This is the 105th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were in Australia on tour with their band The Tourists when the band decided to break up. Left on their own in a hotel room in Wagga Wagga, they played around with Stewart’s Wasp synthesizer. Stewart told The Guardian that he and Lennox, who were a couple at the time, thought “maybe we could make weird and experimental electronic music.” This led to the creation of Eurythmics, but as a couple, Lennox and Stewart had split by the time they returned to England.
But they kept making music together, though they quickly realized they needed new equipment. After visiting a bank manager, they got a loan for £5,000, with which they bought some new gear. The problem was that Stewart couldn’t figure out how to make the new equipment work, and ended up producing a riff, seemingly by accident. Lennox, who had been depressed, quickly perked up, saying “What the hell is that?” She joined in on another synthesizer and they fleshed out a rhythm. As Stewart told The Guardian:
It was a juggernaut rhythm, but it wasn’t a song. Quickly, Annie did this startling rant which began: “Sweet dreams are made of this …” It was mind-blowing, but depressing, so I suggested the “hold your head up, moving on” bit to make it more uplifting.
Lennox told The Guardian that feeling “hopeless and nihilistic” after The Tourists broke up had inspired her to write dark lyrics. To her, she could not imagine there was any lower that she or Stewart could go, as they had seemingly hit rock bottom.
Though inspired by Lennox’s mental state after the break-up of The Tourists, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” wasn’t released until the second Eurythmics album, released in early 1983. The 1981 debut album, “In The Garden,” had received positive reviews, but didn’t do well commercially or on the charts. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” became the title of the second album, though the record company didn’t want to release it as a single, as there was no traditional chorus. It wasn’t until a DJ in Cleveland played it off the album and got listener requests that the label finally decided to make “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” a single.
The single for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” reached at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Number 2 in the UK. In the rest of the world, the song reached the Top 10 in the charts in more than a dozen countries. Part of the single’s success has been attributed to MTV, which played the video repeatedly. Stewart said he and Lennox had wanted something “weird and dreamlike. So we mocked up a record-company boardroom in a studio in Wardour Street and put a cow in it, to signify reality. There we were: Annie and I laid flat on a table, and this cow, which was peeing everywhere.”
Beyond the peeing cow, there were deeper things at play in the video, as Lennox told The Guardian:
We wanted our visual statements to be strong and powerful, because we knew they’d be there forever. I wore a suit in the video with my cropped hair. I was trying to be the opposite of the cliche of the female singer. I wanted to be as strong as a man, equal to Dave and perceived that way. Wearing wigs and taking them off again was about the affectations that women create to become acceptable or beautiful to men, about removing masks and how none of it is real.
People didn’t always get that, or understand the irony of it. Because of lines like “Some of them want to use you… some of them want to be abused”, people think it’s about sex or S&M, and it’s not about that at all. Apparently, it’s the most misheard lyric in British pop. People think I’m singing: “Sweet dreams are made of cheese.”
Whether the dreams were made of “this” or “cheese,” the song was the duo’s introduction the world. Eurythmics continued to have more hits in the UK and the US, though it was the only Number 1 in the US. It’s arguably the duo’s defining song, given that while the duo had success throughout the ’80s, it never recreated this kind of international hit. When Rolling Stone compiled the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was ranked Number 365.
For the first dozen or so years of its existence, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” had a handful of covers, and though none of them had the same exposure as the original, there were a few interesting interpretations.
French singer Sylvie Vartan has appeared in the Cover Songs Uncovered series before, which versions of “The Loco-Motion” and “Bette Davis Eyes.” Her “Déprime” sounded exactly like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” except in French. Because that’s what it was.
Jamaican reggae singer Glen Augustus Holness was better known by his stage name, Nitty Gritty. His take on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” included some of the original lyrics while incorporating new verses. In deciding whether this should be treated as a cover or a sample, I’m inclined to call it a cover. But if any more lyrics had been changed, I would change my ruling.
Producer Tolga “Flim Flam” Balkan produced a Euro-Vision update called “Sweet Dreams 1991,” giving the song the piano-y backing track pervasive among much of early ’90s dance music.
In 1994, German label Synthetic Symphony released a compilation called “Scanning… Vol. 2: Cover Versions Continued.” Among the variety of covers of ’70s and ’80s songs, duo Stigmata delivered a sinister version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Similar to the original, the Stigmata cover was faster, darker, and well, a lot more Goth-y, in part because of the vocals reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s David Gahan.
In a similar vein, Scottish band Dream Disciples brought even more Goth-iness to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” on the band’s album, “In Amber.” In the hands of Dream Disciples, the song had more drums, more guitars, and a hell of a lot more angst.
Electronic artist Swing, whose real name is Richard Silva, teamed with Swedish musician and producer Dr. Alban on a Eurodance-tastic “Sweet Dreams” that to 2018 ears will sound emblematic of European dance music of the mid-’90s.
