woods had heard of the Associates or the Cocteau Twins in the 1980s” – when I finally woke up and started listening to interesting music in 1987 there was a rack full of Cocteau Twins in the 7HT Record Bar in the Elizabeth St Mall. I bought Tiny Dynamine and listened to it with my eyes bugged out. Not a band I return to much, but it was one of my significant music moments.
    I am pretty sure you were in Hobart in 87; I suspect that EP may have been one of five copies in the state though!

  18. 78
    Rory on 2 Oct 2009 #

    I stand corrected, Matthew K, although there was a big difference for me between 1985 and 1987 – the gulf between 17 and 19 was wide! Yeah, by 1987 I was casting my net further afield too (didn’t Aeroplane Records open around then?). I guess I should have said “early/mid ’80s”.

    Wow, I never expected to see someone else recalling the 7HT Record Bar here. I can still remember their jingle. (The Cocteau Twins it wasn’t.)

  19. 79
    wichita lineman on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Re 72: Thanks. I’ve realised I’d discovered the pub by this point which is possibly why I abandoned the pre-Peel slot.

    Re 70: I really like this song, as I kinda sorta said before, so performance aside it’s much more real to me than most of the ice maiden stuff… though, being sympathetic, Who’s That Girl is like an electro-Shangri La’s. Aaahh! They’re fucking with my head!!

    “Say it often enough, and people might even believe it” – totally, and this is not a good thing. This is where I feel like a snob, one of the “privileged, fortunate, obsessive few” who wants to shout “Tom Jones was never never NEVER cool!” But he’s said it so often, it’s now unquestioned; I’d be intrigued to know what people think his hits were, beyond It’s Not Unusual. Luckily (?) Dave Stewart continually shows himself up – anyone remember the fuss about the ‘new Marquee’ in Islington? – so he’ll never pull this unlikely trick off.

  20. 80
    Rory on 2 Oct 2009 #

    @79: What’s New, Pussycat… Delilah… that cover of Kiss. I can imagine Jones’s fans thinking of him as cool the same way Manilow fans could think the same of their man. Hey, plenty of people would say the same about ABBA (i.e. that their fans might think they were cool but they weren’t), and there’s another great example not too far ahead. Cool is overrated, anyway.

  21. 81
    wichita lineman on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Which leaves out Green Green Grass Of Home (no.1), I’ll Never Fall In Love again (no.2), I’m Coming Home (no.2), Till (no.2), Daughter Of Darkness, Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings, Help Yourself, Love Me Tonight, Without Love (all Top 10)… ‘continental’ yowlers or flowerpot ballads which were all basically pre-rock. He wants to be remembered for What’s New Pussycat (top end Bacharach), Delilah (high camp), and Kiss. The cowardly Jones stuck soul (for the lad sees himself as a soulman) on b-sides and albums – he didn’t want to scare the ballad loving mums and dads who were making him rich. Pfffft.

    Abba and B Manilow haven’t tried to rewrite their history.

    Yes. Cool is awful. One of my most disliked words. Used by people like Tom Jones, who I’m sure says ‘funky’ quite a lot too.

    There. I feel better now.

  22. 82
    punctum on 2 Oct 2009 #

    That’s not really fair on Tom – the UK music industry in the mid-sixties had absolutely no idea what to do with solo performers (since groups were the thing) and so Gordon Mills, as he did with Engelbert and Solomon King, pushed Tom in the All Round Entertainment direction. Thus you have some of these bizarre early albums which mix up Joe Tex and Wilson Pickett covers with things like “My Yiddisha Mamma.” As with the original fifties boom, no one knew how long they were going to last in the spotlight, and so they had to plan for the long term. Problem with Tom is that he’s repeatedly become trapped by his own image, or those forced upon him. Footage of the This Is Tom Jones series he did for Grade/ITC (much of it available on YouTube and DVD) tells a rather different story.

    But, by happy coincidence, Tom is coming up quite soon on Then Play Long, and by the look of it that’s going to be an interesting one to address.

  23. 83
    AndyPandy on 2 Oct 2009 #

    On the back of the 12inch version of the hit 80s reissue of “It’s Not Unusual” there’s a quote from Otis Redding where he calls Tom Jones “the greatest soul singer” or something – surely that’s pretty cool…

  24. 84
    wichita lineman on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Putting a quote like that on your own sleeve – not cool.

    Does anyone consider Tom Jones a soulman, or a showman? I suppose I think of Annie Lennox in much the same way. Both can underplay it (the verses of I’m Coming Home, all the Tourists’ hits) and sound fine, but feel obliged to wibble, with much intensity, and end up sounding like stage school show-offs.

