I Guess It’s Just a Feeling: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) at 40

Eurythmics’ pop breakthrough is sneakily subversive

Annie Lennox on the cover of Rolling Stone 1983 (Image: eBay)

Obviously, we have to start with the song

You know what I’m talking about, the breakthrough single that made Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart international stars, top 10 in a myriad of countries and #1 in the U.S. and Canada. It’s likely playing on the radio somewhere in the world right this minute, its reputation only having grown over the past 40 years. Here’s the thing, though: it’s better than you likely think. In 2023 it’s part of the pop music museum, but at the time, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was the shock of the new, sounding like nothing else in the top 40 biosphere. That combination of icy synth patterns with Lennox’s astonishing voice – soaring, soulful, and sharp – on a song of which The Number Ones author Tom Breihan says, “[it] doesn’t really have a chorus. That’s because it’s all chorus, all hook” – was so stark and original in the context of 1983 Top 40. 

Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), RCA 1983

And while the new wave of Eurythmics’ ilk is much more of a known quantity than it was 40 years ago, their sophomore album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) still manages to feel fresh. Take the album’s only cover, a version of Sam & Dave’s “Wrap It Up.” The original version is a tight little paper-wrapped package of Stax soul, co-written by Isaac Hayes. In the hands of Lennox and Stewart, however, it turns perversely cold and coldly perverse, flipped on its head by her delivery and his sonics – and the fact that she doesn’t gender-flip the lyrics, singing “I’m gonna treat you like the queen you are/Give you sweet things from my candy jar,” which was quite bold for the early ‘80s.

 

VIDEO: Eurythmics “Wrap It Up”

Which brings up something else significant about Eurythmics in their Sweet Dreams era, especially when taken in the context of its time: their queerness. I’m not suggesting that either Lennox or Stewart themselves are queer, but their presentation often coded as such. There was Lennox’s short sharp shock of rooster-red hair. There were the lyrics on Sweet Dreams, and not just the aforementioned “Wrap It Up” cover; tell me “Jennifer” doesn’t sound like a longing lament for a lost lover:

 

Jennifer with your orange hair

Jennifer with your green eyes

Jennifer in your dress of deepest purple

Jennifer, where are you tonight?”

 

And then, of course, there was their 1984 Grammy Awards performance, which featured Lennox in full-on Elvis drag, complete with paste-on sideburns. For a certain then-13-year-old queer kid in the rural midwest, their performance – which prompted my mother to ask, of Lennox, “Is that a man?” – felt like sheer queer liberation on national TV.

 

VIDEO: Eurythmics perform “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” live at the Grammys 1984

My favorite song on the album has always been its closer, “This City Never Sleeps.” It’s glacial and chilly, with lyrics that become increasingly repetitive, almost turning drone-like. Lennox’s “I guess it’s just a feeling (in the city!)” becomes a chant in the song’s back half, while musically only a subtly snaking guitar line from Stewart offers diversion from a slow, throbbing synth bass and waves of ambient keyboards. Suffice it to say, this was a striking end to a top 20 pop album in the early ‘80s; you can hear a furthering of this vibe on their 1984 film soundtrack 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother). (Their performance of the song on The Old Grey Whistle Test in mid-’83 is another thing entirely, with Lennox and a phalanx of backing singers teasing the gospel out of it.) 

 

VIDEO: Eurythmics “This City Never Sleeps” live on the Old Grey Whistle Test 1983

A few new wave albums had been hits prior to Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), to be sure: most notably, the Human League’s Dare had topped the UK chart and even hit #3 in the U.S. But Eurythmics dipped their paint brushes into a myriad of different colors, and had the not-so-secret weapon of Annie Lennox’s vocals to boot. They were thus able to go all over the musical map on the album that made them huge everywhere.

This isn’t a perfect album, but it’s a mightily distinctive one.

 

 

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Thomas Inskeep

Rock and Roll Globe contributor Thomas Inskeep tweets more frequently than he blogs, reviews singles on a regular basis for The Singles Jukebox, and has previously written for SPIN, Seattle Weekly, and Stylus. He lives in Indianapolis, IN.

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