553. ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)’, by Eurythmics

The Eurythmics grab their only UK #1, then. One week at the top for an act I’d suggest were worth a few more. But at least they grab their chance here, and deliver a classic. Their sole chart-topper comes in at a hundred miles an hour, with an impressive a cappella intro from Annie Lennox.

There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart), by Eurythmics (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th July 1985

La-da-dee-doo-n-doo-n-daaa… That’s what it sounds like to me anyway, leading the way into a song about the joys of being in love. I walk into an empty room, Suddenly my heart goes boom… I always associate Eurythmics with slightly more layered, slightly darker music – ‘Sexcrime’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and so on – but their biggest chart success came with a pure pop record.

But that’s not to say this is cheap and throwaway. Not at all. ‘There Must Be an Angel’ is quality stuff, all the way through. From Lennox’s opening salvo, through the angelic backing vocals (which I’m guessing are Lennox again – whoever they’re by, they’re impressively OTT), the electronic harp, and the excellent gospel-influenced middle eight, with some clever rhyming: hallucinating with celebrating, deception with intervention… Could this be the activating, All my senses dissipating…? Not many number ones can boast that sort of vocabulary, even if it does sound a little try-hard…

The cherry on top of this great record: a harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder. If that didn’t get you a number one in 1985, then nothing would… This means that as well as his own chart-topper (‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’), Wonder has featured uncredited on three more #1s in the past year (Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel for You’, and ‘We Are the World’ being the other two).

The video ups the celestial ante even further: Lennox plays a beautiful angel, surrounded by cherubs and angelic choirs, and isn’t sporting her usual cropped hair. (There is an argument for her being the female Boy George, mirroring his androgyny, and they had both featured on the cover of Newsweek the year before.) Meanwhile, Dave Stewart plays a bored – and strangely blonde – Louis XIV watching on.

This is the only chart-topper for the Eurythmics (it bears repeating…), and for either Lennox or Stewart (he is not the Dave Stewart who covered ‘It’s My Party’ with Barbara Gaskin in 1981). In fact, their hit making career as a duo was about to peter out: they’d score their last Top 10 hit the following year with my favourite of theirs, ‘Thorn in My Side’. Lennox would go on to have a hugely successful solo career in the ‘90s, as well as lots of charity work. Stewart would go on to do everything from film soundtracks, to voice acting, to comic book writing.

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487. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin

More evidence that 1981 was a leap-forward for the charts. The year in which the decade truly began. Because this, this next record, it is… truly…

It’s My Party, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin (their 1st and only #1s)

4 weeks, 11th October – 8th November 1981

something? It’s a leap-forward, for certain, because we’ve heard nothing like this before at the top of the charts. Whether we ever needed to hear anything like this at the top of the charts is another question. At its most basic level, this is a cover of the Lesley Gore hit, a #9 (and US #1) in 1963. Except the original has been deconstructed, mashed, blended, twisted and fricasseed until what is being served up is almost unrecognisable.

I’m enjoying it, at first. The intro is the best bit: woozy drums, weird far-eastern sound effects, and the Cry if I want to… line chanted like a mantra. But as it goes on, the song veers in one direction then another, then another. I count three complete changes of tone and style. No, make that four. I’m starting to feel dizzy. Can I just hand over my next WTAF award now?

Is this good? Or is it terrible? I can’t think of many records that straddle the line so completely as this. There are flashes – mainly when the charm of the original manages to shine through – where it’s really fun. But there are other times when it feels like this production is being controlled by a five-year-old banging away at the settings on their toy keyboard. Perhaps you could look at this as haute-couture music: just like nobody actually wears the clothes that come down the runway in Milan; probably nobody would listen to this by choice anymore. But the sounds and techniques used here would filter on down through the decade…

Or maybe that’s generous. Acts like The Buggles, and Soft Cell (who literally just took their version of a sixties gem to the top) have shown that you can sound ridiculously modern – emphasis on the ridiculous – and still make a great pop song. This one gets very lost along the way: there’s a moment, after the wedding bell sound effects and a theatrical gasp, when the final chorus clicks, and you can see that Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin had it in them to make this a great pop record. But, hey ho, it doesn’t last. Give me the sassy, swinging original over this any day. (Actually, I’ve just realised the difference between this and Soft Cell. Soft Cell lovingly re-crafted a classic; this sounds, at times, like art school students taking the piss – see the annoying way Gaskin squeals at the end of every ‘you’, for example.)

The Dave Stewart involved in this is not, as I immediately thought, the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This DS was a keyboard player and composer for various prog-rock bands throughout the seventies, before he hooked up with his former backing singer, Barbara Gaskin. Soon afterwards, they scored this huge hit, by far their biggest. They still work with one another, and have released seven albums together. And I do wonder if they chose ‘It’s My Party’ because it is such a typically old-fashioned, bubblegum hit, and the re-imagining is therefore so shocking. A few years later they tried to repeat the trick with a version of ‘The Locomotion’ that only made #70.

I still don’t really know what to make of this one, even after repeat listening. It is certainly something… Is it avant-garde, or just dumb? Impressive, or unlistenable? I can’t help thinking of that quote from ‘Jurassic Park’: they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never stopped to think if they should…

For the first time in a while… A #1 that is missing from Spotify…