Dexy’s Midnight Runners Singles Ranked, 11-20

Since I’ve already written about “Come On Eileen,” (#22) you now get to enjoy twenty even better songs by Kevin Rowland with and without his classic band.

20. Plan B
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Non-album single, 1981

While “Plan B” did not quite make the UK Top 40, it is a great and catchy example of Dexy Midnight Runner’s initial Northern Soul sound featuring a great brass section – Big Jim Patterson on trombone, Brian Maurice on altos sax and Paul Speare on tenor sax. Patterson’s trombone in particular dominated the sound of their early songs but Speare and Maurice were replacements for original sax players Geoffrey “Jeff” Blythe and Steve “Babyface” Spooner. Working with Rowland was a pretty demanding affair. He demanded 8 hours of rehearsal a day (he figured that’s how much he’d be working at a standard job), a strict exercise routine, and no drugs or booze. On the one hand, this made the band pretty tight. On the other hand, they were so poor they had to jump the turnstile to the Underground to get to their gigs. Patterson was Rowland’s frequent songwriting collaborator and many of his songs (including this one in a somewhat lesser reworked form) were including on Too-Rye-Ay even as he was exiting the band. I love singing along with the “stop stop stop” backing vocals (assuming that’s what they’re shouting). Rowland’s lyrics often take the form of dialogue or speeches aimed at somebody – in this case, he’s giving a “you can lean on me” pep talk to a friend.

Several of Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s non-album singles (including this one) were released together with some live tracks on an excellent album called The Projected Passion Revue. Highly recommended, especially for the killer live performances.

19. Both Sides Now
Artist: Dexys

Video from Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, 2016
Cover of a song by Joni Mitchell

Rowland was 63 when he released his lovely cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” on the terrific Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul. The album is entirely covers of songs that loosely fall under the “Irish and Country Soul” tag, though I’m not 100% sure how Joni Mitchell’s work qualifies for that label. It really doesn’t matter because the song fits in perfectly on the album. When Mitchell wrote this song she was 24 – she was 26 when she recorded the definitive version of the song (the one that is used in Love Actually – I like it quite a bit more than the comparably lightweight Judy Collins version). There’s something moving to me about hearing a person whose gone through all that Rowland has – the success, the subsequent addiction and homelessness, the return to the stage, the failed romances, etc – singing these lyrics. Rowland fixates on the “I don’t know life” line at the end and you can tell from his delivery that, yes, it’s true. He doesn’t know life. At all. You’ll note that Rowland doesn’t employ that General Nelson inspired sob-singing so much on his 21st century songs. His voice is strong and emotive enough that he doesn’t need stylization to get his point across.

18. Nowhere Is Home
Artist: Dexys

Limited Edition Single from One Day I’m Going to Soar, 2012

Another 21st century Dexys song. The word “Dexys” refers to the drug Dexedrine which, allegedly, Northern soul fans took so they could dance all night long. He shortened the name to let fans know “yes, we’re the same people, but we’re not quite the same band.” Rowland’s songs often have an autobiographical bent. The title of this song is he basic thesis of the lyrics which start as a simple statement of alienation but end as a proud cry of defiance. Rowland might not have a home and is definitely not how you might stereotype him, but he’s ultimately all right with that – he’s going to be himself.

17. Manhood
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Promotional Single from Let’s Make This Precious: The Best of Dexys Midnight Runners, 2003

When Rowland reformed Dexys in 2003, he brought in a rather strong line-up that included the original Dexy’s Midnight Runners Pete Williams as co-vocalist, Style Council’s Mick Talbot on keyboards, Lucy J. Morgan on violin, veteran rocker Neil Hubbard on guitar and Paul Taylor on Trombone. They recorded this track and “My Life In England” (#26) – “Manhood” makes a slight vocal reference to that other track when Rowland sings “My Life” with the same “ay ay ay” melisma. “Manhood” is an upbeat, introspective song that is to some extent about toxic masculinity (before we called it that) – Rowland struggles trying to live up to what’s expected of him as a man (and there is, perhaps, a sly reference to his cross-dressing period in the chorus) and its led him to be frightened, loveless and alone. Spirituality seems to be his only recourse, but it doesn’t seem like something he can take seriously (he and he band shout “Big G” after that revelation). While the song is a bit more standard pop than most of Rowland’s work, it’s really well written pop.

16. Geno
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

First Single from Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980

“Geno” – a song about Geno Washington – was Dexy’s Midnight Runners second single overall and their first UK number 1 single (the other being, of course, “Come on Eileen”). It’s really a killer song – I particularly love the horns and tempo-shifts. This song is a sort of fan letter from Rowland to the great Northern soul singer. The lyrics describe what it was like for teenage Rowland to see him in concert in 1968 and then go on to describe how Rowland was inspired to become the singer he is now. You know, we have no control at all over who we inspire or how we inspire them. The parent album of this single – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – is one of the great albums of the 80’s and very worth seeking out.

