There are well-known synthesizer parts that are relatively easy to re-create and play. Some of these, like “Jump” (Van Halen), “Axel F” (Harold Faltermeyer), “Separate Ways” (Journey), and “The Final Countdown” (Europe) will trigger instant groans and eye-rolls from synth fiends like me (especially if they worked around keyboards in a music store in the ’80s or ’90s), because we’ve all heard them way too many times. On the other end of the spectrum, there are synthesizer parts that are extremely difficult to play, like “Roundabout” (Yes), “Tarkus” (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), or even synth solos in popular songs like “She’s a Beauty” (The Tubes) or “Rosanna” (Toto) – but that use sounds that are relatively easy to program. [I’m sure there are a zillion other song examples, but alas, I am admittedly a child of the ’80s and these are the songs that immediately come to mind.]
Eurythmics‘ breakthrough hit, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), is one of those elusive synth parts that is nearly impossible to perfectly replicate. The challenge lies in both the synth line itself and the sound design behind the part. The starting point for most synth fiends is to find out what instrument was used to originally create the sound – here’s where the puzzle gets more complicated. If you read this thoroughly engrossing thread on the Gearslutz forum, there’s speculation about whether it was an Oberheim OB-X, a Roland SH-2 and Juno-60, a Roland SH-09 and Juno-6, or even an EDP Wasp. At least two people in the thread (one of those being Paul Wiffen himself!) say that they were present in the studio while the album was being made, and even their recollections don’t match up.
One thing that everyone agrees on, though, is that the riff is actually the combination of two separate parts, one panned hard left and the other panned hard right. Future Music has an excellent how-to video that does a great job of revealing what is going on within the riff.
And Happy Birthday to Sweet Dreams – the song turns 30 years old this year, and its sound has stood the test of time very well indeed! Here’s a great article about that.