Molly Tie continues her Music Herstory series 💋
Annie Lennox has defied pigeon-holing for the duration of her career, moving pretty effortlessly from 70s pop act to decade-defining 80s New Wave icon to 90s chanteuse. Her personal style, vocal ability and bold experimentation have made her one of the UK’s most beloved artists gaining accolades from across the music industry.
Annie Lennox was born on Christmas Day 1954 in Scotland. As a teen she started her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she stayed for 3 years learning to play various instruments and compose her own music.
Lennox played in numerous bands in the mid-70s including Dragon’s Playground and The Tourists, the latter of which was with her future collaborator Dave Stewart. The Tourists were together from ’76 to 1980 throughout the peak of the UK punk and new wave era and had some successes with tracks such has Loneliest Man in the World and a cover of Dusty Springfield’s Only Want to be With You which reached the top 10 in the UK charts. Her unique vocal style has been evident since those early recordings. To cement their part in the new wave movement, they toured with ostentatious jacket-wearers Roxy Music in 1979.
But after The Tourists broke up in 1980, Lennox and Stewart decided to do their own thing and formed the band that would catapult them both to stardom – The Eurythmics. Embracing the ‘anything goes’ fashion environment of the 1980s, Lennox became known for her androgynous style- wearing men’s suits, keeping a short haircut (famously shown in the Sweet Dreams[…] video and carrying a cane. The duo had numerous hits that are still guaranteed to fill a dancefloor today- Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), Sisters Are Doin It for Themselves (a duet with Aretha Franklin) and There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart). They were also at the forefront of the ‘long song titles’ movement and pioneered the use of brackets in mainstream music.
Even at the peak of this success, Lennox embarked on a new endeavour – going solo. It was in keeping of the trajectory she was on with gradually sharing a stage with less and less people – going from a group of 5 (The Tourists), to a duo (Eurythmics) to finally, going it alone.
Her debut solo album – 1992’s Diva was a huge commercial and critical success and contained the singles that would bring her a new legion of fans and cement her credibility as a musical artist. Lead singles Why and Walking On Broken Glass were huge hits and the album reached number 1. Annie Lennox continued her reputation for having an exquisite eye for visual aesthetics with a Rococo/Late Baroque inspired video for Walking On Broken Glass and a nod to Cabaret in the video for single Little Bird.
Annie Lennox took a brief step back from the limelight wanting to raise her children in peace and quiet, but she was never far from music. She worked on her follow up to Diva and released 1995’s Medusa another smash at number 1 and another showcase of her ability and willingness to change musical direction. Medusa is an album of covers, with all of the originals by male artists. She gave her own spin on tracks from The Clash, Procol Harum (her version of Whiter Shade of Pale is particularly beautiful) and of course The Lover Speaks, their track No More I Love Yous being now pretty much synonymous with Lennox.
Eurythmics never officially disbanded although they were obviously not at the forefront of Lennox’s mind as she explored her solo career. However, they did reunite at the end of the 1990s to release their album Peace (1999) and completed a tour that saw profits donated to Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
Third solo album Bare was released in 2003 and three years later followed up by Songs of Mass Destruction– a darker album that reflected Lennox’s view of world events and her increasing interest in activism. One of the singles from the album- Sing– is a collaboration between Lennox and over 20 other female artists including Anastacia, Dido, Celine Dion, K D Lang, Madonna and Beth Orton just to name a handful. The song raised money and awareness for Treatment Action Campaign which worked on issues relating to HIV/Aids. This is one of many actions Lennox has taken throughout her career on this issue. She has been a passionate campaigner around issues relating to HIV/AIDS since the late 1980s. In 1990 she contributed to the album Red Hot + Blue which raised money for Aids awareness.
She is not quiet on other issues either and has been a supporter of various political causes and organisations including anti-war campaigns, environmental issues and issues pertaining to social and global justice. In 2006, in response to her humanitarian work, Lennox became patron of the Master’s Course in Humanitarian and Development Practice for Oxford Brookes University. She has spoken in the House of Commons on issues about child poverty and has been a strong critic of the Catholic Church’s stance against condoms. In 2008, she founded the Circle of Women- an organisation that fundraises for women’s projects around the world.
Many aspects of Annie Lennox’s persona have entrenched her position as a pioneer and eclectic talent. Whilst Madonna may be known as the queen of reinvention, Annie Lennox is not far behind in terms of her changing style both visually and musically. Her voice carries her upbeat pop songs with strength and command, but it is on her ballads that she can showcase her range and intentional fragility. From pop hits to synth bangers, to soul and jazz (showcased on her 6th studio album Nostalgia) Lennox has indulged and explored her various musical interests with credibility and accompanying visual flare. Her provocative androgynous look helped make her an LGBT icon and during the 1980s she was considered a counterpart to Boy George, often appearing on magazine covers together.
It is not surprising, that as both the face of the 1980s and 1990s in many ways, Lennox has been recognised for her contributions to music. She has won 8 BRIT Awards including Best British Female Artist and Outstanding Contribution to Music (with Stewart) as well as a Grammy. In recognition of her humanitarian work, she was granted an OBE in 2011. And whilst she may have taken a slight backseat to music to focus on some of her activism and political work, she has a whole body of work both musical, visual that take us on a tour of the best of British music from the 1970s to present day.