That was just a dream, just a dream
The subject of dreams has come up fairly often in recent conversations I’ve had with friends and family.
My wife is always relating her sleeping dreams to me (I even show up in a few of them), and she loves to try to speculate what might be the hidden meaning behind her dreams.
My grown daughters do this, too, but they also like to talk about the other kind of dreams — their goals, their hopes, their aspirations. They’re both in the process of pursuing their professional dreams, and their personal dreams as well.
Both definitions of dreams have proven to be fertile ground for songwriters over the years. Indeed, there are at least three songwriters I know (hint, hint) who are patiently pursuing their own dreams of fame and fortune, however long that might take. As Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler sang, “Dream on, dream on, dream until your dreams come true.”
My research into the rock music catalog of the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties has turned up several dozen songs about dreams and dreaming. I’ve selected a dozen to discuss here, and my Spotify list includes those 12 tunes but also 16 more “honorable mentions” that didn’t quite make the cut. All are worthy of your attention.
Pleasant dreams to you all.
“Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac, 1977
I couldn’t very well leave this mega-platinum hit off my list, even if mostly because of its title. In the writing of this tune, Stevie Nicks was doing what she does best — revealing her thoughts and feelings about her relationships, which, in this case, was the tempestuous back-and-forth she had with band guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Truth be told, I think “Dreams” has been overplayed. She has better tracks with the band that deserve more attention (“Silver Springs” comes immediately to mind). But the lyrics do deftly offer a gentle reminder that dreams can sometimes haunt the sleep of those who are unkind in how they end relationships: “It’s only me who wants to wrap around your dreams, and… /Have you any dreams you’d like to sell? Dreams of loneliness…like a heartbeat… drives you mad… /In the stillness of remembering what you had, and what you lost….”
“A Dream Goes On Forever,” Todd Rundgren, 1974
It’s not an exaggeration to call Rundgren one of the real revolutionaries of rock music. Beginning with his bands Nazz and Runt in the late ’60s, he has always been keen on experimentation. At only 24, he released “Something/Anything?,” the astounding double album which yielded two pop hits (“Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light”), then followed it with a far more challenging LP, “A Wizard/A True Star,” inspired by his use of psychedelics at the time. By 1974, he would release yet another double album, titled simply “Todd,” including “A Dream Goes on Forever” as the single that died on the vine at #69. To me, it seemed an unfinished work, lasting only 2:21, but its lyrics took a look at both kinds of dreams: “A thousand true loves will live and die, but a dream goes on forever, /The days and the years all go streaking by, but the time is stopped within my dream…”
“These Dreams,” Heart, 1985
Pretty yet powerful, Heart’s 1976 debut single “Crazy on You” became a template of sorts for the band’s catalog, which struck a balance between heavy and light. Lead vocalist Ann Wilson, on her own and in tandem with her sister Nancy on harmonies, struck a distinctive sound that brought them much success throughout the late ’70s and ’80s. On the 1985 LP simply titled “Heart,” they struck gold with the irresistible ballad “These Dreams,” the band’s first #1 hit, with Nancy Wilson singing lead. I was surprised to learn that the tune was written by lyricist Bernie Taupin in collaboration with songwriter Martin Page. They wrote it about a woman who enters a fantasy world when she falls asleep, hoping to forget whatever difficulty she’s having in real life: “These dreams go on when I close my eyes, /Every second of the night I live another life, /These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside, /Every moment I’m awake, the further I’m away…”
“Daydream,” The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966
During his tenure with the New York City band he formed, John Sebastian was among the hottest singer-songwriters in the business. “Do You Believe in Magic,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” “Younger Girl,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind” and “Summer in the City” beautifully captured that wildly creative 1965-1969 period, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ubiquitous appearance at or near the top of the charts proved their widespread appeal. Their huge hit “Daydream” uses a sing-song melody, whimsical lyrics and funky instrumentation in its spot-on exploration of what we feel and think when we sit back and let our minds wander in the afternoon: “I’ve been having a sweet dream, /I been dreaming since I woke up today, /It’s starring me and my sweet thing, ’cause she’s the one makes me feel this way…”
“Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Tom Petty, 1989
Petty and his early band Mudcrutch hailed from Gainesville, Florida, where they played small clubs and struggled for more than just regional recognition. They concluded that they should move to music hot spot Los Angeles where they secured their first record deal, but still no chart success. Mudcrutch disbanded, but Petty pursued a “solo” career with a new band of accomplished musicians who became The Heartbreakers. From the late ’70s until Petty’s death in 2017, they were one of America’s most successful groups, with eight Top Ten albums and a ton of classic rock singles. In 1989, when he belatedly released his first actual solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” he got around to writing “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” inspired by his 1974 drive from Florida to California in search of fame: “Yeah, runnin’ down a dream that never would come to me, /Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads…”
“All I Have to Do is Dream,” The Everly Brothers, 1958
In rock and roll’s earliest years, recording artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were keeping the nation’s dance floors hopping, but the dancers needed a slow number now and then so they had the chance for a little cheek-to-cheek romance to develop. That’s where acts like The Everly Brothers came in. Their impeccable harmonies gave them the credibility they needed to pull off doing cheeseball songs like “All I Have to Do is Dream” (which may have been cheesy but went to #1 nevertheless). Successful songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, writing alone or with wife Felice, composed lyrics that struck a nerve in every teenager who hoped real romance might come true if they just kept dreaming about it: “When I want you in my arms, /When I want you and all your charms, /Whenever I want you, /All I have to do is dream, /Dream, dream, dream…”
