My Greatest Hits: Dave Stewart

The veteran Eurythmics star picks his own career highlights – from writing in his bedroom to bringing down the Berlin Wall

Choosing your 10 favourite moments should be a somewhat straightforward task. But for Dave Stewart, renowned primarily as the co-founder of Eurythmics, alongside Annie Lennox, whittling down an entire lifetime of music is by no means easy. 

Stewart, who hails from Sunderland but now lives in the States, is a jack of all trades – but seems to have mastered them all. An award-winning producer, writer and performer, his ability to craft a hit has seen him collaborate with some of the biggest names in musical history, from Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin and Stevie Nicks. From these experiences come a whole host of indelible stories.

Forming Eurythmics

“We were in Australia, and The Tourists were breaking up. The exact place where Annie and I decided to be Eurythmics was called Wagga Wagga. Middle of nowhere really. When we arrived in Australia – and this was not a great moment, but a tragic, terrible one – Annie and I were on a plane and about five minutes after taking off we noticed there was smoke coming out of the wing. It was a commercial plane with a hundred people or more on it, and then little flames started to appear, and of course people started panicking. There was a lot of screaming and we had to fly around vertically, letting fuel out. A very dangerous operation. We had to land back in the airport we took off in, and when we came off the plane, completely freaked out, on the Tannoy this voice just said ‘John Lennon has just been shot dead’.”

Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (Official Video)

The Creation of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’

“I decided I was going to put down the guitar, so I bought a tiny little keyboard, and it was the beginning of us wanting to take control of how we wanted to sound. But we didn’t have any money, so we had to make a record cheaply, with second-hand gear. I was experimenting and came up with these sounds, and Annie was lying on the floor, and that’s when I came up with it. Annie leapt to her feet, we switched on a keyboard that wasn’t ours, and she started playing that string sound, and all of sudden, that was the birth of ‘Sweet Dreams’. That was a moment that changed the whole trajectory of our career. The beginning of the Sweet Dreams album was literally made in my bedroom. I’d call Annie on the telephone – she was in Scotland with her parents – playing things that I had been inventing, all on this cheap little synthesiser. There was a moment when we were playing back ‘Sweet Dreams’ to ourselves, with only us there, when we realised we’d done something that was unique, and possibly something that other people would feel the same way about.”

A Memorable Trip to New York

“There were a few things that happened, all in the space of a couple of days. We arrived in America, we got a manager called Gary Kurfirst, who managed Talking Heads and Ramones. He told me that this guy wanted to put one of our songs in a film. It was ‘This City Never Sleeps’, and it was for the film 9 ½ Weeks. Then he said we were gonna play this giant gig with Talking Heads and The B-52s. That was a moment when I was like, oh, I see – things are about to change radically. Then suddenly we were on the front cover of Rolling Stone. ‘Sweet Dreams’ went to No.1 – and it all seemed to happen at once. I suppose we call that ‘arriving’.”

EURYTHMICS - The Miracle of Love (live 1987)

Touring the world

“The Eurythmics took off in every country. It wasn’t a certain kind of music that only worked in some countries. We had enough hits that covered every territory. We kept going back to Australia to play, and we got bigger and bigger and bigger. Once, in Sweden, we couldn’t even get out of the hotel to play a gig. We were meant to quickly go out through the kitchen and round the side. Fans were hanging onto the doors and the roof of the car driving along. This was all round about the 1987 Revenge tour. At the time Annie and I decided to wear these long leather coats and trousers, like the Pearly Kings and Queens, which I know The White Stripes did later on. Though the one thing we didn’t take into account is wearing that under the lights and the heat, in Australia and places like that… by the second song we were just dripping wet.” 

Performing at the Berlin Wall

“Annie and I were playing in front of the Reichstag in June, 1987. They had an event, with David Bowie on one day, and we were on another. When we started playing, we were facing the Berlin Wall, and we have a song we opened with called ‘Sex Crime’ and it goes “we’ll tear the bricks down one by one”… We started a riot on the other side of the wall. I found a paper cutting talking about it – it says, “It was the worst clash between East Germans and the police since 1977”. We were playing music and people wanted to hear it on the other side, they wanted to see what was going on. The West wanted the people to get over, everybody wanted the wall down. Not long after that it fell.”

