Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen

First hit #1: April 23, 1983

There’s a lot happening here, a song that sort of summarizes centuries of popular music in a compressed and slightly chaotic little ditty. We start with some traditional fiddle, segue into something that sounds vaguely reminiscent of The Hustle before launching into a tribute to Johnnie Ray, an influential musician from the ’50s, before then dropping that thread and suddenly launching into a catchy little chorus that’s more reminiscent of the new wave trends at the time. And then it just keeps firing off in all directions, a song that is everywhere all at once. It’s not quite coherent, sure, when you’re trying to cram somewhere north of 100 musical ideas in a song it doesn’t necessarily connect. But it is a rewarding adventure in pop mythology, as Dexy’s give a tour of all their influences, cataloging pop influences that go back to before the invention of recorded music.

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One Response to Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen

  1. Robert Berman says:

    At the height of New Wave, we get a smash single propelled by fiddle and banjo. This speaks well of the eclectism of the much-maligned listening public. The bassline shows the power of leaving a note out; imagine the verse with a more standard 4-in-the-measure bass. Plus some crazy key changes, and a breakdown with an accelerando, so what’s not to like? It’s nice to see a jug band hit the big time. Mumford and Sons wish the same for themselves one day. I remember feeling pensive at a party, and this song came on, and I couldn’t help but smile.

    The lyrics are a bigger conundrum, though. The song starts off like a typical “musical nostalgia” song, like The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” or Def Leppard’s “Rocket.” And the chorus is, quite literally, a come-on to a girl acquaintance now bloomed into a woman. “My thoughts, I confess, verge on dirty.” But what’s with the second verse? There’s some actual poetry here, underneath the yelping, ebullient vocal. “These people round here/ Wear beaten down eyes sunk/ In smoke dried faces…” Shades of Eleanor Rigby! Could Dylan do better? But these stark images of British poverty serve only as a juxtaposition to, “But not us! We are far too young and clever!” The brash adolescent is clueless that the beaten-down people were once cocky teens like himself. And then life happened.

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