40 years of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, the 'home recording' that took the world by storm – ABC News

40 years of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams, the 'home recording' that took the world by storm
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The story behind Eurythmics' 1983 smash hit single Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) starts, in some ways, in a hotel room in Wagga Wagga. 
Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox's previous band, The Tourists, had broken up amid an Australian tour, and the pair found themselves in the regional NSW city in late 1980 wondering what the hell they were going to do next.
While tinkering with a synthesiser in a Wagga Wagga hotel room, Stewart and Lennox came up with the answer — form a duo making "weird and experimental electronic music".
Eurythmics was born, and just over two years later, their "weird and experimental electronic music" made them one of the biggest musical acts in the world.
The Tourists weren't the only ones to break up on that fateful Aussie tour in late 1980.
On the flight back to the UK, Lennox and Stewart also ended their romantic relationship in admirably amicable fashion.
"I remember our conversation," Stewart told the Sound On Sound website in 2018 .
"She goes, 'Y'know what? We should probably try living separately for a second or whatever.' And we both went, 'God yeah, we should,' and then we fell asleep."
Lennox moved out of their flat, but the pair's creative partnership continued, albeit with little initial commercial success.
Eurythmics released their debut album In The Garden in October 1981, which failed to chart in the UK and couldn't even secure a release in the US, though first single Never Gonna Cry Again made it to #63 in the UK, and #16 in the Netherlands.
In a 2017 interview in The Guardian, Stewart recalled playing gigs to four people following the release of In The Garden.
The album may have been a flop, but it was an education for the band, as they worked with influential German producer Conny Plank and began to hone their interests in electronic pop music.
Aiming to rejuvenate their career ahead of their next record, Eurythmics went to see a bank manager in the hopes of getting a loan to buy new music equipment.
Stewart turned up for the meeting with the bank man high on amphetamines, but "amazingly, he lent us £5,000", he told The Guardian.
Among the items they bought were an eight-track recording unit so they could record their next album themselves, and a Movement Systems Drum Computer — an early drum machine, of which only 30 were ever made, and which features in the Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) film clip.
It was while figuring out how to get the drum computer to work that Stewart stumbled upon the now iconic beat and bassline for Sweet Dreams.
"Annie sort of leapt off the floor and was like, 'what is that?'," Stewart told Sound On Sound.
Lennox grabbed another synthesiser and "played that riff on top of what I was playing".
"The two synthesisers together with that drum beat made this unbelievable thing," Stewart said.
Depressed at the state of their career, Lennox poured her hopelessness and nihilism into the lyrics.
"It's basically me saying: 'Look at the state of us — how can it get worse?'," Lennox told The Guardian, with Stewart suggesting the "hold your head up, keep your head up" refrain in the bridge to lighten things a little.
In a move that was decades ahead of its time, Eurythmics recorded most of the song themselves in their own DIY studio above a picture framers before being forced to relocate to a cloakroom in a church to finish the song.
Sweet Dreams and its success has been cited as an early example of "artists realising commercial success using a DIY studio … [and spurring] the growth of the emerging DIY recording industry", as Adam Patrick Bell's book Dawn of the DAW: The Studio as Musical Instrument puts it.
Oddly, the track wasn't the first single from Eurythmics' second album, also titled Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) — it was the fourth single, with the previous three all failing to crack the top 50 in the UK.
Their record label RCA was hesitant to release the song as a single at all because it lacked a chorus — it has what XTC songwriter Andy Partridge jokingly calls a "vhorus".
Instead of the classic verse/chorus structure, Sweet Dreams has a single section that leads the song with the hook and title. (Other examples of "vhoruses" include The Beatles' Yesterday, Burt Bacharach's Do You Know The Way To San Jose and I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself, and XTC's The Disappointed).
But spurred on by a Cleveland DJ's repeated playing of the track, RCA relented and the single for Sweet Dreams was released on January 21, 1983.
With its electronic pulse and haunting hook, the song was a smash hit.
It went to #1 in the US, Canada and France, #2 in the UK, Spain, New Zealand and France, and was the 10th and 11th biggest-selling single of 1983 in the US and UK respectively.
In Australia, it reached #6 on the national singles charts, sparking an incredible run of 16 top 40 singles in this country.
Australian producer and Architecture In Helsinki musician Gus Franklin said creating a hit record out of what was essentially a "bedroom studio" went against the grain of how the music industry thought hit records had to be made.
"In the late '70s and early '80s, studio culture was becoming a lot more established, and professional studios were like these industrial complexes," Franklin said.
"This was the time of Michael Jackson's Thriller, where they spent a long time in the studio with a massive cast of hundreds of musicians and producers and writers, crafting that record, and spending heaps of money.
Franklin said the release of a portable eight-track recorder effectively gave bands like Eurythmics the home equivalent of what The Beatles had in the Abbey Road studio when they recorded Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.
