A Personal History of Music, Day 5: “Love Is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics

John Scalzi

Over on Reddit, there’s an interest group (or “subreddit”) called “Im14AndThisIsDeep,” where the gist of the subreddit is to show a bunch of images/statements/gifs/etc that seem deeply profound if you are young and inexperienced, and, uhhhh, less so if you have any knowledge of the world under your proverbial belt. The group is not very kind to 14-year-olds by its nature, but it’s also not wrong in its underlying thesis: Lots of things seem deep when all you’ve known is the shallow end of the cultural pool.

So I understand if it sounds like damning with faint praise when I say that “Love Is a Stranger” is kind of my “I’m 14 and This Is Deep” song, but let me say two things to its defense. One, I was 14 when it came out, so this is exactly who I was and what I was about when I first encountered the song (and the Eurythmics in general); Two, when I was 14 I wasn’t ready for actual nihilism and depravity, in music or anywhere else, if I’m being honest. So getting this icy, attenuated version from the Eurythmics was really the speed I needed to be at.

The song, if you’ve not encountered it before and can’t be bothered to press “play” on the embedded video above, has Anne Lennox enumerating all the ways love is a real existential pain in the ass, and then in the chorus admitting that she wants you, nevertheless, and also, it’s an obsession. Thus the (presumed) duality of love is revealed: A real drag, and also, let me have some, I’m a love junky. In the video, Lennox says all this while alternating between icy femme and even-icier androgynous personas, which was both thrilling and upsetting to 14-year-old me; a continuation, if you will, of my mild-yet-real sexual cognitive dissonance when confronted with the fact of Boy George roughly a year earlier.

There are better Eurythmics songs, and Anne Lennox also has a wide and vast solo career where she’s staked out her claim for relevance as a songwriter and performer. But for this series I’m talking about the songs that hit for me. At 14, this was one that intrigued and fascinated me, made me interested in the Eurythmics and gave me information about love and desire that, while I now recognize as caricaturized and amped up for performance purposes, still alerted me that love wasn’t always a pop song — or at least, could sometimes be a creepier, weirder type of pop song altogether.

And yes, it still gets me, although now my reaction to to Anne Lennox glaring threateningly at the camera with a pair of hair-trimming scissors is less “Why does this make me feel aroused and confused” and more “Yes, very hot, and also, I sure hope you found a happy stable relationship somewhere along the line.” Which, at 53, I think is probably the best way to approach this particular song. I was happy to be 14 when I was 14. I’m happy to be out of that now.

— JS

20 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 5: “Love Is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics”

  1. Love this series of posts. I am slightly older than John, 5 years or so, but still so many of these songs and the same bands impacted me. The Eurythmics are one of those bands. Thanks for the memories and reflections.

  2. I had forgotten how much I like this video. Thank you.

    I would agree it’s not deep, but I would argue that it’s an incisive and detailed depiction of a particular style of love and desire. It is not deep, per se, but it more subtle and nuanced than the genre normally indulges in.

  3. While they’re not very similar artists otherwise, and I’m a bit younger than you (In my late 30s), your present-day reaction to this song is in some ways similar to my present-day reaction to Stabbing Westward. In other words, less “Oh God why did I ever like this when I was younger?”, and more “I know exactly why I liked this when I was younger, and I’m glad I’m not that same person anymore.”

    I still enjoy Stabbing Westward, mind you, but I now find I have to follow them up immediately by, like, watching a Bob Ross episode or something.

  4. Amazing how many performers you love, that I, nearly 20 years older than you, also love. Ms Lennox is an awesome person.

  5. I’m very close to John’s age, but somehow Eurythmics for me is about age 15-16 rather than 14. Definitely the era of cassette tapes and monopolising the one tape deck in the house when I could, which was at least better than the annual christmas record on the player in the living room.

    By the time Smalltown Boy came along and hit me like a train I had my own tape deck. Fortunately for my family, because that was also when The Chills released Doledrums. Which is both a terrible song and an accurate description of being on the dole. But easier to explain to people than why Smalltown Boy resonated…

    Features happier Chills, also Verlaines.

