Nightline Playlist: Annie Lennox

Most young girls raised in 1950s Scotland and trained in classical music at London's Royal Academy don't become pop and soul icons — but Annie Lennox did.

For Lennox,who was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1954, her childhood musical experiences gave no inkling of the vanguard career to come.

"I've always loved music. It's always been something very personal to me," she told "Nightline." "When I was a little girl, probably about 7 years old, I joined the local choir. We were taught very traditional Scottish songs. They were very correct. My mother came to see me, and she said I was trembling so much that my knees were just knocking together."

"I remember the fear of it, it was absolutely terrifying. I was in a big hall on a high stage and there was an adjudicator sitting in front of the kids with a bell when they were ready for you to sing," Lennox said. "It was terribly formal. And I think I have traces of that fear in me whenever I go on stage, but fortunately, I've come to terms with it now."

By her late teens, Lennox had won a scholarship to study flute at the Royal Academy of Music in London. But she was unhappy and left before taking her finals.

After working as a waitress, barmaid and shop assistant, she joined forces with English musician Dave Stewart in 1981 to create the electronic pop group the Eurythmics.

Lennox and Stewart scored major hits like "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)" and "Here Comes the Rain Again," but Lennox left the Eurythmics in 1990 to embark on a successful solo career, winning the best female vocal performance Grammy in 1995 for her hit "No More I Love You's."

Although she cites an eclectic spectrum of artists as major influences, she says her best inspiration is music itself.

"I can't carry another person's song in my head when I'm writing. But what songwriting is about, as far as I'm concerned, is a place, a kind of emotional, spiritual opening, a receptivity to wonderment and intrigue," Lennox said.

"Essentially, I sit down to play piano, and the piano's a fantastic instrument because it has all kinds of different textures in it and it covers a very wide range. It's almost like an orchestra itself. There's all kinds of potential in the piano," she said. "So I think really what influences me the most when I'm songwriting is my thrill at music, per se. No one particular song comes to mind for me because if it does I might be tempted to copy it and I want to create my own music."

At 53, Lennox continues to produce her signature emotionally charged music, as evidenced in her latest release, "Songs of Mass Destruction." Much of it was influenced by her activism in African AIDS prevention, including Nelson Mandela's 46664 organization and the Treatment Action Campaign. Even in the face of devastation, she said, music survives.

"When I was last time in Cape Town I was in Khayelitsha, which is one of the biggest townships in South Africa, and people sing — they're HIV positive and they sing together. And activist songs that they sing with a message about the situation definitely help to keep their spirits up and to give them a sense of community and support … they pass their music on in a beautiful way because they still sing together, and I think that's something the Western world has forgotten how to do," Lennox said.

"We're like, we have to have a CD, we have to have a player, we have to have all the accoutrements. And there in those countries, developing countries, like Brazil, wherever, where people don't have much, a lot of people don't have much, they're still making music in the streets. You go to Cuba, they're making music in the streets. I like that."

'Irish Washerwoman' by Jimmy Shand

"My first musical memory is probably listening to the radio in Scotland," said Lennox. "We used to listen to Scottish country dance music. It's very exciting, wonderful, uplifting music."

Lennox said that Scottish dance music was popularized by a man named Jimmy Shand. She describes it as "a mixture of Scottish fiddles and accordion and piano and drums, and it's not like there's a song, there's tunes because there's nobody singing them."

'The Jungle Line' by Joni Mitchell

Lennox says she owes Joni Mitchell "a huge debt, because she kind of walks before all singer/songwriters."

"When I first heard Joni Mitchell I was 19 or 20. … There's a song called 'The Jungle Line' on [the album] 'Hejira' where she uses a special kind of rhythm of Burundi drum. That is so innovative, and I don't think she's been given full credit for her unique innovation, the things that she brought in," she said.

'Wichita Lineman' by Glen Campbell

"One of my favorite songs of all time is 'Wichita Lineman' [performed] by Glen Campbell, which just is an absolute masterpiece without any doubt whatsoever," said Lennox. "It is so haunting, it is so exquisitely beautiful, and I remember when I was a teenager and I first heard it on the radio, it got to me so strongly."

Lennox said she recently got a window into Campbell's songwriting process.

"Someone gave me a CD recently about how that song came to be recorded, how it become to be written, and that's very interesting because hearing Glen Campbell talk about how the song came into being was fascinating for me," she said. "I'm not really sure how other songwriters work. They probably all have their own methodology. So I was very glad to hear Glen Campbell describe how that song came about and I'm very glad that there is such a song like 'Wichita Lineman' — and I know it's touched a lot of people."

'No Woman, No Cry' by Bob Marley

"And of course, Bob Marley, 'No Woman No Cry,' Lennox said. "Wow, when you hear that Hammond introduction, Oh my God…in that moment I'm Jamaican, I'm black and I'm sitting in the government yard in Trenchtown, you know? And I want to be there with them."

' I Heard It Through the Grapevine' by Marvin Gaye

Lennox says this song is "at the very top" of her list, "because the very moment you hear the entry of his voice, oh my God. And when I started to hear this kind of music I was mesmerized, even now, when I think of it, that's magic."

"Marvin Gaye — what a voice," she added. "And that rhythm, and then the strings come in. It's classic Motown arrangements. There was like a gold vein and gold thread coming through Detroit — unbelievable. "

'I Say a Little Prayer' by Aretha Franklin

Lennox calls this song by Aretha Franklin "one of the best songs of all time" and "pure magic."

"Aretha Franklin is the 'queen of soul.' That title is not just given in an arbitrary fashion," Lennox said. "There is and there never has been another singer and there never will be … to surpass Aretha Franklin is pretty damned impossible. And why should one? Everyone has their own individual style. But if you hear Aretha Franklin, any recording of her singing live in concert, she just blows all the boundaries away, it's just amazing. Aretha singing 'Say a Little Prayer' is close to perfection … I don't know, just magic."

Lennox says that she often finds new meanings in songs she's heard, or sung, many times.

"I wrote a song called 'Cold' several years ago, and when I come to perform it live … I rediscover it again each time I perform it," she said. "And I love songs like that, that actually give me an opportunity to rediscover them and the interpretation of the song."

' I am the Walrus' by the Beatles

Speaking about the Beatles, Lennox said that "When I look back on that it was kind of an incredible privilege to think that that explosion happened and I was kind of privy to it, I was affected by it."

"They went into this other psychedelic realm and one of those incredible songs that they composed and recorded that really stands out for me is 'I am the Walrus.' And of course they went to India and they met the Mararishi and they've been influenced, they smoked a lot of pot, but you have to listen to 'I am the Walrus' by The Beatles -- I did, and looked what happened to me!