The Showdown: 1984

21:07, Jul 03 2013

The showdown is between Eurythmics' album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) (or click here to hear the whole album) and Van Halen's 1984, also known as MCMLXXXIV (and, likewise, click here to hear the whole album).

And I'm not sure I can offer much in terms of a showdown - because all that happened when Holly Olive made this suggestion last week was I fell in love (again) with two albums from my past. Dr Comment tried to tag in the album 1984 by Rick Wakeman but I'm not counting that because it was released in 1981 and if we added the many pop-culture mentions/references of George Orwell's book 1984 and the movies made from it we would be here a while.

Also, like many of the things Rick Wakeman has done, his musical version of 1984 is roundly awful. (I did interview Rick Wakeman though, last year, and he was fun to chat with.)

Eurythmics' album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) is also tied to Orwell's dystopian vision, for it was composed as the soundtrack for one of the film versions of Orwell's book - with one slight issue: the director hated it. Michael Radford went so far as to publicly state that the music was forced on him by the record company and removed the score from the film - offering a director's cut with the full score by Dominic Muldowney (as Radford hated the pop offerings from Eurythmics and preferred the full orchestral approach).

Just as well the album by Eurythmics found a life of its own - thanks largely to the one big hit from it, Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four).

Just the suggestion to compare this album with Van Halen's similarly titled record had me scurrying back to consider this brilliant pop duo. I'd go so far as to say that Eurythmics are hideously overlooked - not so much underrated, but perhaps it's easy to forget about them in this day and age. We've have plenty of reminders of Kate Bush thanks to a crop of female singer-songwriters dialling in different combinations of cute and quirk, but where are the bands to rival (or at least reference) Eurythmics?


I fell for the band as a youngster - though in fact they were well on the way through their career at that point. The Sweet Dreams single was brilliant: slightly frightening, actually, but so catchy. Ditto the aforementioned Sexcrime. But what really hooked me in - and I was only 10 at the time, so I reckon I'm allowed a late-pass - was the very accessible Revenge album. It helped me to connect the dots, back to the handful of singles I recognised from the band. My older brother and my parents were fans of the band - we shared a love for this group. (As I said here, Revenge is an album from my childhood). Probably, there are Eurythmics fans poised to dismiss Revenge, to say that the group sold out after Be Yourself Tonight and definitely peaked with Touch but I couldn't agree with that. I think Revenge and the swift follow-up Savage are both great records too. In fact it's a phenomenal run of albums across the 1980s from this Scottish duo. And a brilliant run of singles. The band's Greatest Hits is one of my favourite single-disc compilations by anyone. Up there with the great greatest hits by Bob Marley, The Cars, ELO...

So the 1984 album sticks out - somewhat. Ever so slightly a sore thumb. It's in the middle of the band's discography (right in the middle if we don't count 1999's middling attempt at a comeback, Peace). And it's the strangest, least conventional record - given it's a soundtrack, featuring snippets and instrumental tracks; pieces conceived as intended score.

But here's the thing - Eurythmics always had this, well, I'll call it simply a weird side; it was a smart way to offset the giant pop hits. Annie Lennox was a perfect pop front-woman: that voice for a start. And then the gender-bending, the power-suits and short hair, the boldness, the energy and attitude - a great look, such style, playing with androgyny and gender roles...Dave Stewart the sideman, the behind-the-scenes guy; he did the heavy lifting in a musical sense, but he wasn't the show. And even Annie - so brilliant out front - couldn't be the show on her own. They needed each other, became the perfect foils for one another. And they created a staggering range of music.

I was first hipped to the weirdness of this band by a song called You Take Some Lentils and You Take Some Rice - it's the B-side to Who's That Girl? (I have the single.) Lentils is one of my favourite Eurythmics songs - you play it and no one ever guesses it's the Eurythmics.

But it prepped me for 1984. Because there's not a lot else on that record that sounds like Sexcrime. Though Julia was a single and I love the track Greetings from a Dead Man.

Actually the album sounds very good now - far more interesting to me on the back of my most recent Kraftwerk-out.

I couldn't tell you - in any seriousness - that it's my favourite Eurythmics album (because it's hard to go past Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) or Touch or Be Yourself or Revenge, Savage, or for that matter, the band's debut, In the Garden.

But 1984 is, if not the standout record, certainly one that stands out - that can be isolated, extracted from the catalogue and served up to exist in its own space. And I like it for that.

Van Halen's album 1984 was certainly a big album in my life. It was one of the first albums by Van Halen that I ever heard. And as I said here, recently, right time/right place you still get that rush from it.

I guess, with the opening, instrumental title track, a mere sliver, the band could well have been referencing Orwell, a future-sound (which of course now sounds dated; so maybe they were actually referencing Wakeman?), there's something grandiose about the way this record starts - that one-minute title track setting up a mood from Orwell, or simply creating a long intro for Jump. With that and Panama the record might seem front-stacked but Hot for Teacher is a highlight in the centre of the album and closing track House of Pain somehow bridges the eras/sounds between Led Zeppelin and Steve Vai/Joe Satriani.

Yes, it's probably never been cool to like Van Halen - apart from right when they were happening - but this band is ridiculously good. And you hear them at their peak - and arguably 1984 is right when they nailed it, critically, commercially - and they were so damned good. It's also just before Diamond Dave called it a day, and you can defend Sammy Hagar all you like but Dave is a big part of the feel of Van Halen, if not the actual sound. We need his strut; the other three are great players, but they're boring on their own. And - much as I like a lot of Van Hagar (as I said here) - I'm still pretty sure this band was cooking with gas when David Lee Roth was licking the microphone, jumping high with the splits and laying down all those hits.

Van Halen weren't quite the great pop act that Eurythmics were - but still it's an impressive body of work (the early albums particularly). And they took rock music to the pop charts, brought a bit of pop's flavour and flair to solid rock.

I got a lot more pleasure from Van Halen's 1984 back in the day - because, well, since I've been forced to compare Eurythmics and Van Halen, back then when I was listening to Van Halen's 1984 it was Revenge that I listened to when I wanted to hear Eurythmics.

So if I have to pick a winner for this (non) showdown then I'm going to go with Eurythmics' album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother). It seems to suit my tastes now more than it did then. I'm very happy to rediscover it. The time seems right - I've been playing Savage and Revenge and Touch a fair bit recently. As for Van Halen? Well I play 1984 once or twice a year still. And I always enjoy it when it's on.

Thanks Holly Olive. It was fun to take this trip.

Postscript: You'll remember that last week I asked you to pick the headlines for my deadlines. With that in mind, Monday's blog was called With Dignity: When to call it a day, yesterday's was called Albums I regret buying, Thursday's will be The Majesty of The Muppets and Friday's will be called The Gift.