Where To Start With... Dexys
We've all done it. It might have been at the school disco, or at a wedding, or at that new year's party you wish you'd avoided. For some of you, it might be a source of embarrassment that you'd rather forget. For others, it might have been the highlight of your evening. But wherever it was and however you felt about it the next morning, you did it. You danced to 'Come on Eileen', and you enjoyed it.
For a lot of people, that's pretty much the beginning and end of their relationship with Dexys Midnight Runners, which is strange really, for a couple of reasons. The first of these is that 'Come on Eileen' is nearly impossible to dance to – leaving aside the numerous tempo changes for a moment, it isn't the world's funkiest tune - so quite how it has ended up as the floor-filler of last resort for DJs everywhere is puzzling, to say the least. The other reason though is that this was one of the most singular, unique bands to emerge in the early 1980s, and with nine Top 40 hits to their name it's not as if they were one-hit wonders.
Formed at the tail end of the 1970s, Dexys have been through numerous line-ups, break-ups and reformations over the years, but the one constant is the band's mercurial frontman and creative mastermind, Kevin Rowland. Born in Wolverhampton to Irish parents, Rowland formed the first incarnation of the band with Jim Paterson against the backdrop of the emerging two-tone scene that dominated the musical landscape in the Midlands, but even though some of their first shows were on the same bill as the likes of The Specials and The Selecter, Dexys were never a ska band. Instead, Rowland and Paterson blended their love of Northern Soul with the music of their Irish & Scottish forebears, producing a sound occupying the middle ground somewhere in between Sam & Dave and The Pogues, but sounding like neither. While everyone around them was wearing suits and pork pie hats, Rowland was strutting about in dungarees and not much else.
For the band's many devoted fans, it was this desire to be different to everyone else that made them fall in love with Dexys Midnight Runners in the first place, but it is perhaps also part of the reason why they didn't achieve the kind of acclaim and commercial success as some of their peers; some people just didn't get Dexys. Sometimes, that sentiment extended to members of the band itself. Numerous fallouts between Rowland and the band's other members – as well as their label – led to several line-up changes and even an incident in which Rowland stole the master tapes containing the recordings for their first album. Despite all of this, the band still managed to release three albums before finally splitting in 1986.
It would be another 26 years before they reformed for their next studio album, dispensing with the 'midnight runners' part of their name and releasing 2012's One Day I'm Going To Soar under the newly abbreviated name of Dexys. Four years on and they're back with another new album, but as ever with Dexys, this is something completely different. Longtime member Jim Paterson has now departed, leaving Rowland as the sole original member present on Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish & Country Soul, but this isn't an album of new songs. Instead, what we have here is a Dexys take on a mixture of traditional Irish folk songs and covers by the likes of The Dubliners, Joni Mitchell and LeAnn Rimes.
Dexys fans will no doubt feel spoilt by the release of a second album in less than five years and those who can barely contain themselves will find the video for their version of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now' below, but for those who aren't as familiar with the rest of the band's back catalogue, beneath that we've picked five of the band's best tracks. You'll recognise more of them than you think...
The first single Dexys ever released arrived in 1979 and edged itself into the Top 40. Like their Midlands neighbours The Specials, there were loads of them onstage equipped with plenty of saxophones and brass, but theirs was a sound that was more Motown than Trenchtown and 'Dance Stance' marked them out as being very different from their peers, setting a trend that would continue for the rest of their career.
Next to 'Come on Eileen', this is probably the most famous song Dexys ever released, but it nearly didn't happen – the band's label, EMI, thought it was only good enough to be a B-side, but the band persisted and eventually the track was released in March 1980, whereupon it slowly climbed the charts and eventually scored the band their first Number One single in the UK. Written as a tribute to soul legend Geno Washington, it would be one of the band's biggest hits.
'The Celtic Soul Brothers'
A reference to Rowland and Paterson's Celtic roots (the latter being of Scottish heritage), this was the first single from the band's biggest-selling album Too-Rye-Ay and the new line up cut back on the brass and added in the strings that would become a huge part of their sound. Also, rumour has it this song was the inspiration behind Roddy Doyle's classic novel The Commitments.
'Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)'
Another of Dexys singles to be named after a soul singer, this was another hit for the band from Too-Rye-Ay, only this one had been written and released a decade earlier by Van Morrison. The Dexys version is perhaps just as famous for the band's performance of the song on Top Of The Pops, during which a picture of Scottish darts player Jocky Wilson was displayed on a huge screen behind the band. Most people though the show's producers had screwed up, but Rowland later admitted it was his idea and that he only did it “for a laugh.”
'Come on Eileen'
Go on, have a dance. Nobody's looking, we won't tell anyone...