“Impossible Dreamer,” Joni Mitchell, 1985
Mitchell spent the first third of her remarkable career creating confessional music and lyrics, writing vignettes that borrowed from her own upbringing, her own love life, her own experiences in the music business. That kind of songwriting served her very well, but when she branched out into jazz stylings in the late ’70s, she was abandoned by some of her audience, and betrayed by her record label. In the ’80s and beyond, she grew bitter about the industry, and about society in general. On her angry 1985 LP “Dog Eat Dog,” there’s a lovely track with callous lyrics called “Impossible Dreamer” that mocks those who continue to dream of utopian ideals: “Land of the free, no hungry bellies, /Impossible dreamer… No acid rain, love without pain, /Impossible dreamer… Give peace a chance, don’t think, just dance, /Impossible dreamer…”
“Dream a Little Dream of Me,” The Mamas and The Papas, 1968
A trio of relatively unknown songwriters came up with the romantic song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” way back in 1931, and it became a standard recorded by many dozens of artists since then, from Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra to Doris Day, from Dean Martin to Barry Manilow, from Louis Armstrong to Diana Krall. In 1968, Mama Cass Elliot suggested The Mamas and The Papas record the old chestnut, which they’d been toying with in rehearsals and soundchecks for a while. On second thought, Elliot found the song a bit too campy and dated, but she treated it as if it were a brand new song, giving it just the right amount of charm to gain broad appeal during a tempestuous summer: “Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you, /Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you, /But in your dreams, whatever they be, /Dream a little dream of me…”
“Gemini Dream,” The Moody Blues, 1981
Beginning with the arrival of singer/songwriter Justin Hayward to the band’s lineup, The Moody Blues emerged as pioneers in Britain’s progressive rock movement. The music of The Moodies, with lyrical themes of fantasy and dreamscapes, became a soundtrack for listeners experimenting with recreational drugs. Following some time off, the group reunited in the Eighties with a more commercial sound. On the 1981 LP “Long Distance Voyager,” the first single was “Gemini Dream,” in which Hayward and bassist John Lodge merged two unfinished tunes to make a finished whole that went Top Ten in the US. Hayward’s main theme was about a couple who share twin (Gemini) dreams of lasting love: “There’s no escaping from the love we have seen, /So come with me, turn night to day, you’re gonna wake up, /You know you’re gonna wake up in a Gemini dream…”
“I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night),” The Electric Prunes, 1968
I remember, when this song came out, thinking, “What a great line!” I admired the way the lyrics correlate the physical hangover you get from drinking too much with the emotional hangover you might get from dreaming too much. I’ve had nights when I had three different dreams going in one night’s sleep, or dreams that went on too long, or were just too intense. In each case, you wake up dazed, confused and not at all rested. Songwriting duo Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz came up with “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and saw it as a ballad, but once L.A.-based psychedelic band The Electric Prunes got a hold of it, it became a trailblazing Top 40 freakout, reaching #11 in early 1967. The lyrics speak of the disappointment of dreaming about being with the one you love and waking to find it wasn’t real: “Your gentle hand reached out to comfort me, /Then came the dawn, and you were gone, /You were gone, gone, gone, /I had too much to dream last night, too much to dream…”
“Poor Man’s Dream,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1972
My very favorite “shoulda been stars” of all time is this talented duo of acoustic guitarists/singers who released two of the most amazing records of the early ’70s, “Off the Shelf” (1971) and “Batdorf and Rodney” (1972). John Batdorf showed an uncommon gift for writing thoughtful, optimistic songs that were perfect structures on which to place impressive guitar work and gorgeous harmonies. Tunes like “Can You See Him,” “All I Need,” “You Are the One,” “Home Again” and “Oh My Surprise” have been indelibly etched in my mind since I first heard them nearly fifty years ago. “Poor Man’s Dream,” the leadoff track on the second LP, talks of the wisdom in keeping one’s dreams simple and positive: “Have no fears of growing old, /Have no need or use for gold, /In my life I’ve gone both ways and in between, /I know my day is coming, am I in a poor man’s dream?…”
“Dreams,” The Allman Brothers Band, 1969
Before the birth of The Allman Brothers Band, Duane and Gregg Allman marketed themselves as The Allman Joys, moving to California in their late teens to pursue their dreams of musical careers. Duane became disillusioned and returned to Florida and Georgia, where he built a reputation as a brilliant session guitarist. Gregg felt bound by the contract they’d signed in L.A., and stayed busy by writing some incredible blues songs that captured his depressed mood, including “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “Whipping Post.” He too eventually went home, where he hooked up with Duane’s band and brought them the songs he’d written. One of them, originally called “Dreams I’ll Never See” but shortened to “Dreams,” described how hard it is to chase dreams: “Went up on the mountain to see what I could see, /The whole world was fallin’ right down in front of me, /’Cause I’m hung up on dreams I’ll never see…”
“Dream On,” Aerosmith, 1974; “In My Dreams,” Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1977; “I Can Dream About You,” Dan Hartman, 1984; “In Dreams,” Roy Orbison, 1963; “One Summer Dream,” Electric Light Orchestra, 1975; “Music in Dreamland,” BeBop Deluxe, 1975; “Dreaming,” Cream, 1966; “Dream Weaver,” Gary Wright, 1975; “#9 Dream,” John Lennon, 1974; “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Eurythmics, 1983; “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” Billy Ocean, 1988; “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Crowded House, 1987; “Dreamer,” Supertramp, 1974; “You Make My Dreams (Come True),” Hall and Oates, 1980; “Dream Police,” Cheap Trick, 1979; “These Dreams,” Jim Croce, 1973.