"It gave everyone access to the kind of tape machine that was in a professional studio to use in their home … which is very exciting," he said.
Combined with the other equipment they had bought with their £5,000 bank loan, this got the band thinking in different ways, Franklin said.
"On Sweet Dreams, Dave Stewart clearly was thinking 'I'm going to make a record without guitars' because he was a guitarist [and this would be a challenge to himself]," he said.
"It forces you to write in different ways … and that's what's so exciting about that era of music.
"People are working out how to use the technology, and whenever people are doing that, you end up with really interesting renderings of pop music and songwriting.
"[Sweet Dreams] sounds like people learning how to make music with those instruments, and that's what's exciting about it.
"It's something about the playfulness, about learning how to make music with that technology, and going 'that sounds good — I never would have thought of making that but it sounds good, so let's go with it'.
"Having this new palette of sounds and instruments to work with forces you into thinking about music in different ways."
Franklin said that while Sweet Dreams may have come from a bleak place and be full of electronic instruments, "it still sounds warm".
"They were definitely not holding back on having all the emotion in the music," he said.
"That's something Eurythmics are amazing at — never shying away from going for soul and putting their heart into the music.
"Annie Lennox's voice is phenomenal — it's like someone sitting next to you and holding your hand while you die and (saying) 'everything's really dark but I'm here'.
"Her voice has got something in it that feels like home to me — I grew up with her voice, so it's very close to me."
He said Sweet Dreams came out at a time when electronic music was coming to the fore, but it still stands alone.
"It's an amazing song — it was completely new and innovative," Franklin said.
"You find me another song from this era that's got as many great hooks, that sounds as good as this, and resonates on an emotional level like this."
Sweet Dreams was a great song that captured the new electronic aesthetic, but part of its success was also its film clip, which came out at a time when film clips were still a new but developing art form.
Starring Lennox in a man's suit and cropped orange hair, the clip was intended as a surreal stab at the music industry featuring a herd of cows.
It helped make Lennox an instant icon, with her androgynous appearance seen as a deliberate push against gender norms of the music industry. 
In the wake of Sweet Dreams' massive success, Lennox appeared alongside fellow boundary-pusher Boy George on the cover of Smash Hits and Newsweek, with Smash Hits running the headline "Which is the boy?".
Her powerful voice and songwriting talent have made Lennox an inspiration and influence for decades of musicians.
Singer-songwriter Laura Imbruglia said Lennox's way with words is impressive.
"I love Annie's lyrics — she comes across as vulnerable and strong at the same time, and she doesn't mince words," Imbruglia said.
"[Sweet Dreams is] a funny Eurythmics track for me, because I'm usually drawn into the personal nature of Annie's lyrics but this song feels less personal and more observational.
"It's also quite dense and complex melodically, with multi-layered synth and vocal melodies.
"I find my focus jumping from lyrics, to rhythm, to melody and harmony, and then she gets back to 'Sweet Dreams' and I can't remember what just happened in the narrative.
"It's a mystical song."
Imbruglia's love for Eurythmics has taken an unusual route, sparked by a random meeting with Dave Stewart.
"I remember my sister (pop star Natalie Imbruglia) told our family that she'd made friends with Dave Stewart from Eurythmics," she explained.
"I think the label had introduced them and they became friends, so his name started coming up and Eurythmics came into my life through that.
"(Natalie's) record label, as a surprise to her, flew us out to the UK where she lived to see her.
"Because she wasn't expecting us, she already had these plans set-up for the week, and one of those plans was that she was going to be going to Dave Stewart's house to have a cup of tea, so we all got to go to Dave Stewart's house.
"It was amazing. He was so lovely and showing us around — he had Andy Warhol originals, and even as a teenager I knew that was cool.
"So I ended up with more and more curiosity about the Eurythmics through these experiences.
"Going to see them in concert happened after going to his house, and becoming a fan happened after that when I was an adult."
Imbruglia saw Eurythmics when the band reunited in 1999 for their Peace album.
"They were amazing and I developed an interest in Annie Lennox as well after that," she said.
"Then I became a proper fan."
Sweet Dreams kicked off Eurythmics' incredible career — the band had seven top 10 studio albums in the UK, and an incredible 24 top 30 singles there.
Its success also helped pave the way for other acts to self-produce albums away from the studio system.
The song has lived on through various covers too — a version by controversial artist Marilyn Manson in 1995 gave the shock-rocker his first top 50 single Australia and extensive triple j airplay, while dance versions and remixes have been club hits in the '90s, '00s and '10s.
But the original has also survived as guaranteed dancefloor filler — Franklin and Imbruglia both play Sweet Dreams regularly in their respective DJ sets due to its enduring popularity.
"It's such a club banger," Imbruglia said.
"It's one of the songs I put on when I'm DJ-ing and people are refusing to pay attention to my selections.
"It still gets the heads bopping."
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