  25. 85
    Rory on 3 Oct 2009 #

    I think of Annie Lennox as a Scottish singer. No, seriously; having been surrounded for a decade by women who speak like her, I listen to her singing with a new ear, and it makes more sense. (In the same way as Clare Grogan’s – just rediscovered some old Altered Images tracks the other day.) The “blee-ee-eess” that some of you find so objectionable does too – Scots bend vowels in all sorts of different ways to the English. Lennox used the same vowel sound when she intoned “Sweet dreams are made of thee-uss” – she just didn’t draw it out across half a dozen note shifts.

    Now I’m wondering if the intense vocal acrobatics would sound nearly as fake or wibbly or showy or whatever if they had a Kentish accent over them rather than an Aberdonian one. I’m so co-ho-ho-ho-hold, let me in at your win-dow-ho-ho-ho…

  26. 86
    AndyPandy on 4 Oct 2009 #

    I doubt very much if Tom Jones or his management had anything to do with it seeing it was a reissue (in response to possibly unlikely but genuine club demand) from a record company that he’d left about 20 years before – I think the actual sleeve note was written by Dr Bob Jones – who I’ve never heard anyone say is anything less than cool (whatever “cool” actually means)

  27. 87
    lonepilgrim on 6 Oct 2009 #

    re 85 Prompted to listen to Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that hill’ by its mention in the UB40/Chrissie Hynde thread and comparing it with this helped me to appreciate what makes KB (for me) the more successful artist. Annie Lennox seems limited by ‘good taste’ whereas KB is willing to follow the path of excess to the palace of wisdom. It’s made me rethink my attitude to ‘Wuthering Heights’ which I’ve previously thought of as over the top, not in a good way.

  28. 88
    Rory on 6 Oct 2009 #

    Oh, I certainly agree that KB is the more successful artist, but she would come off best in most such comparisons in my book.

  29. 89
    Gavin Wright on 7 Oct 2009 #

    I’m going to have to side with the dissenters here – although the problem for me is not so much the voice, more the lifeless, fussy professionalism of the Eurythmics’ sound. I’m wary of criticising things as being fake or lacking in ‘soul’ but it seems like there’s something fundamental about pop that neither Lennox nor Stewart managed to grasp, leaving their songs lacking in warmth or joy or poignancy or surprise or anything else I might want from a single. This one annoys me less than ‘Sweet Dreams’ or ‘Thorn In My Side’ but it falls so far short what it appears to be aiming for that I can’t give it more than a 4/10.

  30. 90
    thefatgit on 10 Feb 2010 #

    Hmm…looking back over The Eurythmics’ career, I’m inclined to think they should have finished after “Sweet Dreams” and “Love Is A Stranger”.

    “…Angel” is all Annie and no Dave. That synth-pop cage to keep Canary Annie in her place was all part of The Eurythmics’ appeal. Here Annie escapes and trills freedom! Maybe for some, this is a good thing, but for me this is self-indulgence to the point of narcissism. “Listen to the range of my wonderful voice!” Lennox is a grotesque cartoon made flesh in this. There are parts of the song that appear to be genuinely unlistenable. Stevie Wonder’s harmonica is the blues and twos arriving at the crash scene at the end of the song. What precedes it…is horrific.

  31. 91
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Dignity at all times… Annie Lennox meets the Phantom Flan Flinger:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPJ9a3JHfYE

  32. 92
    lonepilgrim on 20 Sep 2010 #

    re91 I can’t figure out if she’s genuinely angry or not.

    I loathe that whole Mike ‘Giggler’ Hunt style of practical jokery

  33. 93

    […] the duo just aren’t popular these days (inspect the devastating comments on Tom Ewing’s Freaky Trigger entry for “There Must Be An Angel…”), their albums denizens of budget bin, joined by […]

  34. 94
    hectorthebat on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 29
    Schlager (Sweden) – Singles of the Year 3
    Best (France) – Singles of the Year 4

  35. 95

    Re 77/78: I wasn’t in Tasmania in ’87 and I’ve never even been to Oz (my sister lives in Sydney and is loving it, mind), but, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christm-er-heeeeeeeeeeere’s Patrick bumping a six-year-old thread with one of the most iconic* music videos of all time filmed IN THE EXACT SHOPPING CENTRE IN HOBART YOU DISCUSSED… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9GpFhgCrI8

    * air quotes/your mileage may vary, etc.

  36. 96

    Though I preferred his later work – see if you can spot Sean’s mum from This is England! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZLHcwmP-9A

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