But for all the efforts of these artists, none of them moved the needle on how “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was perceived by the public, and that’s because none of them had the exposure that Marilyn Manson had for that band’s cover.
Appearing on the group’s 1995 EP “Smells Like Children” alongside a cover of “I Put A Spell On You,” Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was a slower, darker version of Eurythmics’ original. Besides slowing down the pace of the song, Marilyn Manson tweaked some of the lyrics:
I wanna use you and abuse you
I wanna know what’s inside you..
…I’m gonna use you and abuse you
I gotta know what’s inside you…
That perverse twisting of the lyrics matched an equally twisted video that MTV had on heavy rotation throughout the spring of 1996.
Creepy as shit, right?
Through the attention of that video, Marilyn Manson and the band’s titular frontman (real name: Brian Warner) were launched into the mainstream. “Smells Like Children” eventually went platinum, peaking at Number 31 on the Billboard 200. In 1996, the band’s second album, “Antichrist Superstar,” debuted at Number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The majority of the covers of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” have come in the two decades since that Marilyn Manson version. And though it’s arguable that none have dethroned Manson’s take as the definitive cover of the song, there have been some valiant efforts at expanding and reinterpreting the song.
The rock outfit Dildo Brothers covered “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” for the 1996 compilation “Punk Chartbusters Vol. 2,” a collection that also included a brief “Only You” cover by German band Kapitulation B.o.N.n. Later installments of the series included covers of “Torn” and “A Hazy Shade of Winter.” Like all the songs in the series, Dildo Brothers’ covers had a pop-punk bent to it, but this sounded more like the gritty grunge of the mid-’90s than the poppy emo bands who defined much of the “Punk Chartbuster” series.
Norwegian musicians Jørn Hoel and Steinar Albrigtsen performed simply went by the name Hoel & Albrigtsen. Their “Sweet Dreams” from their 1997 album “Get Together” had a folky pop sound to it, sounding more like Blues Traveler or Barenaked Ladies than Eurythmics.
Ska/metal/punk band Thumper recorded a version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that was as driven by guitars and drums as it was by horns. Like Marilyn Manson’s version, this cover featured some changed lyrics:
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get fucked by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused
The track appeared on the band’s “Hellfire and Damnation,” as well as the compilation, “Skandalous: I’ve Gotcha Covered, Volume 2.”
In a recent conversation, singer/guitarist Ted Riederer explained to me how that song came to be in Thumper’s rotation:
Early in the band’s history we had a very bad booking agent. Not bad in the sense that he couldn’t get us gigs, rather bad in the sense that he consistently got us bad gigs. So for a brief moment in time, we did the resort circuit, from Cape Cod to Block Island with a corporate event and a wedding thrown in. These gigs would go as follows. We would exhaust our “mellow” repertoire in the first set, and then completely unload our unlistenable metal/ska/punk catalog upon the unsuspecting resort audience. This almost always ended with a club owner screaming, or even worse, the band getting in a stage-clearing brawl, which happened at least once in Westport, Conn. Sax player Doug Reichgott loved the song “Sweet Dreams,” so we added the song to our set to help appeal to angry audiences. It very quickly became a crowd favorite at all of our shows. Thumper, being a very irreverent band filled with misfits, would never just do a straight cover, so our version is a mash-up between “Sweet Dreams,” the Bugs Bunny theme song, and the B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” In many ways the songs represents the band ethos, to combine our disparate influences in the spirit of fun and mischief, to attempt to disarm and piss off as many people as possible.
A cappella group Throat Culture covered “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” for its 1998 release, “Up With Angst!” Of all the covers, this might sound the most jarring. The Marilyn Manson version was creepy, but it was expanding upon an already-present sinister theme in the original. This Throat Culture version seemed peppy and poppy, and in that regard, it turned Lennox’s hopeless lyrics on their head.
French electronic producers Caroline Hervé and Michel Amato are better known by their respective stage names, Miss Kittin and The Hacker. Though the producers have each done a lot of work on their own, they came to prominence with their collaborations on “1982” and “Frank Sinatra.” In 1999, the duo recorded a version of “Sweet Dreams” on the EP, “Intimités.” The electroclash cover was a slow burn, because it wasn’t until a minute and a half that the song began to resemble the original Eurythmics version.
P!nk’s 2001 sophomore album “Missundaztood” was her breakthrough into the mainstream, in part because of the success of her single “Get the Party Started.” A remixed version of the song featured her and Redman singing over the iconic riff of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” I’m tempted to call this a mashup or a sample rather than a cover, because the majority of the lyrics here were P!nk’s, though she did pay homage to Lennox and Stewart by weaving in some of the original lyrics.
Just as Big Daddy and Scott Bradlee’s Postmosdern Jukebox each made names for themselves performing stylized covers of pop songs, 48th St. Collective has applied the lounge/jazz formula to several songs, including “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” This is not quite elevator jazz, though it does sound like the kind of jazz you might hear at an airport before a morning flight.
