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The language of Touch: 40 years ago Eurythmics had their first No. 1 album

Touch this. Recorded and mixed at The Church* in just three weeks, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s follow-up to Sweet Dreams found them ready to move on to greater challenges at a dizzying pace. Nonetheless, Eurythmics’ third LP is often euphemistically tagged as for obsessives only, yet it was their first chart-topping album anywhere in the world, and boasts two if not three of their finest 45s. Ready for a recap?

There had been a sea change in Annie Lennox’s vocal prowess by the time of Touch. Competing in the charts with the image-conscious new breed of British synthpop acts such as Soft Cell, Heaven 17 and the Human League, it was most pertinently fellow male/female synth duo Yazoo the obvious parallel for Eurythmics’ oeuvre. And their thundering third effort saw the Caledonian chanteuse widen her range considerably, with her icy chills delving into the often tricky territory of “white soul” with astonishing aplomb.

Fortunately, armed with Kraftwerkian analogue synths, Sunderland wizard Dave Stewart’s darkly dramatic synthscapes enveloped the diva’s excursions into melisma and gave Eurythmics a visionary hybrid vigour that acted as the real curtain raiser to their explosive musical marriage. 

The pair had mastered new wave’s icy detachment and ironic distance better than just about anyone, and on LP number three they were wearing their influences as their mission statement: sixties soul, funk and disco underpinned by chilly European electronics, two seemingly disparate genres that when welded together gave Eurythmics their unique sonic tapestry.

Cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun, geddit?

“I’ve got the brawn, you‘ve got the brains”*

With a gender-fluid Annie fetishised as a carrot-topped cyborg full of brawny bravado, the sleeve design for Touch was incredibly striking and came courtesy of pop snapper Peter Ashworth (“taken on 1 September 1983, at Bagley’s Warehouse in London’s King’s Cross for the cover of issue 42 of the Face magazine,“ he says, matter of factly) via Laurence Stevens, a recent London College of Printing graduate whose influences ranged from the German art movement Bauhaus to Bogarde — as in Dirk, the white soxxed matinee idol so beloved of Adam Ant — and was the perfect accomplice for the duo’s DIY avant garde aesthetic.

Carrying on the dissonant innovations of its epochal predecessor, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), then just ten months old, Touch sounded equally cinematic too. From the tongue-in-cheek gospel of Regrets to the morose magnificence of No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts), almost every song sounds like a future b-movie while at the same time doing nothing to rein in the sprawling, often freeform arrangements that pay only fleeting regard to the pop charts.

Somewhat of a precursor to their Savage meisterwork of 1987, the detached and defiant Aqua is carried by a propulsive synth bass with a dark wave of Latin electro-funk rhythms augmented by Annie’s ethnic incidental chants adding a distinctive dimension to the language of Touch.

Paint A Rumour wraps noirish Numanoid synthetics around a Chinese Whispers psychodrama, heightened by Dick Cuthell’s frazzled free jazz horns. The First Cut is a minimalist melodrama based around a driving loop that gets repeated ad nauseam, but is completely made by a plethora of contrasting vocal affectations all of which confirm Annie Lennox’s status as one of music’s most gifted, singular vocalists. Yes, Shirl, she does have the range.

Deftest of all, the immaculate high-gloss trio of 45s that supported the album still sound remarkably modern four decades on. Honestly, can you imagine anyone daring enough to make such a record in 2024? As the prime minister of the day declared back then, no, no, NO!

In order then: Who’s That Girl?, Right By Your Side and Here Comes The Rain Again are a transcendent triumvirate that were experimental, avant-garde but also chock-full of hooks as if to say, “Pop? Piece of cake!“. 

Who’s That Girl? is a querulous tale of kinked-up sexual obsession with a dazzling and very funny video that saw everyone from Bananarama to Bucks Fizz and, er, Marilyn mugging the camera for cameos. Deceptively chirpy, Right By Your Side is a homely Caribbean calypso around Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, and then, leaving the best til last, there was the spectral album opener setting the scene like no other. 

Its melodramatic orchestration arguably one of Michael Kamen’s most evocative works, Here Comes The Rain Again is a stunning song by any stretch of the imagination, and yet another powerhouse performance from Lennox – she‘s all moody and dispassionate on the main vocal and wails and coos like Aretha on the ad libs.

But don‘t take my word for it.

Yet it wasn’t until the Euphonious pseudo ballad was belatedly released as Touch’s that DnA finally achieved a No. 1 album, not just in the UK but globally. By the turn of the savage jaw in ’84, Touch was literally everywhere.

The very last week of January saw ‘Rain’ peak at eight on its third week on the ‘parade’ while the single’s airplay omnipresence succeeded in buoying its parent album to the top spot for a fortnight — even managing to knock Michael Jackson’s Thriller behemoth off its perch after hovering around the Top 15 for two and a half months, before the duo were deposed by Scottish stadium bores Simple Minds. Oh, the irony.

Touch may not be as lyrically consistent as Sweet Dreams but it’s far more diverse in style and sonics, leaning heavily on the soulfulness of Lennox’s performances to keep its synth-pop aesthetic grounded in palpably human emotions. 

To that end, Eurythmics’ ascent into the big time was assured. No more stumbling in the debris.

Steve Pafford 

* Recently, The Church has been the recording studio of choice for the orchestral arrangements of the Pet Shop Boys 2024 album Nonetheless. From one prescient pop duo to another (the “brawn“ quote is their Opportunities (Let‘s Make Lots Of Money role-flipped), this can only be a Very Good Thing

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