40 Years Ago: Eurythmics Finally Make It With ‘Sweet Dreams’
Released Jan. 4, 1983, Eurythmics' second album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), launched the band to superstardom – but only after a long string of disappointments and failures.
When Eurythmics' two members first met in 1975, each had taken radically different paths.
Guitarist and keyboardist Dave Stewart grew up in the British city of Sunderland, where he began playing in rock bands and living a hard-partying lifestyle as a teenager. By 18, his band Longdancer had signed with Elton John's label Rocket Records, which was a blessing as well as a curse. "It was totally undisciplined," Stewart remembered in a 2016 interview with The Guardian. "The people running his label just handed us a bundle of money. Then we’d just go and take some mescaline."
The band predictably fell apart, and Stewart happened to meet a young singer named Annie Lennox, who was at the time working as a waitress in London.
Watch Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' Video
Lennox had come to music through an entirely different route. After growing up in Scotland, she had been accepted into the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied classical music. But Lennox realized that path wasn't for her, and she decided she wanted to be a singer in a rock band, an unusual aspiration for a woman in the '70s. "A female artist was a rarified creature in those days," the singer noted during a 2017 conversation with The Independent. "It didn’t take much for somebody to be interested in me because there wasn’t much competition. It was very unusual.”
Stewart and Lennox hit it off immediately. They began a romantic relationship and formed a short-lived band called the Tourists, which had a small amount of success and brought them a great deal of trouble. "We were going in a certain direction and the record company we'd signed to didn't want us to do that," Lennox told The Herald in 2013. "So we were in litigation for a whole year and we were caught. When you're young, you're ambitious, and we couldn't do anything for a whole year." Making matters worse, the duo was "left with the debts of the whole band."
The stress of all of this was enough to end Stewart and Lennox's romantic relationship, but their musical partnership was too fruitful to abandon. So they formed a new band, Eurythmics, and went to Germany to record an album called In the Garden that pushed their new wave pop sound in the direction of the German electronica style emerging at the time.
The album flopped.
Watch Eurythmics' 'Love Is a Stranger' Video
Beginning to wear down, but undeterred, Stewart and Lennox toured England as a duo, playing over electronic backing tracks and doing almost all of their setup and roadie work themselves. Still broke, Stewart took out a personal bank loan, and they built a small studio in a factory section of North London where they began to record songs for their second album.
The stress at the time was so high that Stewart was hospitalized with a collapsed lung, and Lennox suffered what was rumored to be a nervous breakdown. "I never actually had a breakdown," the singer clarified in 2013. "I was never under any medication. I was never under any doctor's orders or put in an institution. ... In a sense it was one of those struggles where things break down and part of you is broken, so it was very hard."
These struggles were compounded by the fact that the duo's first three singles from the recording sessions – "This Is the House", "The Walk" and "Love Is a Stranger" – barely made a ripple on the U.K. charts. So, as 1983 dawned, Eurythmics were at a crossroads: a band with talent, and dreams of making it big, yet with virtually nothing to show for nearly eight years of making music together.
Watch Eurythmics Perform 'The Walk' Live in 1983
And then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. At the end of January 1983, the band released the title track from the album as a single. It reached No. 2 on the U.K. chart the following month, and in May it was released in the U.S., where it climbed to No. 1 by early September. At the same time, the music video for the song – which featured Lennox in all her androgynous glory – was in constant rotation on MTV, not only establishing Eurythmics as superstars but opening new doors for female artists.
It was a strange moment, particularly for Lennox. "I was in bed one morning in a hotel in San Francisco on a Eurythmics tour. I was very nervous and all I could think about was, ‘When is there going to be an earthquake?’ Then I got this phone call to say we were number one in the Billboard charts in America," she told The Independent in 2017. "I remember walking down the street and realizing that everybody knew I was walking down the street. It was then that I learnt to walk with my head down, not making eye contact with anybody. I’m a really quiet person and I felt vulnerable."
Despite these new difficulties – now arriving with fame, instead of failure – the band never looked back. They released another six albums before going on extended hiatus in 1990, with both members pursuing solo projects and then reuniting briefly to release the album Peace in 1999. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022, the culmination of a long, and hard-earned, career.