Dexys Midnight Runners, a band named after doing lots of drugs and just going hog wild but with the philosophy of doing no drugs and working until they broke. Dexys have achieved a lot of things; the greatest group sing-along banger of all time (according to Millenials), the band with the most iterations, and the worst website in the history of band websites. There is no way that between the ages of 14 and 25 you didn’t listen to ‘Come On Eileen’ on loop or scream every word in a club with your friends.
But actually how legendary are the band? They have had 2 UK number ones – ‘Geno’ and ‘Come On Eileen’ – and with the only original remaining member being Kevin Rowland, Dexys is proof that if you push your band to its breaking point you can become remembered by the masses for a slightly dubious selection of hits.
Let’s take a deep dive into some of the finest that the Birmingham music scene can provide and ask the question:
Did Dexys Midnight Runners deserve to be
one two hit wonders?
Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
Dexys really like their horns. That’s the main takeaway from the band’s debut. You can tell that this album was created to be listened to as an album and not just its singles alone, with an atmospheric starter and instrumental songs splattered throughout. They’re fine, but I wish I could cut off some of the odd openings to get into the actual song, as listening to a section of talking whilst out on the go is quite inconvenient (you can find me here to tell me how “I don’t get it”). Certain songs such as ‘Tell Me When My Light Turns Green’ hint towards Dexy’s future in a way that is really enjoyable, removing the miserable energy that seems to haunt a lot of these tracks. Similarly, 7 Days Too Long has the same vivacious energy that Come On Eileen would soon have and a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place at a house party sung by a group of sixth formers. Other than the two standout tracks this album reeks of sadness and anger, sometimes in a soulful way but mostly in a way that’s hard to enjoy.
Too Rye Ay
Dexy’s has employed a violinist (and an entirely new lineup)! This album has a sort of Ska soul and is a whole lot less openly depressing than their debut. Too Rye Ay’s songs actually smoothly lead from one to another, something that their debut couldn’t quite achieve, making the album easier to listen to in one sitting. The album’s full of songs that seem musically and lyrically cohesive in a way that supports continuation, keeping you moving in a way that only the early 80s can. It’s hard to point out a song that is poor on this album, but there aren’t many standouts. Of course, ‘Come On Eileen’ is on this album and it is a great song – I don’t think I need to go in-depth about that because it is simply a fact that Come On Eileen is canonically great – but other than that the songs are all just… decent. This album might be Dexys most enjoyable album – even the last spoken track is more comforting than pretentious.
Don’t Stand Me Down
Something went wrong with the branding of this album (and according to Wikipedia something went wrong with the marketing too). The album cover is confusing and incongruent with the music to the point of almost being repelling. It is well known by this point that with each album Dexys change their branding and appearance (and entire lineup), but with the popularity of their cheeky, youthful and denim-clad characters from Too Rye Aye you would think they would try and continue to capitalise on that, right? With an average song length of 7 minutes, this album (EP?) leaves a lot to be desired. The two minutes of talking at the beginning of ‘This Is What She’s Like’ is excruciating- we all know that the twelve and eight-minute songs didn’t need to be that long. In fact, every song is too long. Dexys never seem to get started on Don’t Stand Me Down, consistently suggesting that they’re ramping up to something but never moving out of first gear. Finishing this seven-track album felt like it took an eternity. It’s fine, it’s music, but it’s background music for sure.
Live In Concert
It’s a live album, that’s for sure. I have listened to a lot of live albums for these features, but I have never experienced anything like this… “Experience” is definitely the word to describe this – I’ve never heard such a shockingly unhinged rendition of ‘Come On Eileen’ and I used to work at a club that did karaoke Sundays. The performance of ‘Geno’ is the most rabid rendition of any song I’ve ever listened to, leading to me listening to it on repeat, crying with laughter at the way it’s executed. Both Rowland and the rest of the band struggle to grasp basic musicality in a way that sounds like they’re being chased. Their garbled cover of ‘R.E.S.P.C.T.’ by Arethra Franklin cuts randomly in the middle of the most iconic part of the song as Rowland talks for a minute about being lonely and provides a mini literature analysis. This has broken into the top of my “most unhinged live albums” list. It’s going to be a challenge to find something that can match this loopy and deranged collection.
Live At The Royal Court
THEY HAVE TWO LIVE ALBUMS? I didn’t think they could release something worse than Live In Concert, but Geno comes in slow and soggy and struggles to drag itself through to the bridge. At least the notes are mostly hit in this edition, but it’s depressing. All the songs are slightly slower and have the essence of a band trying to appeal to the upper class, like someone forced Dexys to work in an office building for 30 years before releasing them on the world again. It’s nice and sounds okay, but it’s also extremely sad.
