In this episode, we present to you “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, which took the world by storm in 1983.
Eurythmics consists of two people – singer Annie Lennox and musician Dave Stewart. The longer title of the song is “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)”. This is also the first stanza of the text. Some suggest that the phrase “Dreams are made of this” was imported from the chorus of 1978’s “Take Me I’m Yours” by another British band, Squeeze. In her autobiographical book Annie Lennox wrote that the song is about the search for fulfillment and the sweet dreams that motivate people.
In an interview, Stewart adds that it’s an existential, haunting record that asks through its lyrics if this is really what the world has come to, and if this is what our dreams are made of. The song was born in a difficult moment for both of them, when their relationships, personal and work, are in crisis. For two years they struggled to break into the music business and even took out a loan to equip their own studio in order not to pay high fees elsewhere. The duo had already released their first album, 1981’s In The Garden, which was barely noticed. But it’s not just the album’s failure that creates tensions. Dave is mentally unstable and Annie is firm in standing her ground. The two are in constant conflicts and this causes health problems for them. She suffers at least one nervous breakdown, and he nearly dies of lung problems, possibly caused by drug abuse.
In 1982 they recorded at their studio at Chalk Farm in London and released three more singles. But they don’t break through either. The two are on the verge of a final breakup when a different song becomes a hit. She was born after a bitter argument between the two, which left Annie feeling frustrated and lost. The sound of the piece is minor, and the explanation is that they are both gloomy in this period of impasse, in which they try to preserve their ability to dream. “I thought this was the end of the road and that’s it,” Annie says later. “We were trying to write and I was miserable. Then he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this anyway.'” When she hears a synth base, Annie associates it with “dreams.”
From this opening word comes the whole idea for the text as well. On the day of the recording, the two feel very differently. Dave is elated after recently coming close to death in the hospital while undergoing lung surgery, and now feels like he’s been reborn. As included in an electric current, as he himself expresses it. And Annie is devastated by nerves and depressed by constant debt and shattered career dreams. A deluded inspiration strikes her and she writes most of the text in half an hour, then falls into melancholy again. Dave finds this lyric too depressing, so he adds the lead-up to the climactic intro “hold your head up, moving on”. “We kind of survived, but it was hard,” Annie said later. “I felt like we were in a dream world and whatever we set out to do was never going to happen. All of this poured into ‘Sweet Dreams’. – she adds.
With the first verse, “Sweet dreams are made like this,” she tries to say “Look at the state we’re in. What could be worse than that?” “I felt very vulnerable,” Annie continues. “The song was an expression of how I felt – hopeless and disbelieved. “travel the world and the seven seas, Everybody’s looking for something” was about how we’re all in a constant state of searching. It’s about surviving in the world. It’s not just a normal song, but a strange, repetitive mantra. But it kind of became our theme song.” For “Sweet Dreams,” Dave experimented with different synthesizer sounds while Annie lay in the studio, as she described to Rolling Stone magazine.
For the rhythm, Dave uses a new technology called “Movement Systems Drum Computer”. This is the most famous song in which such a machine was used. In 1981, the first model was launched, and before that Dave was given a prototype to test. It can also be seen in the video for “Sweet Dreams”, where in several shots Dave controls the machine via a keyboard while Annie is seated on a table with a meadow with a cow grazing behind her. Dave’s intention is to poke fun at the music business by depicting a parody of a record company boardroom. It’s a hint of how their producers also underestimate them, deciding which song works and which doesn’t.
Dave continued to use the rhythm machine on other Eurythmics songs for the next two years. We can also hear it in “Sex Crime” from 1984, where the machine was used for the last time. There, the sound is softened with electronic processing to sound closer to the current rhythms of the time. The machine was also used in records by Phil Collins, Kim Wilde, “Hot Chocolate” and others. Dave is captivated by the electronic drums and plays with the sounds. As he explains, “If you have the sound of the tom-toms (the small drums in the set), you turn a knob and you have a huge drum, like the one that’s hit on a ship before it sets sail.” But because it’s a prototype, the machine has its imperfections. When making the transition from the opening intro to the first verse, Dave changes the beat.
