The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) is 40 years old and to celebrate we've unearthed six of the best covers of the band's breakthrough hit.
Sweet Dreams originally charted in the UK, reaching number 2 in May 1983, but it would take another six months for the song to cross the Atlantic and become a massive US hit, doing one better and reaching the top of the Billboard 100 in September 1983.
The song was released at a time when Eurythmics (Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox) were at a low point after a disappointing debut album – see below – and three unsuccessful singles from their second album. Amazingly their label didn't consider Sweet Dreams as single-worthy, so it was the fourth track to be released from the album, but became the track that made them. Phew, that was lucky then.
The track was a definite move towards a stripped-back sound and a synthetic arrangement, something the duo would become famous for over their early releases including tracks like Love is a Stranger, Who's That Girl? and Here Comes The Rain Again. It was an approach defined by some gear the duo had bought with a £5000 bank loan.
"I couldn’t get any of the new equipment to work," Stewart told The Guardian in 2017. "By this point, Annie was totally depressed. She was curled up on the floor in the foetal position when I managed to produce this beat and riff. She suddenly went: “What the hell is that?” and leapt up and started playing the other synthesizer. Between the two duelling synths we had the beginnings of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
The video to Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) is hugely important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, MTV was the make-or-break channel for many an act at this point in the 80s and if you made a great video – or in this case, an odd one with cows in it – you could be set up for life, and it was really this video that helped break Eurythmics Stateside.
Secondly, and more importantly in our book, is that Dave Stewart uses what could be mistaken for a computer with a TV on top of it to make the music – surely one of the first references to computer music making in a video ever?
Our extensive research (we Googled it), however, reveals that this was no ordinary computer but a Movement Computer Systems Percussion Computer (the Mk1, not the Mk2). It was used to make beats and a piece of gear that would have cost you around £1700 back in '83 (the price of a house now). The TV would not have shown Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, though, but more probably a very basic drum pattern.
Other fun Eurythmics and Sweet Dreams facts include:
• Beyonce didn't cover Sweet Dreams. Her Sweet Dreams is a Beyonce song, although if you check out some clips from her performing the song live, she does blend it into the Eurythmics version. Like in this (terrible) clip for example (at 3:22).
• Eurythmics' first album In The Garden wasn't a hit but did feature enough talent to make it so. It was produced by Conny Plank (who had worked with Ultravox and Kraftwerk), Can's Holger Czukay and Blondie's Clem Burke.
• Synth fans might like to know that a Roland SH-09, Juno-6 and Oberheim OB-X were used on the track and album.
• Those were real cows you saw in the video.
So now, to celebrate Sweet Dreams at 40, here are six of the best, strangest and sweetest covers.
Before Zack Snyder had really made his mark in the world of comic book films he was making movies in all sorts of other areas of fantasy including Sucker Punch, a 2011 film he described as "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns".
The film starred Emily Browning as the character Babydoll who is being sent to an asylum by her evil stepfather to be treated – as in, lobotomized – so he can inherit her mother's cash. A little bit extreme. The film then steps into fantasy as Babydoll gathers a team of superheroes to take on some evil doers and all hell breaks loose. No, wait, that's another film…
Look, the film isn't really that important, and we're not going to sit around watching it just to write this feature. We know there's lots of stylised action and giant samurais – it's a Zak Snyder film, after all – and we're guessing the stepfather probably gets his comeuppance at the end. So that's all you need to know.
The fantastical story, though, clearly demanded a reworking of Sweet Dreams and luckily Browning was on hand to sing it, resulting on one of the best renditions of the Eurythmics song ever made.
And yes it's got 'made for Stranger Things' written all over it too.
Bat For Lashes
"She could be the next Kate Bush" are words that have probably (and lazily) followed around many slightly leftfield female singers over the last four decades, but in the case of Bat For Lashes a.k.a Natasha Khan, there is some truth to them.
Certainly, the critical praise heaped upon BFL over the space of five albums has been right up there. And even the commercial success has been pretty phenomenal – she shifted over 100,000 copies each of debut album Fur and Gold and its follow up Two Suns. But it's the effortlessly cool music that has been Khan's greatest calling card, so much so that the Guardian five-star reviews came thick and fast, as did the collaborations with the likes of Jon Hopkins and Damon Albarn.
Khan's no stranger to a cover version either, having also taken on everything from The Cure's A Forest to Depeche Mode's Strangelove. This version of Sweet Dreams was recorded in 2009 and we're pretty sure it's the version that she did for Radio One's Live Lounge so hasn't appeared on any BFL album.