15. Walk Away
Artist: Kevin Rowland

Third Single from The Wanderer, 1988

This is the final solo single by Rowland that I’ll be writing about here and its a great one. It’s really a great pop single and I can only assume a combination of poor record label support and perhaps oversaturation of “Come On Eileen” made it hard for his records to get airplay. I think of all of his solo singles from The Wanderer, this sounds the most like it could have been a huge hit. At least you get to hear it now.

14. Curragh of Kildare
Artist: Dexys

Video from Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, 2016
Cover of traditional folk song

The Curragh is a ” flat open plain of almost 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of common land in County Kildare, Ireland.” Thank you, Wikipedia! “Curragh of Kildare” is a traditional folk song that has both Irish and Scottish roots. Originally, it was about a woman lamenting the loss of her bandit-lover, but more contemporary versions are about a man seeking tidings of his lady-love. Rowland’s take on the song includes a great sequence where vocalist Mary Pearce really cuts loose and he, in his typical fashion (as you’ll see on several other songs) turns it into a conversation and eventually a duet (this is really especially effective in the video). Its kind of a classic Dexys moment that both pays tribute to the song and ties it inexorably to Rowland’s experience of the song.

13. Let’s Get This Straight (From the Start)
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Non-album single, 1982

The success of Too-Rye-Ay knocked Rowland and the band for a loop – according to Rowland, it sent him into “self-destruct mode.” By the time they wrote and recorded “Let’s Get This Straight From The Start,” their first post-Too-Rye-Ay single, the band was reduced to Rowland, violinist Helen O’Hara and guitarist/banjo player Kevin “Billy” Adams. The track sounds like a natural extension of the work they’d done on the prior album (indeed, my version of the track is from an “extended release” of Too-Rye-Ay and it sounds right at home). I really love the sighed-echos of “heart” on the choruses and the violin work. The song was a top 20 hit in England but I don’t recall ever hearing it at all in the US. “Come on Eileen” had received some airplay on our local college station, WXCI, but after it became a huge hit the band pretty much vanished from alternative/college radio. Too big for college radio, too weird (or maybe too overplayed) for the US mainstream.

12. Keep It Part 2 (Inferiority Part 1)
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Non-album single, 1980

“Keep It Part 2 (Inferiority Part 1)” is a great song that flopped and destroyed the first incarnation of the band. Basically, bass player Pete Williams, saxophone player Geoffrey “Jeff” Blythe, alto sax player Steve “Babyface” Spooner, organist Pete Saunders and drummer Andy “Stoker” Growcott had had it with Rowland. Their debut album had been a big hit and the group was becoming pretty famous, so he must have really been driving them crazy. Apparently this single was the last straw. Kevin “Al” Archer and Big Jim Patterson both stuck around a bit longer (though the band was soon reduced to just Patterson and Rowland). Al Archer, it should be noted, co-founded the band with Rowland and co-wrote many of the songs, including this one. The history of this song is a little more complicated than that. On Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, you can hear the first released version of “Keep It.” Album producer Pete Wingfield rejected Rowland’s lyrics for the song (they were used in a different song called “Love Part One”) and substituted his own. Rowland insisted on rerecording the song with new lyrics and releasing it as a single. His vocal on this one is probably his most histrionic, but that’s part of the charm and the horn work is fantastic. Not sure it was worth wrecking the band over, but Rowland follows his own muse.

11. Incapable Of Love
Artist: Dexys

Video from One Day I’m Going To Soar, 2012

This song is not safe for work – eventually Madeleine Hyland puts Rowland in his place with some choice strong language – but you’ll be glad you listened to it. The video is good fun, too. The 21st century incarnation of Dexys has been a pure joy so far. “Incapable of Love” is another introspective song where Rowland explores his titular issue with love – in some ways it has some roots in the earlier “Manhood.” What makes this song especially effective is that it combines Rowland’s penchant for self-reflection with his love of musical dialogue – in this case with the aforementioned Hyland. At first, it seems like she’s just going to be the powerful voice of the swinging chorus but it soon becomes clear that she was the last person he was involved with and knows very well what a relationship with Rowland is like. He is unflinching with the self-criticism – he demonstrates it through his words, through hers and through his poor behavior trying to patch the relationship back together in the dialogue. Even with different lyrics, the song (by Rowland, Big Jim Patterson and Mick Talbot) would be great fun. It was the first song I really dug off of the 2012 One Day I’m Going To Soar album and is still a favorite.

Coming Soon: My choice for number 1 never came close to number 1.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners Singles – 21-2911-201-10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.