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Sep 09

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

FT + Popular96 comments • 6,089 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. 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).

  2. 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!

  3. 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.)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. 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)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 91
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

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

  17. 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

  18. 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 […]

  19. 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

  20. 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.

  21. 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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