We're loving the simple kick beat in this version and, looking at the Live Lounge photos, the keyboard appears to be a simple organ sound wrestled from a very odd and ancient keyboard – hardly the forceful synth of the original. But, as ever with Bat For Lashes tracks, the Khan vocals are the standout part.
Marilyn Manson (2009)
Say what you like about Marilyn Manson – and obviously a lot of people do have a lot to say – he does do the odd decent cover. In fact his extensive history of recording other people's songs reads like a 'who's who' of our record collection when we were about 16. It includes versions of such fabulous tracks as Tubeway Army's Down In The Park, Tainted Love (a kind of smash up of the Soft Cell version) and the Mode's Personal Jesus.
In general, with these covers you can expect the Manson-treated vocals, an upfront bass and driving guitar replacing any synths that existed in the original. His take on Sweet Dreams is slightly different, though. He takes the pace down and the songs veers between 'occasionally plodding' and 'darkly sinister' with an overall mood that we can only describe as 'brooding'.
It's a good attempt at doing something obviously different from the original and a little leftfield, even for an MM cover. We suspect that if he could have – and they'd have rhymed – he would have attempted to change the lyrics from 'sweet dreams' to 'acid nightmares', with a video that certainly conjures up the latter, and is anything but sweet.
"I like the song because it is about abuse, I thought 'this is a really dark song'. Most pop songs are dark," Manson said of the song in 2009.
Mika (Live From Hong Kong, 2007)
Generally, when an artist appears as quickly as Mika did 16 years (yes, really) ago, you kind of expect them to disappear just as quickly. But such was the strength of his debut – and don't make the mistake we thought by thinking 'only' – hit, Grace Kelly, that Mika has since carved out a career not just in music (he's sold quite a few million albums and collaborated with Madonna) but on TV too.
Debut album Life in Cartoon Motion – which went on to sell over eight million copies alone – not only contained the single Grace Kelly but another single, Big Girl (You Are Beautiful), based on the Butterfly Lounge, the 'first size acceptable nightclub' in Orange County, California.
The CD single release of Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) contained this live version of Sweet Dreams, recorded from a show in Hong Kong in 2007. It sticks fairly faithfully to the original and also features the kind of screeching guitar you might well expect, not only replacing the main synth riff, but filling any other gaps with way too many notes, and whenever it bloody well can.
Mika's voice holds it all together but the rock drums, backing vocals and that guitar make this very much the rock n roll kind of standard that Stewart and Lennox were (probably) railing against with the stripped-back and sparse original.
Nouvelle Vague (2009)
Like Marilyn Manson, French band Nouvelle Vague – and that is the first and only time these two acts will ever be compared – also like to cover great songs from our youth. Only this French band does it in a folky, bossa nova style, so a rather different take from Manson's.
Over the space of nine albums (including two live releases) Nouvelle Vague have done just these kinds of reworkings on tracks by New Order, Blondie, Killing Joke, Depeche Mode, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Cure and many more. Anything, you wouldn't expect to be covered in their unique style, then, which is probably the point.
For 2009's Acoustic album, Nouvelle Vague included lots of live cover songs but three new recordings, including this version of Sweet Dreams. Of course, it's different from all the ones we've included so far, and is the kind of track that will be lifted – if it hasn't been already – by some trendy East London PR company to be used in a Christmas gift advert. Send us some commission when you do.
There's also a live version of the track which is slightly faster but just as good here.
Ministry vs Rae Morris
OK, if we're honest, we were torn over our last choice for a top Sweet Dreams cover. We wanted something dance-orientated to complete a more varied set of cover versions, but as good as this Phats & Small version is – we like the legato synth lead, the vocals and the hi-NRG mix, anyway – it's not quite there in our book.
Many people also cite the Leona Lewis version as being one of the best too, and as good as the intro is, it's not exactly Bleeding Love is it?
Really, the best other cover of Sweet Dreams is this live version by Rae Morris which is brilliant because a) it's Rae Morris and b) she does a slightly different vocal and plays keys at the same time, all while Radio 2's Ken Bruce is watching from the sofa.
However, as amazing as it is, you could argue that it's too similar to other covers we've included, so we'll throw this Ministry version in for good measure. It's certainly different, makes Marilyn Manson look like Welsh choir boy Aled Jones, and will give you anything but Sweet Dreams.