  6. I have adored the Eurythmics for years but somehow never saw this video, so thanks for that.

    And I’m another fan just a bit older than you, so I do recognize all the bands from your teen years! Almost!

  7. I fell headache over heels for this song as a 15/16 year old. The video with an androgynous Annie Lennox was a big part of it. But it was the things she did with her voice that hooked me. I knew (and still know now) most of the lyrics, but they weren’t the draw for me as much as the sheer power and range of her voice. I’m still fond of the song lo these many years later.

  8. I’m also in the same age range, and also never saw this when it was current.

    What’s confusing me is the invocation of Boy George as a potential source of confusion – it was pretty clear to me even at the time that I wasn’t part of Boy George’s intended audience, and I never really saw Boy George as a sexual being one way or the other…

  9. Two thoughts.

    One, I had a lot of experience with Lennox’s previous band, The Tourists, so I was initially not thrilled with the turn to synth-pop; damn good song though.

    My exposure to cultural depravity at 14 was Kosinki’s “The Painted Bird:” Now that was an education!

  10. My bad message about love song was … OMG I can’t remember. It was something long and soft by Guns and Roses that the first boy I ever crushed on (a doomed crush) sent about me that I held in my heart for ages. Maybe Patience? But that doesn’t seem so bad… I don’t think it was November Rain, because that would have made me sad, not elated but maybe it was?

    Maybe it’s good that I’ve forgotten.

    But Sweet Dreams is my favorite Eurythmics song. They really do have a lot of bad messages about love! (Fortunately I never took Sweet Dreams as something to aspire to.) Going over the lyrics of that one in my head as a middle-aged person… they’re not actually wrong. Some of them really do want to use/abuse/be abused by you.

    #nostolgia #growth?

  11. I loved this song when it came out and I’m around the same age. I recently stumbled upon the Martha Wainwright cover of it, it’s very good too.

  12. I’m enjoying this series in spite of the fact that even when I know the music, it mostly means very little to me. But the reactions resonate strongly and even remind me of parallels from my own auto-discography.
    Just an added frill: how about putting a contemporary-with-the music picture of yourself instead of (or in addition to) the identifying one. Part of my own memories of the olden times is often that frisson of embarrassment of what I thought was cool/appropriate/fashionate at the time.

  13. That’s an amazing song I’d totally forgotten existed. She is sexy but also cerebral. Thanks for that… and yes, at 14 most people don’t know much about love. Although they probably know it really hurts.

  14. I haven’t heard this song in decades, and my brain still pulled up every single lyric. This is why I can’t remember things, my brain is stuffed full of 80’s song lyrics. Note: this is not a complaint. Song lyrics >>> programming syntax.

  15. I loved this band! I got to see them live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley! They were fabulous! I’m going to think in exclamation points for the rest of the day! Aaargh!!!

  16. Love Is A Stranger has always been my favorite Eurythmics song. I was 15 when it came out. Lacking MTV, I heard the song for years before I saw the video, so for me it was less deviancy tidied up and glossily packaged for MTV and more about the cerebral versus the biological imperative. Sex is the second strongest drive in living things and it frequently overrides the first, which is self preservation. “It’s guilt-edged, glamorous and sleek by design/You know it’s jealous by nature, false and unkind/It’s hard and restrained and it’s totally cool/It touches and it teases as you stumble through the debris” pretty much says it all.

    I loved Annie Lennox as one half of the Eurythmics, I loved her solo (especially the LotR work). She has a stunning voice and range that comes along once in a generation. Unlike so many musical acts/artists that came after, she can actually sing.

  17. I’m very close to John’s age, but I started paying attention to pop music a bit later than he (and most of our contemporaries) did, so while I’ve been aware of this song for decades I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen the video before. And … at the end, with the two of them in suits and shades, and a woman in a man’s suit and moving like a robot … did I just watch the genesis of the Matrix movies?

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