This is the point that Dexys Midnight Runners then renamed to the more simple “Dexys”, but due to the fact that they was barely their original from by this point I will be reviewing their next albums briefly.
One Day I’m Going To Soar
It’s not really anything like previous Dexys, but that doesn’t make it a quality piece of work. There’s the addition of a female voice, Siobhan Fahey, which is used in a confusing manner. It feels like lounge music with funk guitar but it’s hard to pin down as Rowland’s voice doesn’t quite suit the genre. You can’t expect people to relate or empathise to your sad/slow songs when it is very well publicised that you’re a dickhead.
Nowhere Is Home
Another live album. This time Dexys is attempting a swing/big band approach and they do yet another confusing cover of Geno. Come On Eileen is nowhere to be seen. Dexys is barely themselves anymore.
Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul
Let The Record Show could be appealing for a certain audience, but unfortunately, it’s one that they have never tried to entice. The songs on this album feel dated and boring – a lot of them sounding the same. Maybe it’s time to give Dexys a break and start a new band. Maybe call it xanax.
I have an underlying feeling that Dexys never really knew who they were. They have a Soul and Ska base with Rocksteady influences, sometimes including Celtic Folk or Rock influences and eventually moving into Jazz subgenres. I can’t help but feel that they spent a lot of their career grasping at as many ideas as they could but performing them poorly and making detrimental mistakes that lead to a string of commercial failures. There is a lot of information pointing towards Kevin Rowland refusing to advertise albums or release singles, and combined with his attitude that drove away an absurd amount of band members we can probably speculate where everything went wrong.
So, do they deserve to be one (2) hit wonders? Yes. Yes they do.
If you were wondering just how many lineup changes Dexy’s went through…. well here are all fifty-one band members
Kevin Rowland – lead vocals, bass, guitar, piano (1978–1987, 2003–present)
Lucy Morgan – violin, viola (2003–present)
Sean Read – keyboards, sax, guitar, vocals (2013–present)
Michael Timothy – keyboards (2013–present)
Andy Hobson – bass (2013–present)
Billy Stookes – drums (2016)
Mark Kavuma – trumpet (2016)
Kevin “Al” Archer – guitar, vocals (1978–1981)
Jim Paterson – trombone (1978–1982, 1985, 2005–2016)
Pete Williams – bass, vocals (1978–1980, 2003–2014)
Pete Saunders – keyboards (1978–1980)
John Jay – drums (1978–1979)
Terry De Sarge – drums (1979)
Steve Spooner – saxophone (1978–1980)
Geoff Blythe – saxophone (1978–1980)
Geoff Kent – trumpet (1978–1979)
Bobby Ward – drums (1979–1980)
Andy Leek – keyboards (1980)
Andy Growcott – drums (1980)
Mick Talbot – keyboards (1980, 2003–2013)
Kevin “Billy” Adams – guitar, banjo, vocals (1981–1987)
Mickey Billingham – keyboards, accordion (1981–1982)
Seb Shelton – drums (1981–1984)
Paul Speare – saxophone, flute (1981–1982)
Brian Maurice – saxophone (1981–1982)
Steve Wynne – bass (1981–1981)
Giorgio Kilkenny – bass (1981–1982)
Helen O’Hara – violin, vocals (1981–1987, 2016)
Steve Brennan – violin, accordion (1981–1984)
Roger MacDuff – violin (1981–1984)
John Edwards – bass (1982–1985)
Nick Gatfield – saxophone (1982–1985)
Spike Edney – trombone (1982–1984)
Robert Noble – organ (1982–1985)
Vincent Crane – piano (1985)
Tim Dancy – drums (1985)
Julian Litman – mandolin (1985)
Mick Bolton – piano (1985–1986)
Pol Coussee – saxophone (1985–1986)
Fayyaz Virji – trombone (1985–1986)
Penn Pennington – guitar (1985–1986)
Jerry Preston – bass (1985–1986)
Philip Blakeman – guitar, accordion (2003–2005)
Comedius Dave – horn, vibes (2003–2006)
Neil Hubbard – guitar (2003–2012)
Julian Crampton – bass (2003–2005)
Crispin Taylor – drums (2003–2005)
Volker Janssen – keyboards (2003–2005)
Paul Taylor – trombone (2003–2005)
Madeleine Hyland – vocals (2011–2014)
Tim Cansfield – guitar (2013–2014)
David Ruffy – drums (2013–2014)
Siobhan Fahey – vocals (2014)