But at the beginning of the shift, on the very first beat of the first bar, there is an error. Every eight beats there is a thicker, bassier, “Boom” sounding beat. But when going from one beat to another, the machine distorts the sound and pulls it out the other way around, making it sound like the much lighter Tup. The opening melody is not one, but a consonance of two parts layered on top of each other in sync, which confuses synthesizer players. It’s played on a ‘Roland Space Echo’ with Dave playing the base first and then Annie adding the second line. The two have equal input in the authorship of all their songs and so describe it on the album covers, sharing the revenue. Dave is also the duo’s producer.
In the video for “Sweet Dreams”, Annie switches roles, wearing a tight black suit and short red hair. Combined with the thick voice, this gives rise to speculation that she is homosexual. But later both she and Dave claimed it was a publicity stunt to get attention. Actually, Dave doesn’t like Annie with short hair and they have a lot of arguments about it, but she stands her ground and that’s how fans remember her in the 80s. Annie is among the first androgynous women in show business. Androgynous are people who have both male and female features in their appearance. “We wanted our visions to be strong and impactful because we knew they would last forever,” explains Annie. “I was trying to be the opposite of the cliché of a singer. I wanted to be strong as a man, equal to Dave and perceived as such. Wearing wigs and taking them off again was about the effect women create to make themselves acceptable or beautiful to men, about taking off the masks and how none of it is real.
People didn’t always understand this and see the irony in it. Because of lines like “Some of them want to use you… Some of them want to be abused” “Some of them want to use you… some of them want to be abused”, people think it’s about sex or sadomasochism , and it’s not about that at all.” – concludes Ani. She adds that the text is open to interpretation and that many people identify with it.
The idea of having a cow in the video is Dave’s. He was influenced by the painter Salvador Dali and the director Luis Buñuel. Since no studio in London was big enough to accommodate a cow, they filmed in a London basement. It was also important that the elevator to the basement accommodate the cow, and this has also been taken into account. As Annie would later say, taking a picture with a cow in a basement was one of the most surreal experiences she had. “The video is about the manifestations of different forms of life,” she says about the book “I Want My MTV”. “Here we are the people, with our dreams and aspirations for success and achievements. And here’s a cow!”
“Sweet Dreams” was released as a UK single on 21 January 1983 and peaked at number two in the UK charts in March. But in the US, no one wants to let her go. “Sweet Dreams” has long been looked down upon by RCA. What kind of song is it, they ask, since there is no chorus, only verses and chants in between. But perhaps because of the experiment, breaking the previous patterns and introducing a female presence in synth-pop, which until then was dominated by men, attracts fans. Again, a radio DJ, this time in Cleveland, makes “Sweet Dreams” a hit. He decides to release it and fans start calling and ordering it. This convinced the producers to release the single there in May as well.
It went to number one in both the US and Canada. It would have been number one in England too if another hit, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”, hadn’t overshadowed it there. In Australia, it reached sixth place. The album with the song was released in January 1983. Its working title is “Invisible Hands”, after another song on it. But the hit potential of “Sweet Dreams” logically supersedes her. Its popularity also led to the previous single, “Stranger Of Love”, being re-released. “Sweet Dreams” brought the duo many accolades. In 1983, Billboard nominated it for the best song of the year. In 1984, “MTV” honored the duo with an award for the best debuting artists of the year. In its similar category, the Grammy also gave the band a nomination.
Shortly after, the “Brit Awards” nominated them in its category for the best British group. They were also awarded the “Ivor Novello” award for songwriters for the same year 1984. The hit and the album that followed it launched a major tour. To make the song more positive, in their concerts, Eurythmics close it with the phrase “Keep your head up”. The song has been used in at least fifteen films. Among the covers of “Sweet Dreams”, the most famous is that of the American gothic rock band “Marilyn Manson” (“Marilyn Manson”) from their album “Smells Like Children” from 1995. Another rock band, Weezer, are doing their version in 2019. The concert version by Leona Lewis is also popular. Almost imperceptibly, part of the opening melody of “Sweet Dreams” can be heard in the chorus of singer P!NK’s 2001 song “Get The Party Started”. And Pomplamoose mixed the track with motifs from another popular hit, The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, and the video for the track has over 30 million views on YouTube.
“Sweet Dreams” remains one of the most memorable hits of the 1980s, and rightfully made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
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