Sometimes, the truth about pop music’s best works takes a while to reveal itself. Such is the case with “Love Is a Stranger,” the third single from Eurythmics’ 1983 album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).
The song heralded the band’s rise to superstardom — but it went almost completely unnoticed upon its initial single release on Nov. 8, 1982.
Eurythmics’ origins date back to the mid-’70s when band members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart met in London. She was from Scotland, had emigrated to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music and was supporting her musical career by working in bars and restaurants. He was English and had been obsessed with making rock ‘n’ roll since he’d first heard Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers at age 14.
The two began working together and soon formed the Tourists, which enjoyed modest success before disbanding in 1980. Lennox and Stewart formed Eurythmics the same year and released their debut album, In the Garden, in 1981, watching in disappointment as it fizzled out.
Watch Eurythmics’ ‘Love Is a Stranger’ Video
Undeterred, the duo rented an attic room above a picture-framing shop using money that Stewart secured by dressing up “like a businessman” and convincing a bank manager to give him a loan, he explained in a 1983 interview with Musician magazine. Drawing on the electronic music influence they’d picked up in Germany, they developed a sound that was, as Stewart told Classic Pop magazine, composed of “cold, European, hard, tough-sounding synthesizers with a soulful voice.”
This sound pervaded Eurythmics’ second album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). The duo released the opening track on the album, “Love Is a Stranger,” as a single in November 1982. Just as the songs from The Garden had, it failed to make an impression on the public, topping out at No. 54 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
But this time, change was coming. Sweet Dreams‘ next single and title track became not just a hit, but a sensation. With its spooky synthesizer beat and instant-classic music video — which highlighted Lennox’s androgynous style, including close-cropped orange hair and a man’s suit — “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” launched Eurythmics into the pop-culture stratosphere upon its January 1983 release.
Yet while “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is indubitably more famous, “Love Is a Stranger” is, in many ways, more fundamental to Eurythmics’ sound — and it might be the better song.
Watch Eurythmics Perform ‘Love Is a Stranger’ in 1989
It opens similarly, with a driving beat overlaid by a synthesizer hook. But here the melodic line is delicate and airy, in contrast to the gloomy, ominous “Sweet Dreams.” Lennox’s lithe vocals match the ethereal quality of the music. “Love is a stranger in an open car,” she sings, “to tempt you in and drive you far away.”
As the song builds, it toes the line between cool observation and deep torment. Lennox maintains an air of detachment while warning of the perils of love and heartbreak: “It’s savage and it’s cruel, and it shines like destruction … It’s noble and it’s brutal / It distorts and deranges / And it wrenches you up / And you’re left like a zombie.” It’s an icy song, indeed, but it’s also sensual and alluring, drawing listeners into a world Lennox creates with her voice.
Following the massive success of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Eurythmics re-released “Love Is a Stranger” in 1983 with an accompanying music video. It fared better the second time around, reaching No. 6 on the U.K. Singles Chart and No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was reissued as a single for the third time in 1991 to coincide with the release of Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits.
With each reissue, “Love Is a Stranger” continued to grow in stature, and it now frequently ranks among the band’s greatest songs. Aside from its musical qualities, it also has an important place in Eurythmics’ story. It signaled their shift toward sensual, synth-driven pop that would anchor much of their career. It was the opening track on the album that would establish the duo as superstars, and it showed them at their songwriting peak — even if almost everyone missed it the first time.
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