While my dreaming schedule consists mainly of running away from nothing in particular on legs that don’t work, forgetting to do homework for a school I left many moons ago and the occasional harrowing sleep paralysis, some lucky folks are gifted pillow-propped masterpieces.
It is, however, very handy that these sleepy stars happen to be uber-talented heroes who don’t just wander around the next morning wondering what to do with the hand that the subconscious has just kindly dealt them. As Rod Stewart almost said, some dreamers just get all the luck.
While snoozing has proved fruitful in the past, it is likely that in a few year’s time this curated list of dream derived masterpieces will gain a few golden additions as apparently, during the lockdown, everyone’s nightly visitations took a turn towards the batshit. The simple explanation to this is that dreams are a way for us to cogitate on our waking hours and, seeing as though lockdown dealt us a hefty mind wallop, our sleep was sent spinning.
In fact, psychology seems to suggest that the vividity of dreams during lockdown is a great example of the benevolent gifts that our sleeping minds deliver most nights. In short, they were basically saying, ‘Looks like it’s been a lonely time of late – here’s everyone you’ve ever met’, ‘seems like we’re low on stimulus – here’s an adventure in the Arctic with your driving instructor and Rod Hull’ etc..
Perhaps the musicians of the future will be able to transpose these wild adventures into golden anthems yet to come, just as these old favourites soar out of the bedsheets and seem to suggest the magical metaphysics of the mind.
Ten great songs inspired by dreams:
‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo & The Bunnymen
It is the firm belief of Echo & The Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch that ‘Killing Moon’ is the greatest song ever written, and part of the reason behind that is because God gave it to him in a dream. After all, the Almighty isn’t likely to be dropping duds from the firmament for the fun of it.
McCulloch declared in an interview with the Guardian: “For me ‘The Killing Moon’ is more than just a song. It’s a psalm, almost hymnal. It’s about everything, from birth to death to eternity and God – whatever that is – and the eternal battle between fate and the human will. It contains the answer to the meaning of life.”
Adding: “I’ve always half-credited the lyric to God. One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: ‘Fate up against your will/ Through the thick and thin/ He will wait until you give yourself to him/‘ You don’t dream things like that and remember them.”
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones
The late great and notoriously lazy comedian Mitch Hedberg once joked: “I write jokes for a living, man. See, I sit in my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny and then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”
It’s a line that makes you wonder how much brilliance we have missed out on by people not having a tape recorder on their bedside table like Keith Richards when suddenly the melody of “I can’t get no satisfaction” came over him. Presumably, he was sleeping alone that night and inadvertently pitching a tent out of the duvet?
In a musicological sense, it would seem that his brain had twisted ‘Dancing in the Street’ into something new, and the Stones shifted it just far enough from that sixties classic to add to rocks ever-growing cannon.
‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix
While ostensibly a drug anthem, it would actually seem that the kaleidoscopic imagery of Hendrix’s masterpiece comes from the ethereal realm of sleep instead. Whether his dream was rendered technicolour by a bit too much cheese before bed or something else, however, is another matter.
As an ardent lover of science fiction novels, Hendrix believed his dream that walking under the sea in a plume of purple haze, was inspired by reading Philip José Farmer’s book Night of Light. The book’s synopsis reads: “Once every seven years, a world in orbit around a binary star is bathed in a bizarre radiance that rearranges physical reality.”
Regardless, of the pages he leafed through before the song came to him, it remains an era-defining anthem and a zenith of creative guitar wizardry.
‘Let It Be’ by The Beatles
In the late 1960s, there was a beautiful blossoming of creativity amidst the tumult of turmoil that dominated the streets. It was a time of unrest for society and the prevalent music scene of the time mirrored this. By the late ’60s, the situation in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK had left an indelible mark on a, rightfully, indignant music industry.
Amidst the musical outpouring, however, was a simple song of transcendence that seemed to run counter to the rhetoric of the day with the uncomplicated message of ‘Let It Be’. It was an equanimous epithet with a simply incredible back story. “I had a dream in the sixties,” Paul McCartney explained during an episode of Carpool Karaoke, “where my mum who died came to me in a dream and was reassuring me saying: It’s going to be okay. Just let it be.”
His mother, Mary McCartney, who had passed when Paul was only 14, came to him as a benevolent apparition in his slumber. As McCartney puts it himself, “She was reassuring me, saying, ‘It’s going to be ok, just let it be.’ It felt so great. She gave me positive words, [..] So I wrote the song ‘Let It Be’ out of positivity.”
