Earlier I saw, somewhere online, a note that the song “Come On Eileen”, by Dexys Midnight Runners, was released 40 years ago this week. That’s…wow, that’s really something. I honestly don’t recall when I first heard the song, as I didn’t really start paying attention to pop music until several years after that, and even at that point I wasn’t much of a radio listener: albums and MTV were my avenue towards music, and even at that point, while MTV was still showing music videos, the older stuff–songs that had been off the charts for a while–were simply gone from their rotations, only popping up on “retro” days like MTV’s anniversary and that sort of thing.
“Come On Eileen” is often cited as a “one hit wonder” phenomenon, which like in many cases is only true if you consider US success. The band had more success in the UK, and stuck around for a little while; they produced enough albums and had enough body of work to produce a Greatest Hits album. I remember seeing that CD in the bins at Media Play once, in the early 90s, and it struck me as weird that they had a Greatest HitS album, which is when I learned that you can be a very successful band and not be big in the US. (See also: a-ha.)
As for “Come On Eileen” itself, it’s a strange kind of song, to be sure! It starts with a brief violin solo before the beat kicks in, and then the lyrics kick in. Singer Kevin Rowland sings with a lovely British baritone in a way that combines infectious exuberance with unintelligibility. I mean, really: I defy anyone to understand the words to this song the first time through. It’s one of those classic songs that makes me thankful for living in an era when I can Google the words. And then there’s the way the song blends several different styles in one, starting with a kind of retro folk-rock before breaking into the chorus, which is markedly different stylistically; it has an entirely different beat and nothing in the verses tells us anything about the Eileen of the title. I mean, we have the singer referring to Johnnie Ray and how popular he was, but now we’re hearing about Eileen and how she makes the singer all horny and stuff. This should not work, and yet, as both sections are cheery and upbeat, somehow this stuck-together-with-scotch-tape song works.
And then there’s the song’s video, which does the same thing! A black-and-white section at the beginning, set in the 50s–using footage of singer Johnnie Ray disembarking a plane while fans go crazy–contrasts with our mid-section, in which the band is performing on some London streetcorner. It’s all really weird, and honestly, this song and video shouldn’t really work, except for the fact that the constituent parts within work perfectly–so perfectly that the song has endured for forty years.
Of course, anyone familiar with the video will see a particular significance to me. I don’t know why this is the Official 80s Anthem Of Overalls; lots of bands can be seen rocking overalls in their videos from the era! And yet–maybe it’s because this is the only Dexys Midnight Runners song to endure in American consciousness–this is the one. Mention it and someone will usually say something like “Hey, that’s the band in the too-big overalls!” And yes, it is. I’ll be honest here: from the way they’re styled in this video, “Come On Eileen” does not exactly make the best case for overalls as a sartorial choice.
But anyway, I will admit to liking “Come On Eileen” a great deal. If we who rock overalls have to have an 80s New Wave rock anthem, we could do a lot worse!
See the official video here. (The video is not able to be embedded.) Meanwhile, you can listen to the song right here!
Damn…forty years of “Come On Eileen”. That’s wild!