35 Years Ago: Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ Become Reality
Before they started Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had ended their romantic relationship – the former Tourists bandmates chose only to continue their creative partnership. But in the early days of their new musical duo, it might have seemed best if they had split on that front too.
Eurythmics’ neo-psychedelic debut, 1981’s In the Garden, barely made an impression in the U.K. (never mind the U.S., where it only existed as an import). Gigs were sparsely populated and Stewart decided that the project required a sonic shift. Taking inspiration from Krautrock and the new wave bands that were employing synthesizers, he decided to lean more heavily on electronic sounds.
“I thought, ‘If I play guitar, which I know, I’ll do something regular’,” Stewart told The Guardian in 2016. “But if I play this instrument, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Although already signed to RCA, Stewart and Lennox decided to get a £5,000 bank loan to buy equipment, including an eight-track recording console, used analog synthesizers and drum computers. In 1982, they fashioned a home studio above a London framing gallery to avoid paying significant studio fees as the two tinkered with their new toys.
As they messed around with keyboards and drum sequences, the duo began to discover a particular sound. Their experiments yielded a strain of synthpop that was warmer, perhaps more melodic and certainly more emotional than Eurythmics’ synthesizer-leaning contemporaries. Much of this was due to Lennox’s strikingly soulful voice, although Stewart also testified that the two musicians codified their plan.
“In the middle of all that we started to understand our world and we wrote a manifesto,” he told PopMatters decades later. “It said things like, you know, ‘Likes – 1 to 10,’ it would be like ‘Motown,’ and then it would say ‘Andy Warhol’ [laughs], and then it would say ‘Gilbert & George,’ and then it would say ‘Stax R&B’ and it would say ‘electro.’ If you look at it now and listen to the album, it sounds and is like all those things.”
As Stewart and Lennox found their footing through the course of ’82, they began putting out singles (“This Is the House” in the spring, “The Walk” in the summer” and “Love Is a Stranger” in the fall), all the while building material for a second LP. Although none of those singles were big hits on first release, the latter two entered the British charts – proof that at least someone was paying attention.
As 1983 began, the group’s fanbase would grow to include a lot more someones. In January, Eurythmics released their sophomore album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), which included all of their ’82 singles and was soon followed by a fourth single, the disc’s title track. It would be the song that made Eurythmics worldwide superstars and Lennox a pop music icon, and yet the folks at RCA weren’t certain of its commercial prospects.
To be fair, neither were Lennox and Stewart, who had come up with the song while playing around with their studio devices. Upon hearing the surging synth riff and beat that Stewart had created, Lennox began playing another synthesizer, bringing about the wonky push-and-pull that drives “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The lyrics were borne out of Eurythmics’ current state of uncertainty.
“We were massively in debt, and I’d come across some real monsters in the music business,” Lennox told The Guardian. “I felt like we were in a dream world, that whatever we were chasing was never going to happen. All this poured into ‘Sweet Dreams.’ From that first line, it’s not a happy song. It’s dark. … I was feeling very vulnerable. The song was an expression of how I felt: hopeless and nihilistic.”
As a small balance to Lennox’s dark mood, Stewart suggested the “Hold your head up / Moving on” sequence in the song – a testament to the duo’s perseverance in their homemade studio. When “Sweet Dreams” was presented as a possible single, the powers-that-be initially balked at the notion (the song didn’t have a chorus, for instance), but came around to the idea once many in RCA’s offices couldn’t get the catchy bit of synthpop out of their heads.
The average pop fan had a similar experience, as “Sweet Dreams” made the U.K. charts in February and went to No. 2 in March. The pulsing, cooing “Love Is a Stranger” was also re-released that month and became Eurythmics’ second Top 10 smash by ending up at No. 6. After more than a year of build-up, the duo were pop stars. And next came America.
“We thought we’d done something miraculous, so were disillusioned by other people’s initial reactions to it,” Stewart said, recalling the record label’s reluctance to release “Sweet Dreams” as a single in the U.S. “But when a radio DJ in Cleveland kept playing it from the album, his studio phones lit up. The label relented, it was a global hit and No. 1 in the U.S.”
A video for the hit single, which Lennox and Stewart had filmed around the time of the British release of the Sweet Dreams album, only aided Eurythmics’ popularity. Between Lennox’s spiky, shockingly orange hair and Stewart’s surrealist boardroom visions, “Sweet Dreams” became a standard of early MTV. By the summer of 1983, Lennox had become a new wave idol, “Sweet Dreams” had turned into (at least) a Top 10 hit throughout Europe, North America and Australia and Eurythmics’ second album had sold more than a million copies.
But Stewart and Lennox were far from content to sit on their success. As Eurythmics were becoming a pop sensation, the duo continued to work on new material. In fact, even before “Sweet Dreams” displaced the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” on Billboard’s top spot in the U.S., the group had released a wholly new song in the U.K. with “Who’s That Girl?” (another big hit). In November 1983, Eurythmics put out their third studio album, Touch, which would only produce more hits, acclaim and popularity.