It is a beautiful tale to a song of utter salvation.
‘It’s The End of the World As We Know It’ by R.E.M.
Contrary to ‘Let It Be’, not all dreams are that reassuring on the surface. In fact, dreaming the lyric “It’s the end of the world,’ is pretty much as disconcerting as they come. However, rather than a dose of existential dread, the dream, much like the song, was rather more colourful than the message it imparted.
Stipes hitmaking torpor saw him attending a reimaging of a New York City loft party he had attended when he was 19 years old. The catering arrangements remained the same (cheesecake and jelly beans) but then for some reason, all of the attendees had the initials L.B..
Rock critic Lester Bangs was there, as was legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and life and soul of the party Lenny Bruce (no mention of former Watford F.C. forward Luther Blissett has been made).
‘The Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash
Cash had a dream that he met Queen Elizabeth, and the royal said unto him, “You are like a thorn bush caught in a whirlwind,” proving, even in slumber, the Man in Black remains a cool customer with an eye for prose. Years later, he was casually leafing through the Book of Revelations, when a similar phrase leapt from the page, and, naturally, he was stirred into songwriting mode.
If the track seems less like an enthused splurge and more like a layered and cognizant opus, that’s because it is. Although most of the time we see dreams as fleeting fizzes that dissipate with the morning coffee, Cash kept a hold of his for years and when a second dream delivered the mariachi horns to ‘Ring of Fire’ into the mix, his sonic world was sutured with perfect circularity.
‘If Only for a Night’ by Florence and the Machine
While in a camper van in Germany, the most remarkable thing is that Florence Welch managed to get some sleep, let alone prise a poignant requiem from it. All glibness aside, the tale of her track is one that reassuring asserts that the world can sometimes offer comfort as a concession in quite a beautiful way.
In Welch’s dream, she was visited by her deceased grandmother. Grieving, she clutched her leg in floods of tears, but her grandmother proceeded to extol touching life advice that the singer-songwriter transposed into a powerful track in turn.
‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles
The origin story of ‘Yesterday’ is one of the most well-known in music. McCartney woke up with the melody after a dream and ad-libbed the words “scrambled eggs” so that he wouldn’t forget it, but he was convinced that it came so naturally it must have been lifted from one of his dad’s old jazz records. When no similarities could be found the group ploughed on with the track.
Since that story emerged many musicologists have trawled the archives to see if a jazz origin actually exists. British music buff Spencer Leigh believes that the melody may have seeded itself in McCartney’s musical cranium via Nat King Cole’s 1953 version of ‘Answer Me’. When the orchestral flourishes of Nat King Cole are cast to one side the contours of the track are very similar, but Leigh’s argument gains traction with the lyric, “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay.”
Ultimately, if it wasn’t for McCartney revealing the origin it would probably have gone unnoticed as the tracks are very different in truth, and the main conclusion is that the unconscious mind is one hell of a strange place.
‘The Dream Synopsis’ by The Last Shadow Puppets
With ‘The Dream Synopsis’ Alex Turner actually got a bit meta and seemed to transcribe the universality of dreams and the drab conversations that follow a weird one the next morning. As Turner told Artist Direct: “It’s almost like when you do talk about your dreams to someone, it’s always the f–king most boring, you can never bring it to life enough,” he said. “And I thought, perhaps, if you added a melody and surrounded it by music, maybe it’s more compelling. Marginally more compelling.”
There’s more than a grain of truth to that, all dreams are weird, if anything a banal one would make for a more captivating recital, however, there is one golden suffix that can suddenly engage any listener – “I had a weird dream last night… about you.”
‘Break It Up’ by Patti Smith
Patti Smith is, no doubt, far from alone when it comes to dreaming of Jim Morrison in her era, however, the difference was, Smith actually met her hero and in some ways, he is responsible for her making it in music. For ‘Break It Up’ she combined a vision she had of the star in a dream with a visit she made to his grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
As she told Complete: “I had this dream. I came in on a clearing. There were natives in a circle bending and gesturing. I saw a man stretched across a marble slab. Jim Morrison. He was alive with wings that merged with the marble. Like Prometheus, he struggled, but freedom was beyond him. I stood over him chanting, break it up break it up break it up… The stone dissolved and he moved away. I brushed the feathers from my hair, adjusted my pillow, and returned to sleep.”
The resultant masterpiece is one that help to reinvigorate guitar music and add the sort of introspection to punk that Morrison would have been cock-a-hoop about.