Eurythmics - Nelson Mandela Concert 1988

Writing for Nelson Mandela

“This incredible thing happened where Nelson Mandela got in touch. His prisoner number was 46664 and he wanted to turn a negative number into a positive one and bring awareness to HIV in Africa. He thought about having a concert, but I said, “why not have a telephone number with prefixes for every country?” I went round to see Richard Branson and he had just launched Virgin Mobile and he got to work on that. Then, I recorded songs with Paul McCartney, Bono and Queen and you could hear these on the phone when you rang the number – it was the only place you could hear them. Eventually, it led to the largest concert ever in Africa. Bono and I were going around asking people in America if they could play at the stadium. We went backstage with Springsteen in Miami, and were talking to him about it, and he said “I have to go on the stage, why don’t you two come on and play with me?” That was an epic moment. We went to New York too, trying to get people to play and sing on this song we’d written. We wanted somebody to sing this high note, and they said “well Luther Vandross is upstairs…” and so he came down. Sadly it was the last note he ever sang. But the two words he had to sing were ‘Remember Me’.”

Collaborating with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

“I loved playing with Tom Petty. In fact, because of my friendship with Tom, I built a house in the next street to him. It was my first place in America, and I built a little studio in the back called ‘The Chapel’ and a lot of people would come there and record. George Harrison loved it and he decided to come and stay in my house for a year. One day, George was in my house with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne – who had been coming round anyway – and then Roy Orbison was the cherry on the cake. I was looking out my window and there were these five guys sitting under the tree in the back garden strumming away. At the time you can’t quite take it in, but it was really trippy. All the photos you’ve ever seen of Travelling Wilburys, they’re all in my house.”

Playing with Stevie Wonder at the BRIT Awards

“We were awarded Outstanding Contribution To Music at the BRIT Awards, and Stevie Wonder flew over to give us it. He also decided to jam with us. He was going to only play the harmonica on ‘There Must Be An Angel’, which he did, but then he found the piano and he played on everything. It was amazing. At the time it does feel exhilarating, but it’s not until 10 or 20 years later that you look back and go… wow. How did we keep it together, you know?”

Eurythmics - There Must Be An Angel - Brit Awards 1999 - Tuesday 16th February 1999

Song writing

“Writing songs is just one of my favourite things. I’ve written songs and played live with Stevie Nicks, and playing the songs that we’d written live – with Stevie on stage – was amazing. The same goes for writing songs with Mick Jagger. I just love playing the guitar and song writing, I love to play live. They are my favourite things. But I will continually be writing stories. Storytelling is similar to song writing – you lay out the foundations of the characters and what the story is about, and then everything goes bonkers and you hurtle towards the end thinking “how am I gonna resolve this thing?” That’s the constant puzzle. I love working it out, because it has infinite possibilities.”

Playing the Eurythmics Songbook

“I first played the Eurythmics Songbook at Royal Festival Hall. This was a great moment for me, because you don’t normally go out and play all the songs, you might just throw the odd one in. But when Nile Rodgers was closing Meltdown festival, he asked if I would do a whole Eurythmics set. I thought, well I better call it something, and I can’t call it Eurythmics because Annie isn’t there, so I called it Eurythmics Songbook. It went down a storm, the crowd went nuts and it got great reviews so now I think, I should go and play this on the road. Annie was always saying she never wanted to tour again, so I thought, I could just do this. It’s like a retrospective of all this work, writing every one of these songs with Annie and producing every one of them, and putting it together in a show with visuals and amazing musicians.”

Dave Stewart - Eurythmics Songbook: Sweet Dreams 40th Anniversary Tour

Dave Stewart plays the Eurythmics Songbook for the Sweet Dreams 40th Anniversary Tour at the Sunderland Empire and The London Palladium this November. Find tickets here