Wednesday, January 22, 2014


"Come On Eileen" / Dexy's Midnight Runners

It was just this side of a novelty number. But why shouldn't an Irish rock song have the peculiar sound of Ireland? 

It's no accident that "Come On Eileen" lasted for 11 weeks as #1 on the Irish charts; it did pretty well this side of the ocean, too, aided considerably by MTV exposure. (Yes, children, there was a time when MTV was indispensable to music marketing.) I loved this song even before I saw the video, but the video sealed the deal -- a grainy black-and-white beauty directed by Julian Temple, with Dexy and Eileen wandering around gritty urban streets in sleeveless tanks and loose denim overalls.

But this was more than a novelty song. Just listen to all the clever musical surprises in the intro. That sappy Celtic folk fiddle opening ("Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms"!!) switches in a heartbeat to a chugging rock & roll jig that was yet somehow ska-flavored -- strange and wonderful. "C'mon Eye-leen!" Dexy yelps in the background, Irish pronunciation firmly to the fore.

In verse one, Dexy invokes the spirit of "Poor old Johnny Ray," whose music spoke to an earlier generation -- but how can modern kids relate to those elders, as he later describes them with their "beaten-down eyes / Sunk in smoke-dried faces, they're so resigned to what their fate is"? He needs a new untarnished sound, something for his generation, and thank god New Wave music had expanded the available vocabulary. That old "too-ra-loora-loora" sentimental Irish folk song is recycled for this edgy younger generation, Dexy and his mates working their way up a scale singing "Too-ra-loo-rye-ay," bursting into a wail of frustration at the top of the scale.

Naturally he's got an ulterior motive -- he wants Eileen to shrug off those old Catholic morals and sleep with him. ("At this moment / You mean everything," he pants in the chorus; "With you in that dress / My thoughts I confess / Verge on dirty.")  Well, he's a Catholic boy himself, and he clearly feels a frisson of sin, as his back-up mates chime in on the end of phrases, egging him on. Chorus after chorus, he fixates on that dress of hers -- red, as we later learn, the color of wickedness and temptation -- and all he can think of is getting her out of it. He's rejecting the old folks' morality just as he's rejecting their music -- oldest story in the book.

But, resourceful lad, he's pulling out every trick he can think of. Keys change, tempos change; the syncopated jig gives way to a march, and then it crashes to a halt for that bridge -- "Come on [beat] / Eileen, too-rah-ay!" begun as a lumbering chant, then accelerating, getting away from him, until it goes into absolute frenzy. "At this moment / You mean everything to me" he repeats, with more emphasis on the "moment" -- he knows it's all about today's desire. Who's to say how he'll feel tomorrow?

So where does Eileen stand in all this? She did, after all, choose to wear that red dress -- she must have known it would drive these nice Irish boys mad. I'm hoping Eileen is on the same page of desire as Dexy -- that would be changing the old story into something for modern Ireland.

I guess I wasn't surprised that we never heard of Dexy's Midnight Runners again -- what were the odds they'd catch this kind of lightning in a bottle twice?

13 DOWN, 39 TO GO


NickS said...

Nice choice, a classic "girls name" pop song, but one that I haven't thought about in ages.

NickS said...

I was just looking up the song to check the date, and I see that it was used quite well in Perks Of Being A Wallflower (which I haven't seen, but heard good things about).

Anonymous said...

Just caught your blog last night, and loved it, so I've been surfing through random articles.
Dexies imploded after this album - they'd already gone through a huge style change, from hard bitten Northern soul boys (search out their breakthrough hit Geno - a tribute to Geno Washington - or their version of Breaking Down The Walls of Heartache) to Celtic soul brothers, whatever that means, and another change of direction from front man Kevin Rowland was never going to go down well with the audience.