Amy, aka E.M., has provided us with the theme for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday, and it is One Hit Wonders. The song I chose for this prompt is ‘Come On Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners. I featured it back in early 2020. Although the band had a subsequent hit song with Geno in the UK, Come on Eileen is the only hit the group had here in the USA.
Our regular host, Jim Adams, is on vacation for a couple of weeks and so Song Lyric Sunday is hosted by our friend and regular participant in SLS, Fandango, from the blog This, That and the Other.
Written by Dexys lead singer Kevin Rowland, trombone player Jim Paterson and guitarist Al Archer, this song was an enormous hit, going to #1 in America, the UK and Australia.While the song will fit nicely in an ’80s music time capsule, it sounded nothing like the other hits of the era. There are no synthesizers on the song, but there is banjo, accordion, fiddle and saxophone. In a Songfacts interview with Kevin Rowland, he explained how the song came together: “We wanted a good rhythm and we found one. Lots of records we liked had that rhythm: ‘Concrete and Clay,’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones. Lots of records we liked had that ‘Bomp ba bomp, bomp ba bomp.’ We felt it was a good rhythm. We came up with the chord sequence ourselves and just started singing melodies over it. I remember thinking, ‘We’re really onto something here.
I came up with that, ‘Too ra loo ra,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is sounding really good.’ You get a feeling when you’re writing a song. Something happens. And in the end it kind of finished itself.”
This song is based on a true story. Eileen was a girl that Kevin Rowland grew up with. Their relationship became romantic when the pair were 13, and according to Rowland, it turned sexual a year or two later.Rowland was raised Catholic and served as an altar boy in church. Sex was a taboo subject, and considered “dirty” – something that fascinated him. When he wrote this song, Rowland was expressing the feelings of that adolescent enjoying his first sexual relationship and dreaming of being free from the strictures of a buttoned-down society:
You in that dress
My thoughts I confess
Verge on dirty
The song describes the thin line between love and lust.
Dexys Midnight Runners had no American distribution for their first album, which did very well in the UK and contained a #1 hit called “Geno.” “Come On Eileen” was their first single issued in US, and was the only American hit for the band – “The Celtic Soul Brothers” was served up as a follow-up single, but petered out at #86. Much of the US success for “Eileen” can be attributed to its video, which got constant airplay on MTV and remains one of the most memorable and beloved clips of the era.Most videos at the time were slick productions featuring impossibly pretty people in unexpected locations, but Dexys’ video was delightfully different, with the overall-clad band acting out the love story on a gritty street. Kevin Rowland doing an earnest jig became a defining image of the early MTV era. When we asked him about shooting it, he told us: “It was one day. We started at 6 in the morning, we finished very late at night. It just kind of worked.”
When this hit #1 in the US, it knocked Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” off the top spot.
Dexys Midnight Runners released their first album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, in 1980. It contained the #1 UK hit “Geno” and earned the band lots of acclaim in their home country of England. For their second album Too-Rye-Ay, the group added fiddles and switched to more of an Irish folk sound. Kevin Rowland changed out every member except for Jim Paterson and also updated their image, going from a stylish, rustic Italian look to a ragged, unkempt appearance.This hillbilly theme was a great complement to their new sound and made for a striking visual. Rowland sold the look by appearing in patched-up denim offstage and insisting that it was not an act. When Smash Hits writer Dave Rimmer broached the subject in 1982, Rowland snapped: “I take deadly serious what I do. It’s very important to me to be an individual. I don’t care if people laugh. That’s what Dexys Midnight Runners is all about: showing your feelings and not giving a damn what other people think.”
Come on, Eileen Come on, Eileen Poor old Johnny Ray sounded sad upon the radio He moved a million hearts in mono Our mothers cried And sang along who'd blame them? You've grown, so grown Now I must say more than ever (Come on, Eileen) Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye Aye And we can sing just like our fathers Come on, Eileen, I swear (well he means) At this moment, you mean everything You in that dress, my thoughts I confess Verge on dirty Ah come on, Eileen These people round here, wear beaten down eyes Sunk in smoke dried faces, so resigned to what their fate is But not us, no not us, we are far too young and clever (Remember) Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye-Aye Eileen I'll hum this tune forever Come on, Eileen, I swear, well he means Ah come on, let's take off everything Pretty red dress Eileen (Tell him yes) Ah come on, let's ah come on, Eileen Pretty red dress Eileen (Tell him yes) Ah come on, let's, ah come on, Eileen, please Come on, Eileen taloo-rye-aye Come on, Eileen taloo-rye-aye (Now you have grown, now you have shown, oh, Eileen) Said come on, Eileen taloo-rye-aye You've grown So grown (Show, how you feel) Now I must say more than ever Things 'round here have changed I said too-ra-loo-ra-too-ra-loo-rye-aye Come on, Eileen, I swear (well he means) At this moment, you mean everything You in that dress, my thoughts I confess Verge on dirty Ah come on, Eileen Come on, Eileen, I swear (well he means) At this moment, you mean everything You in that dress, my thoughts I confess Well, they're dirty Come on, Eileen Come on, Eileen, well he means