Whether you believe what the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud said of dreams (that they’re you’re subconscious at work) or whether you brush them off as meaningless, dreams and dreaming is one of life’s big mysteries.
No surprise then that the topic of dreams and nightmares crops up a lot in songs. Of course, many songs aren’t about the dreams we have while asleep, but the longings and wishes (‘achieving dreams’) we have for something while we’re awake.
So here’s our list of the best songs about dreams and dreaming ever recorded. Enjoy.
Table of Contents
- ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison
- ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ by Kate Bush
- ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ by The Beatles
- ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ by The Smiths
- ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac
- ‘After the Gold Rush’ by Neil Young
- ‘Daysleeper’ by R.E.M.
- ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ by Crowded House
- ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ by Coldplay
- ‘#9 Dream’ by John Lennon
- ‘Daydreaming’ by Radiohead
- ‘Only In Dreams’ by Weezer
- ’40 Day Dream’ by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
- ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ by Bob Dylan
- ‘Flying Dream 143’ by Elbow
- ‘Fever Dream’ by Iron and Wine
- ‘I Will Dream’ by Emmylou Harris
- ‘Sleepwalkin’’ by Modest Mouse
- ‘I Could Be Dreaming’ by Belle & Sebastian
- ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ by The Everly Brothers
- ‘Dream Operator’ by Talking Heads
- ‘Just a Dream’ by Carrie Underwood
- ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith
- ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift
- ‘Dream’ by Imagine Dragons
‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison
Have you ever woken from a dream wishing it was true? I have lots of times, and it’s the worst feeling ever!
Well, Roy Orbison did too and wrote one of the best dream songs, period.
‘In Dreams’ is about reuniting with a loved one. In his dream, he walks and talks, and his girl is his “all the time.” But alas, just before the dawn, he awakes, and she’s gone.
It’s a song about missing someone, where the only place you can find them is when you dream. It’s a gorgeous song and a real heartbreaker too.
‘And Dream Of Sheep’ by Kate Bush
Ever really needed to sleep but can’t? A touch of insomnia, perhaps? Or how about floating aimlessly at sea, needing to sleep? It sounds crazy, but that’s the subject of this song.
There is a seven-track concept piece called ‘The Ninth Wave’ on side two of Kate Bush’s 1995 masterpiece, Hounds Of Love. The first part is ‘And Dream Of Sheep’, and yes, it deals with the terrifying situation of being alone at sea, floating, with no one to help you.
The protagonist wants to sleep ‘and dream of sheep’ to get away from the situation – she kids herself she’ll ‘wake up to any sound of engines’ – but falling asleep in water isn’t a great idea, even with a life jacket on.
She is brought to soberness by voices imploring her to stay awake: ‘You must wake up,’ ‘pay attention.’
Tomes have been written about just how good ‘The Ninth Wave’ is (I recall Bret Anderson of the band Suede, among others, waxing lyrical about it on a documentary about the album).
It’s a fantastic piece of work by an artist who was at the height of her creative powers. I recommend listening to it on a pair of decent headphones in the small hours of the morning for full effect.
‘I’m Only Sleeping’ by The Beatles
Here’s a song about sleeping or being in bed.
‘I’m Only Sleeping’ was John Lennon’s tribute to staying in bed from The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver.
This isn’t a song about laziness. Instead, it was Lennon’s commentary on the hectic pace of the world and his preference to stay in bed “keeping an eye on the world going by my window” and drift off into the land of nod.
His reluctance to go outside was possibly to avoid getting spotted by the public (by 1966, he was a demi-God and couldn’t go anywhere without getting noticed).
‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ by The Smiths
Morrissey is no stranger to staying in bed (check out his song ‘Spent the Day In Bed’ from his 2017 album Low in High School for a more recent appreciation).
In ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ (which appeared on The Smiths’ final album Strangeways Here We Come), we see Morrissey in classic Mozzer-mode, lamenting that nobody loves him.
Plenty of people love this song, including David Bowie, who said in a 1992 Q Magazine interview that it was his favorite Smiths song.
‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac
‘Dreams’ appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s classic album Rumours.
The band, which included two couples (Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, John and Christine McVie), were both going through a breakup during the sessions. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was also divorcing his wife, Jenny Boyd. Imagine trying to make a record in that environment!
Somehow, they did, and despite all the tension, they came up with some of their best material. Songs such as ‘Don’t Stop’ (ironically one of the best songs about hope and positivity ever made) and this one, ‘Dreams.’
Stevie Nicks wrote about Lindsay Buckingham about the end of a relationship, the end of a dream, perhaps.
‘After the Gold Rush’ by Neil Young
One of Young’s most unusual (yet, popular) songs, ‘After the Gold Rush,’ saw Young take to the piano. The only other instrument we hear is a bit of somber-sounding flugelhorn.
In it, we see Young, the environmentalist, singing about a dream (almost like a biblical vision) he’s had about the fate of the human race. We’ve ‘got mother nature on the run,’ and if we continue, we’ll have to take mother nature’s seed ‘to a new home in the sun.’
