The Story of... 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' by Eurythmics

26 April 2023, 11:26

'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' is consistently voted as one of the most iconic songs from the 1980s.
'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' is consistently voted as one of the most iconic songs from the 1980s. Picture: RCA Records

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

"Sweet dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree?"

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' captured the imaginations of the MTV generation worldwide.

Annie Lennox's striking androgynous appearance complete with a short orange-dyed buzz cut and three-piece suit made Eurythmics immediately stand out.

But they weren't all just style over substance - the pair's mix of Lennox's incredible voice and Dave Stewart's studio wizardry helped create one of the decade's darkest chart-toppers.

So what inspired 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'? How was it received when it was released? Why was there a cow in the music video?

Here's all you need to know:

Who wrote ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’?

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

Eurythmics was a duo of two key songwriters - Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart who would write their music together with equal contributions, as was the case with ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’.

Lennox and Stewart met when they both studied at the Royal Academy of Music where they started a band with fellow students called The Tourists.

After limited success, Lennox and Stewart broke away to form the Eurythmics, though they broke up as a romantic couple shortly after starting their new project.

They were compelled to continue writing songs together due to their creative chemistry, which influenced the majority of their songs moving forwards.

Dave Stewart later recalled: "This causes many problems, yet through all of this we ended up writing a lot of great songs, some were about 'our' relationship and some were about our relationship with the world around us."

What is ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ about?

Eurythmics on stage in 1983. (Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)
Eurythmics on stage in 1983. (Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns). Picture: Getty

According to Lennox's book, Annie Lennox: The Biography, Lennox explained that the song is about the search for fulfilment and the "sweet dreams" that motivate people's lives.

Dave Stewart later said: "It's actually a very sort of existential, spooky record asking if this is what the world has come to. Is this what our dreams are made of? I suppose it was reality, basically, what we were writing about. It wasn't a Disney kind of world."

The song has a dark edge because the band were struggling to make ends meet at the time due to their failed first album, and were commenting on keeping the drive to make your dreams a reality when the world becomes increasingly more bleak.

Lennox and Stewart's relationship was on the ropes too, given that they were former lovers and failing musicians, with Lennox recalling it was written immediately after a bitter fight they'd had.

"I thought it was the end of the road and that was that," she said. "We were trying to write, and I was miserable. And he just went, well, 'I'll do this anyway.'"

Did the music video help Eurythmics break America?

America had never seen a female pop star like Annie Lennox with her striking androgynous look.
America had never seen a female pop star like Annie Lennox with her striking androgynous look. Picture: RCA Records

In short, the music video for 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' helped the Eurythmics to make a huge impact in the US.

Like most British bands during the early 1980s, MTV acted as a gateway to superstardom if an artist had the right components.

With Annie Lennox's cropped, bright orange hair and tailored black suit, American audiences were exposed to a female presented as androgynous for the first time.

Her appearance alongside the iconic synth-pop beat and catchy vocal line made the Eurythmics instant superstars.

Why was there a cow in the music video, and what did it mean?

"A few people were saying, &squot;Dave, why the cow?"
"A few people were saying, 'Dave, why the cow?". Picture: RCA Records

The cow in the music video for 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' was Dave Stewart's idea, who was inspired by surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel.

"A few people were saying, 'Dave, why the cow? Annie is so good-looking'" he later commented. "Those people should go buy a copy of Purple Cow by Seth Dogin, about how to make your business remarkable. It was written 20 years after I had the purple cow in our video - which certainly did the trick and made my whole life remarkable."

Not only did the cow baffle fans at the time, it also caused several logistical problems as there wasn't any major studios that could accommodate such animals, so the music video was shot in a London basement.

Annie Lennox admitted filming in a basement with a cow was one of the most surreal experiences of her life, saying: "The video is a statement about the different forms of existence. Here are humans, with our dreams of industry and achievement and success. And here is a cow."

How did the song perform when it was released?

The original single artwork for 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'.
The original single artwork for 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'. Picture: RCA Records

'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' was released on 21st January 1982, but was locked out of the top spot in the UK charts by Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart'.

Though the single was the Eurythmics breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic, it wouldn't be released in the US as the label heads deemed the track unsuitable for release as there was no obvious chorus.

It was only because the song generated a following due to a local DJ in Cleveland who began playing it that RCA eventually released it in the United States.

Eventually released in May 1983 in the US, 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' slowly climbed to the top of the Billboard US charts.

The song is consistently voted one of the most iconic songs from the decade, and helped Eurythmics become a global success.

Who else has covered ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’?

Leona Lewis - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (Live At The O2)

Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (Alt. Version)

Countless artists have covered 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' since it was originally released.

The most known versions from other artists are MIKA, Leona Lewis, Nouvelle Vague, Bat For Lashes, and Yo La Tengo.

It was Marilyn Manson's 1995 cover that was the biggest charting success however, becoming the gender-bending goth rocker's first major breakthrough hit.

Fun fact: P!nk's 2001 hit 'Get The Party Started' actually featured samples from 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'.