The Messy History of the Eurythmics’ ‘1984’ Soundtrack
For most young pop bands, the opportunity to provide the soundtrack to a highly anticipated film — adapted from a classic book, no less, is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can make a career. But for the Eurythmics, the 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) soundtrack ended up being almost more trouble than it was worth.
Singer Annie Lennox and multi-instrumentalist Dave Stewart were already soaring on the charts when they were tapped to provide the soundtrack for director Michael Radford's adaptation of the George Orwell novel imagining a futuristic totalitarian society. Their most recent LP, 1983's Touch, cracked the Top 10 in the U.S. in the spring of 1984 — right around the time their label released Touch Dance, a remix collection that entered the Top 40 in their native United Kingdom. When they entered the studio in the late summer of 1984, they could have had their pick of pretty much any project — and they used that freedom to decamp to the Bahamas and pursue their vision with complete creative control.
As Stewart told the Chicago Tribune, he ended up cutting the musical beds with the assistance of Junkanoo drummers, players who stretch the skins of their instruments with fire. "I wanted to mix those real ancient, tribal, ritual sounds with the high-tech modern sound of the Eurythmics — the old and the new," he explained. "To illustrate what I feel about 1984, that the whole thing about Big Brother, etc., and the way people try to dominate others has been going on for as long as man has been here."
Unbeknownst to Lennox and Stewart, there was a battle brewing behind the scenes over their soundtrack — one that had nothing to do with the music itself. Radford, in fact, had already commissioned a completely separate score for the film, and wasn't terribly interested in using the songs turned in by the Eurythmics; unfortunately, neither he nor producer Simon Perry let the band in on the conflict slowly coming to a head.
"We spoke to Perry every day, or every second day," Lennox later insisted. "There wasn't one inference that they didn't like what we were doing."
Watch the Video for "Julia"
Lennox and Stewart would remain blissfully unaware of the whole thing until the film's release in October 1984, at which point they failed to receive invitations to various promotional events surrounding its release, in spite of the fact that their single "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)" was, as Stewart put it, "almost a three-minute commercial" for the movie. When Radford publicly claimed he'd had the band's soundtrack "foisted" on him by the studio, controversy erupted.
As it turned out, Radford might have had a point. Reportedly concerned with spiraling costs and looking for a way to ensure worldwide promotion for the project — not to mention a hit for his label — Virgin Records boss and 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) producer Richard Branson brokered the Eurythmics deal, and his company stepped in to ensure their songs were used over Radford and Perry's objections. Ironically, the soundtrack album itself ended up sputtering out in the lower reaches of Billboard's chart, and neither of the singles issued from the predominantly instrumental LP made much of a dent at American radio.
"Of course Richard, being a smart businessman, had negotiated this one album away from RCA, envisioning that it was going to have this huge hit on it for him, and he’d sell millions of albums with it," laughed Stewart. "And then we did this song called 'Sexcrime' which was actually banned from the radio in America."
Ultimately, no one really got what they wanted. Radford and Perry were forced to compromise with Branson, distributing different soundtracks to different territories while griping to the press that the Eurythmics' work was "crass rubbish" and "inappropriate." Lennox and Stewart, justifiably annoyed, fired back, with Stewart describing Perry as a "two-faced rat" and Lennox insisting the duo had been "the victim of a trick." The film, although it earned back its production budget, wasn't the hit any of the companies involved had hoped.
Today's flop can be tomorrow's cult classic, however, and that's exactly what ended up happening with 1984 — both the film, which was recently honored with a return theatrical engagement scheduled for April 4, 2017, and the soundtrack, which has come to be regarded as one of the Eurythmics' more overlooked works. Fortunately, time has also healed old wounds for the people on either side of the public battle.
Admitting that "We felt that we'd been completely shafted by everyone who had kept us in the dark about what had been really going on behind the scenes," Lennox told Billboard she'd since made up with Radford in person. "He sweetly apologized for what had happened and I was glad to have the opportunity to personally explain that we'd never have gone near the project if we'd had an inkling of the full situation. You live and learn."
Bands Snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame