This song is from the first act of the musical Les Miserables. It is sang by the character Fantine, in which she recalls the man whom she once loved, who abandoned Fantine and her daughter. In the original 1980 French production it was titled "J'avais rêvé d'une autre vie," which translates as "I dreamed of another life."
The song had a resurgence in popularity after a performance by the 48-year-old Scottish amateur singer Susan Boyle on the reality show Britain's Got Talent. When the mousy Scot first stepped onto the stage, the three judges including Simon Cowell looked noticeably unenthusiastic, but as soon she opened her mouth to sing it was clear that Boyle had a rare talent. The contrast between their first impression and the ovation she received afterwards triggered global interest. Within a week Boyle's performance had been viewed over 66 million times on YouTube, setting an online record. Boyle sang the song again in the show's final, in which she came second to dance troupe Diversity.
Prior to Susan Boyle's performance, this song had not charted in the UK. In the US the only Billboard appearance was a live version by Neil Diamond, which peaked at #13 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1987. After the interested generated by Boyle, Patti LuPone's version from the 1985 Original London Cast Recording entered both the Hot Digital Songs listing in the US and the UK singles chart. It was the musical star's first hit in the UK and also the first time any song from Les Miserables had charted in that country.
Amongst other singers who have performed this song are Aretha Franklin (including at Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural celebration), Elaine Paige and Hayley Westenra.
Susan Boyle's brother Gerry Boyle told Radaronline/com
that this is both his and her personal favorite track on the album. He explained: "I know it is corny but that is the song that really introduced her to the world and I think it is really well suited to her voice."
Before the world discovered her singing talents, Boyle lived an anonymous life in her small village in Scotland, caring for her aging mother and volunteering at Our Lady of Lourdes church. She always wanted to be a singer, but her music performances were confined to singing in church and karaoke at pubs in her village. Boyle has said that her mother had encouraged her to audition for Britain's Got Talent but it was only after her death in 2007 that she determined to seek a musical career in honor of her mother. Boyle explained in publicity materials that this song echoes her dream of becoming a singer.
She said: "It's about a mother living in hard times. Very similar to my dream on a more personal level, of my 'life gone by' with mum who dies at the age of 91 and whose dream it was that I should 'do something' with my life. Mum this is for you."
The Dreamed a Dream album debuted at #1 on the UK album chart. With over 410,000 copies sold, it achieved the largest first-week sales for a debut album in the UK. It also achieved the fourth biggest first week sales for any artist's album, behind Oasis' Be Here Now, Coldplay's X&Y and The Circus by Take That.
In the United States, it was the largest pre-order in Amazon Music's history and in its first week of release it not only claimed the biggest debut of 2009 but also earned Boyle the highest debut ever for a female solo artist on the Billboard 200 since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991.
The surprising rendition by Boyle of this song on Britain's Got Talent was the most popular video of 2009 on YouTube. The Scottish singer's performance on the show was watched by more than 120 million viewers worldwide in 2009, which was more views than the next three most-watched videos of the year combined.
I Dreamed a Dream was the top-selling album of 2009 in the UK, which was a remarkable feat considering it wasn't released until November 23, 2009, and only had six weeks to overtake the runner-up, Lady Gaga's The Fame. In the US it was the second best seller of the year behind Taylor Swift's Fearless.
In Australia I Dreamed a Dream sold 164,000 copies during Christmas week, the highest single week sales for any album since ARIA began keeping electronically scanned sales data in 1997. Boyle also became the first artist to sell more than 100,000 copies in Australia of an album in two consecutive weeks.
Boyle was 48 when I Dreamed a Dream went to the top spot, making her the oldest person to reach #1 with a debut album in the UK. It broke the record set by then 35-year-old Jane McDonald in 1998.