It was quite a departure from his earlier music and was meant to accompany a movie (featuring Dean Stockwell) that never saw the light of day. Nevertheless, the song went on to become a classic ‘moment’ in Young’s career.
‘Daysleeper’ by R.E.M.
Ever worked a night shift and seen what it does to your body clock? You turn into a nocturnal animal, like a bat, sleep all day and work all night.
It’s the lifestyle of rock and roll stars, security guards, or, in the case of this song, international share traders.
The band resonated with this nocturnal life. In the liner notes for their greatest hits compilation In Time, guitarist Peter Buck said, “After all the years we’ve been a band, the one thing I know we have in common is that we stay up all night and sleep in the day.”
‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ by Crowded House
“Don’t Dream Its Over” by New Zealand’s Crowded House is a catchy pop song, with a surprising number of Beatles’ pop trivia in the lyrics.
Even the title ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ appears to be a reference to the line in John Lennon’s song ‘God’ where Lennon announces the dream is over: “The dream is over, what can I say? The dream is over, Yesterday”
There are also some subtle Beatles’ references in the lyrics, intentional or not. ‘There is freedom within, there is freedom without’ …a nod to Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’?. “Catch the deluge in a paper cup” …a nod to Lennon’s ‘Across the Universe’?. “In the paper today”… a nod to “did you read the news today” from ‘A Day in the Life’?
Here Crowded House writer and singer Neil Finn is singing the contrary; it’s not over. The sentiment is, in the face of adversity, don’t give up. It’s not entirely obvious who ‘they’ are: the media, the government, mass consumerism, something else?
‘A Head Full of Dreams’ by Coldplay
From Coldplay’s more recent, ‘pop-laden’ period, characterized by disco / experimental grooves (versus their former, stripped-back indie sound).
‘A Head Full of Dreams’ is a positive powerhouse of a pop song with Inspirational lyrics. The words (and the album of the same name it comes from) are all – according to a Chris Martin interview in Rolling Stone – quite ‘hippy.’
They’re about imagined possibilities and realizing the fantastic world before your very eyes: “Oh, I think I’ve landed, in a world I hadn’t seen.” It’s definitely one of the best songs of their later period.
‘#9 Dream’ by John Lennon
Lennon had an obsession with the number 9 throughout his life, and the number cropped up in various songs, e.g., ‘Revolution 9’.
He was also prone to making up total gibberish lyrics with no meaning whatsoever (but that worked in the song’s context). One such example is in the reprise to this song: “Ah bowakawa, posse, posse.” I love it.
‘Daydreaming’ by Radiohead
Another form of dreaming less talked about is ‘daydreaming.’ Here, singer Thom Yorke lamented his split from Rachel Owen in this eerie piano ballad.
Yorke sings that because of his tendency to retreat to an inner world, the relationship has deteriorated beyond the point of no return, and it’s “too late, the damage is done” (a possible reference to Neil Young’s classic acoustic number ‘The Needle and The Damage Done.’ It’s well documented that Yorke is a massive Young fan).
In the outro, Yorke sings “half of my life,” a reference to the length of time he was in a relationship with Rachel Owen. Yorke was 46 when they split after 23 years of dating.
“Dreamers, they never learn, they never learn, beyond the point, of no return.”
‘Only In Dreams’ by Weezer
Weezer’s self-titled brilliant debut album features this as the 10th and final track.
It appears that the guy in the song wants to be with a girl. But, unfortunately, he can’t in real life, so he can only dream about her.
Or not. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo said most of their audience thought the song was about a girl. But, “I’m really singing about my artistic process,” he admits.
The track is most notable for its three-minute crescendo of the two guitars, bass, and drums, in which the dynamics gradually increase to a climaxing guitar solo at the end.
’40 Day Dream’ by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
Alex Ebert (a.k.a. Edward Sharpe) and the Magnetic Zeros (made up of 11 musicians) make a unique blend of acoustic music that’s a mix of… well, you just have to listen.
’40 Day Dream’ is their second most popular track (according to Spotify ratings – their first is the brilliant ‘Home’ that we included on our list of home songs).
With everything we’ve come to expect from this novel outfit, ’40 Day Dream’ brings gorgeous harmonies, punchy percussion, handclaps (of course), and an infectious chorus that takes you back to Southern California (specifically Laurel Canyon).
So what’s the meaning of ’40 Day Dream’? Well, 40 days have a biblical significance, of course (it rained for 40 days and 40 nights for the Almighty to wash the world and start afresh), but that doesn’t make it a religious song necessarily.
The “magical mystery” lyric is reminiscent of the Beatles in their psychedelic pomp (and the “doorknobs were her eyes used to be” sounds very Lennonesque).
Equally, this could just be the joy of falling in love after ‘being asleep’ (in ignorance) for so long.
‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is no stranger to the topic of dreams. Especially in his earlier recordings.
This one – ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ – from his 1963 landmark The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album is particularly good. The song talks about the passing of time.
Here we see the master storyteller at work. He starts: “while riding on a train goin’ west, I fell asleep for to take my rest. I dreamed a dream that made me sad, concerning myself and the first few friends I had”.
