When “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” arrived on Jan. 21, 1983, Eurythmics was spoiled after a few tumultuous years.
The British duo Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had been playing together since the late 70s, first in a punk band called The Catch and later in a pop-leaning new wave group called the Tourists.
They had had mild success with the tourists; in fact, their cover of “I Only Want to Be with You” is charted on Billboard Hot 100 and was a top 10 hit in the UK. But the group broke up in 1980 while on tour in Australia, and Lennox and Stewart’s romantic relationship also disintegrated.
Eurythmics was born after Lennox and Stewart decided to continue with music, but their 1981 debut album In the garden didn’t have much of an impact. “We came out of the tourists’ end bruised and battered,” Lennox recounted The Guardian in 2017. “We were massively in debt and I had run into some real monsters in the music business. I had lived in so many beds and was desperately unhappy.
“We had survived, a little, but it was hard,” she continued. “I felt like we were in a dream world, that whatever we were chasing would never happen.”
Stewart described similar frustration, recounts The Guardian that the group was playing to small crowds and trying to figure out new equipment they had bought. In a particularly low moment, he noted that Lennox “was totally depressed” and “curled up on the floor in the fetal position.” However, she perked up when he started improvising a certain musical part.
“She suddenly went, ‘What the hell is that?’ and jumped up and started playing the other synthesizer,” Stewart said. “Between the two dueling synths we had the beginning of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).'”
Watch Eurythmics’ video for ‘Sweet Dreams’
Now inspired, Lennox chimed in with some lyrics that reflected where her head was at the time. “From the first line, it’s not a happy song,” she notes. “It’s dark. ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’ is basically me saying, ‘Look at our condition. How can it get any worse?'” I felt very vulnerable. The song was an expression of how I felt it: hopeless and nihilistic.”
Stewart loved where the song was going, but offered a slight tweak: “It was overwhelming but depressing, so I suggested ‘keep your head up, keep going’ to make it more uplifting.”
In the resulting song, Lennox doesn’t shy away from expressing cynicism about what she’s encountered (“Everyone is looking for something”) and the parasitic nature of relationships she has encountered: “Some of them will use you / Some of them will be used by you.” Still, Stewart’s lyrical suggestion adds resilience to the song: Despite so much darkness, the protagonist has decided to keep moving forward.
Musically, the song’s dueling synths swing in stereo, creating tension and uncertainty. As “Sweet Dreams” progresses, it incorporates a number of unique signifiers—gospel-inspired vocal flourishes, strident rhythms, and Lennox’s smoky lead vocals—illuminating the experimental side of synth-pop.
An accompanying music video – featuring Lennox with a bright orange buzzcut and some very memorable farm animals – also established Eurythmics as visual visionaries. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1983.
Lennox and Stewart found out they had reached the summit while in San Francisco for a show. Stewart recalled to this writer last year that he and Lennox “started jumping around on the bed like kids saying, ‘We’re No. 1!’ And then we said, ‘Oh, I wonder what that means’.”
Watch Eurythmics perform ‘Sweet Dreams’ in concert
Meanwhile, Lennox told The independent in 2017, success had a big impact on her. “Everything felt vulnerable and strange. It was like beyond the walls of this room, there is a world out there. A world that has not known me, but now there is nowhere to hide.
“We had asked for this,” she added, “and now the doors are open to us, I went from anonymity to full exposure.”
“Sweet Dreams” actually became the basis for Eurythmic’s future career success. “Love is a stranger” was re-released in the UK where it became a Top 10 hit. The group’s second album – also called Sweet dreams are made of this) – also climbed the charts.
Eurythmics inevitable performed the song as caps of a three-song set when they were deployed into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. Decades later, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” feels as fresh and urgent as it did originally — a classic anthem about persevering through tough times and coming out ahead.
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