Multi-platinum and award-winning singer Annie Lennox is quoted in Billboard magazine as recounting her days before the Eurythmics. “I was really a hybrid between Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell,” she remembers, “walking the streets as a singer/songwriter, but nobody knew it but me.”
But fame didn’t elude her for long after teaming up with then-boyfriend Dave Stewart to form the Eurythmics in the early 80s. After a rough start that included Lennox suffering a bout with depression and Stewart having physical health issues, the duo wrote and recorded “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”, releasing it in 1982 on the album of the same name in Europe and then in the US in January of 1983 to unstoppable acclaim that still exists thirty years later.
With an uplifting mantra “Keep Your Head Up” weaved in and an almost hypnotic repetitive verse that is also the song’s interchangeable hook, the song was and is unlike the typical song structure. Both pop and Black music stations found the song intriguing despite the question, “Is ‘Sweet Dreams’ a soul record?” But, we knew it wasn’t a soul record per se; like many pop records, the soul influences are rampant. From Lennox’s smoky alto vocals to the rhythmic synthesized beats, the song oozes soul. It’s no wonder why contemporary artists—from hip-hop’s Nas and Ludacris to R&B’s Faith Evans and pop’s megastar Beyoncé–have sampled it over the years.
The song’s video is legendary. At least five hairstyles later, Annie Lennox is still captured best in the general public’s memory as the close-cropped, orange-haired androgynous figure because of it. Surprisingly, she told The New York Times in 1984 that her signature look was about something different than appearing as a neutral gender.
”I don’t feel at all androgynous,” she said in the 1984 interview with writer Stephen Holden, “and those comparisons between me and [Boy] George are entirely circumstantial,” she maintained. ”My look evolved out of wanting to transcend being a cutesy female singer for men only. I think I probably represent a great deal of women nowadays and that in a lot of respects I’m typical.”
Thirty years later, Lennox’s bold stance with her physical image is still as inspirational as learning of her challenges with depression during the creation period of the song. In celebration, the words of the song resonate ever so clearly– “Sweet dreams are made of these” – claiming the valor earned from struggle, persistence and sheer determination.
And, really. I mean, really. Who are we to disagree?
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a music writer based in Maryland. Visit her on KhadijahOnline.com.