Seriously, relisten to that song and close your eyes. You can’t help but picture yourself trying to get a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee before lumbering over to the gate for your 6 a.m. flight. Trust me.
Yo La Tengo released a covers album in 2006, called “Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics.” The album comprised more than two dozen covers recorded between 1996 and 2003 at WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey. To show support for the station’s fundraising efforts, the band would visit annually. Anyone who pledged money during Yo La Tengo’s visit to the studio could then request a song and the band would try to play it. Some covers are better than others; the versions of “Roadrunner” and “Tighten Up” clearly sound like they’re just goofing off. But on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Yo La Tengo made an earnest effort to recreate the song.
Bat For Lashes is the stage name of Natasha Khan, an English singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. A version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that she performed on Radio 1 appeared on the 2008 compilation, “Radio 1’s Live Lounge: Volume 3.” Though faithful to the original, the cover highlighted what so many Bat For Lashes songs demonstrate: Khan has a knack for sounding simultaneously fierce and vulnerable.
French cover band Nouvelle Vague has made a career out of reimagining classic songs in a ’60s lounge style. In 2009, the band played a show in Portugal and turned that into the live album, “Acoustic.” On the freewheeling “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Nouvelle Vague jumped from jazz to reggae to folk, and the crowd dug it.
When reviewing “Running Up That Hill,” I mentioned a cappella group Club For Five. Rather than try to recreate songs’ familiar keyboards, the group deftly takes advantage of its members’ ability to mimic drum machines and production techniques. When listening to Club For Five’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” it’s hard to believe the backing track was compiled with voices rather than slick keyboards.
Actress and singer Emily Browning has appeared in several movies and TV shows, including “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “American Gods.” She also appeared in the 2011 film, “Sucker Punch,” and even contributed some songs to the soundtrack. Her version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which appeared in the movie, was cinematic in its scope, sounding perfect for an epic trailer. In a review for AllMusic, Heather Phares wrote that the song, like many others on the soundtrack, “pits female vocals against massive, mechanical instrumentation, underscoring the plight from which the film’s characters must rescue themselves.”
Italian ska band The Orobians’ 2011 album “Slave to the Riddim,” which included the band’s cover of “Smalltown Boy,” also featured a slowed-down, psychedelic version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The ska horns are there, but not the force, as the pacing of the song felt more like jazz-tinged rocksteady reggae song than the ska that the band has traditionally played.
According to The Soul Rebels’ website, the group began with the idea “to expand upon the pop music they loved on the radio and the New Orleans brass tradition they grew up on. They took that tradition and blended funk and soul with elements of hip hop, jazz and rock.” That fusion works well on the band’s covers, particularly the genre-bending take on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” which toggles between multiple styles, all the while sounding quintessentially New Orleans.
One of the odder covers of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” came from Ministry’s 2012 compilation “The Very Best Of Fixes & Remixes.” For those who might be most familiar with Ministry’s industrial music of the late ’80s and early ’90s, this doom-and-gloom metal track might come as a jarring surprise. This has a lot of the Ministry heaviness (and then some), but without any speed. The screaming vocals and crashing drums are a slog to get through, such that it’s a chore to get to the end. I can only imagine the chore it was to record it.
The 2014 compilation “Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion” had several gems, including the violin-tinged “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Tracy Bonham. The song might sound more polished than her signature “Mother Mother,” but if you listen closely, you can hear the Bonham flourishes that tie this cover to her earlier work.
In 2017, the trailer for “A Wrinkle In Time” featured an epic cover not unlike the one by Browning. But this one was by Mark Hadley and Dresage.
Though the trailer showed some of the song’s scope, it’s easier to listen to it on its own, without hearing Oprah or Chris Pine, lovely as they both are.
Of all these covers, most of them kept the iconic riff that Stewart and Lennox stumbled upon so many years ago. Before hearing the opening lyrics, that riff grounds the listener. Even the cinematic trailers have a taste of that riff.
And that riff has been sampled dozens of times, beyond the samples mentioned here. Among the many artists to sample the song are Faith Evans…
…M.I.A. and Diplo…
But, as I said earlier, none of these covers or samples have become more iconic than the Marilyn Manson version. Manson, and the band that bears his name, have become as intertwined with the song’s identity as the song has become intertwined with his identity. Johnny Depp joined him onstage to play the song at least once, and Manson’s version was even used as the backing track for a leaked video filmed for Britney Spears’ 2009 Circus tour, for the same album that spawned the sampled song above.
That almost might be as disturbing as the video that Marilyn Manson shot. Almost. That video is part of why it’s been hard for any other cover to be so closely associated with the song. Stewart has given the song his blessing, telling Metro, “I liked the Marilyn Manson version when it first came out; the video was one of the scariest things I’d seen at the time.”
Same here, Dave. Same here.