Dylan then reminisces about those innocent days of youth when he and his friends would be “jokin’ and talkin’ about the world outside.” Now those days are gone, and he wishes in vain that “he could sit simply in that room again.”
‘Flying Dream 143’ by Elbow
A short, peculiar dream song that is a funny dream writer Guy Garvey had.
The reference of ’15 stone’ is his own weight (‘stone’ is a unit of weight still used in the UK. 15 Stone is equivalent to 210 lbs or 95 kgs).
When you understand this, the line “And how all fifteen stone flew to you, I don’t know” takes on a whole new meaning. It’s a bit of comedic genius!
‘Fever Dream’ by Iron and Wine
Here we have a great song from Iron and Wine’s first album, Our Endless Numbered Days.
You can never 100% of the time understand what another person is thinking –especially when it’s another person you’re romantically involved with. You sense that frustration in this song.
The protagonist looks at his lover while she sleeps: “Sometimes I’d like just to ask her, what honest words, she can’t afford to say.”
Regardless of how close we come to the people we love, we can’t always say everything we want or understand everything they think. Kinda sucks!
‘I Will Dream’ by Emmylou Harris
From her album Stumble Into Grace, ‘I Will Dream’ is a song about unrequited love and one of those perfect country songs.
The protagonist loves a man whose ‘heart began to wander.’ But, she assures him that all those girls with their ‘sweet soft, warm caresses, cannot hold you like I do.’
She’s keeping a candle lit for this guy, but honestly, I think she’s better off ditching this scumbag and starting afresh! (check out our list of songs about starting over if you’re in this boat).
‘Sleepwalkin’’ by Modest Mouse
“Sleep Walk” is a cover of a ’50s song of the same name by brothers Santo and Johnny. It prominently features a steel guitar and was the last instrumental to hit number 1 in the 1950s.
Modest Mouse added lyrics and turned it into something completely different, which work perfectly against the dreamy ’50s chord progression (the guitar work is straight out of the Johnny Marr book of guitar riffs, no surprise he went on to join them).
The words are pure teenager-in-love-in-the-summertime. They’re about being infatuated with a girl, a feeling most of us guys will remember. There’s some gorgeous imagery, too: ‘raiding the liquor cabinet and going down to the riverbank.’
‘I Could Be Dreaming’ by Belle & Sebastian
The song is about courage and being willing to do things in real life that you dream of doing.
People picture themselves doing heroic things, but it’s not often that this happens due to fear or anxiety.
The song is saying that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.
It also includes the line “A family is like a loaded gun,” a comment on dysfunctional families sung about so often in many songs about family.
‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ by The Everly Brothers
Along with Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover’, this is one of the most famous songs about dreams, period.
This ’50s classic sold over a million copies and was performed on Ed Sullivan’s show in April of 1958. It was written by Boudleaux Bryant, one half of the hitmaking writing team that wrote “Bye, Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”
The Everly Brothers’ unique vocal harmony was supported by an interesting musical backing provided by the legendary guitarist Chet Atkins.
‘Dream Operator’ by Talking Heads
I can’t listen to this song without welling up.
It’s a profound song from David Bryne, with a ton of interpretations.
From the point of view of someone older (maybe nearing death), it seems to be reflecting (perhaps even talking to) their younger selves.
The older me is saying to the younger me: ‘you’re the dream operator’ because it was you (the younger me) that had the dream in the first place: ‘and this is your story.’
Whether it’s the younger or older you, the sentiment is clear: You are the sole operator of your personal dreams.
‘Just a Dream’ by Carrie Underwood
This sad country ballad tells the story of a bride arriving at Church on her wedding day, only to realize instead of getting married, she’s burying her soldier groom.
All she’s left with is “a folded up flag” thinking, “what could’ve been.”
‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith
Aerosmith’s first single, the ballad ‘Dream On’, was so good it stopped their record company Colombia dropping them. The lyrics are about striving to realize your dreams, with everything against you.
Steven Tyler sang in his ‘real’ voice, rather than the lower voice he adopted in later recordings (which he admits was to imitate black artists like James Brown). It’s almost unrecognizable.
The chord arrangement Tyler credits as coming from his Dad, a classically trained pianist. A young Tyler would lie under the piano and while his Papa played these chords.
‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift
The song begins with Taylor thinking of her partner and how he wants them to escape the high-profile lifestyle and spend time together.
But here, Taylor Swift is a realist. She’s done away with thoughts of small-town life (the American dream?).
She knows how the relationship will finish up and wants her partner to remember the moments they shared and keep her in his mind even after their relationship ends.
Taylor Swift’s narrator describes how they shared good memories, and he will be haunted by them when it’s over.
‘Dream’ by Imagine Dragons
A quick glance at the newspaper headlines shows that much of the world is in turmoil: wars, famine, climate change, inequality, the mindless pursuit of wealth (which we talk about in our post about money songs).
Dreaming about better times might be all we have left. So here, Las Vegas-based indie rockers Imagine Dragons sing, “I wanna dream, leave me to dream.”
For the record, I can’t entirely agree. We should strive to change the world for the better, not turn away (see our list of songs about social change for inspiration).