Dexy’s Midnight Runners Singles Ranked, 1-10

I really enjoy these deep dives into artists who didn’t necessarily connect big in the United States both because it gives me the chance to maybe expose their work to a few new people (I imagine I can count you on one hand) and because it gives me the chance to listen to some of my favorite songs for a couple of weeks. I hope to see more music from Kevin Rowland and whatever crew he happens to be working with. He’s a fascinating, frustrating figure of tremendous talent and artistry. If you’d like to learn more, check out this great Dexys’ fan site.

And now…

10. Show Me
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Non-album single, 1981

“Show Me” was Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s fourth top 40 hit in the UK – which makes “Come On Eileen” (#22) their fifth. I take the concept of “one-hit wonder” very seriously and while I admit they were technically a one-hit wonder in the US, their string of big hits in the UK prevent me from being willing to bestow that title upon them.

“Show Me” – produced by legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie’s frequent collaborator) – featured Rowland, Big Jim Patterson and an otherwise entirely new line-up of Dexys including “Billy” Adams on banjo and guitar, Seb Shelton on drums, Mickey Billingham on keyboards, Brian Maurice on alto sax, Paul Speare on tenor sax and Steve Wynne on bass. This line-up (minus Wynne who was replaced by Mick Gallick aka Giorgio Kilkenny and plus Helen Bevington on violin) went on to record Too-Rye-Ay. They’re running on all cylinders as of this track – the brass in particular is in fine form and the “Show me love” backing vocals are one of Rowland’s greatest hooks. This was a transitional period for Dexy’s Midnight Runners but a fine promise of things to come.

9. Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Third single from Too-Rye-Ay, 1982
Cover of a song by Van Morrison

Dexy’s Midnight Runners version of this song should at least be familiar to US fans of the UK TV show The Young Ones. Too-Rye-Ay was heavily influenced by Van Morrison so it was fitting that they recorded this rousing cover of one of his best-loved tracks. I love Van Morrison and not just because he recorded the finest song on the subject of ringworm ever set to tape. Rowland’s first huge hit with Dexys was, of course, a song about soul singer Geno Washington (#16) and his other number one hit would open with a refrain about listening to Johnny Ray on the radio so it makes perfect sense that he’d be attracted to a song about another classic soul singer.

8. Dance Stance
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Non-album single, 1979

Dexy’s Midnight Runners were sort of discovered by Clash Svengali Bernie Rhodes who produced their first take on this song. Rowland was profoundly unhappy with his production work (as the remaining members of The Clash would be with Rhodes’ production work on their final album, Cut The Crap) and he was sacked shortly after the single was released. Hitting #40 on the top 40 is nothing to sneeze at – plenty of artists never have even a minor hit single – but the band didn’t think he captured their sound. “Dance Stance” was re-recorded (and vastly improved) for Searching for the Young Soul Rebels as “Burn It Down.” That said, the debut single of Dexy’s Midnight Runners is still really good and I’m going to be a fan of any song whose chorus consists of a list of great Irish playwrights. But click on “Burn It Down” and listen to how it should have always sounded.

7. The Celtic Soul Brothers
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

First Single from Too-Rye-Ay, 1982

After the rest of the band cut ties with Rowland, he and remaining Runner Big Jim Patterson called themselves the Celtic Soul Brothers. Rowland, you see, was Irish and Paterson was Scottish. Shortly after “Come on Eileen” was a hit, I recall a local station doing this “which song should we play” contest where they shared two new singles by artists who’d just been in the Top 40 to see which song they’d play a bunch that week. I feel like they put “The Celtic Soul Brothers” up against like “1999” by Prince or some other juggernaut of a song, so no chance. Plus, the backlash against “Come On Eileen” was already, uh, backlashing. I note that this song has been hypothesized to have inspired Roddy Doyle’s novel (later, movie) The Commitments. I liked this song better than “Come On Eileen” from the first moment I heard it – I love the violin hook, the “Oooooo just want to thank you” backing vocals and Rowland’s slide in and out of falsetto.

6. Carrickfergus
Artist: Dexys

Video from Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, 2016

“Carrickfergus” is a lovely traditional Irish folk song – this is the earliest recorded version of it, a 1965 version titled “The Kerry Boatman” by Dominic Behan. Rowland was 63 when Dexys recorded this song and something about his life experience combined with the power of his voice makes this song absolutely heartbreaking. Even though it’s a cover, it feels like a sort of spiritual sequel to Rowland’s own composition “Nowhere Is Home.” (#18) Without a doubt, the saddest song on this list. When Rowland sings “But I’m drunk today and I’m rarely sober,” you can hear an entire lifetime of loss.

5. Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

France-only single from Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980

I’m so grateful this frenetic falsetto number was released as a single in France because its one of my favorite tunes off of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (take a moment to check out “Tell Me When The Light Turns Green” too). If you’re the sort of person who is always looking for an excuse to sing “oo oo ah ah,” (I know I am) then this is the song you’ve been waiting for all your life. I’m not sure what he’s on about in the lyrics, but that’s ok because I can never understand them anyways. I can’t track down a live performance of the song, which is a shame because it sounds like the kind of song that would make Kevin Rowland smile to sing and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with a smile on his face.

4. She Got A Wiggle
Artist: Dexys

First single from One Day I’m Going To Soar, 2012

“She’s Got A Wiggle” is a smoldering song about unrequited love. Its one of Rowland’s most traditional lyrics – there’s basically a woman he loves and in his dreams, she is mad about him too. He acknowledges it’s a dream and that he’s too afraid to say anything. The lyric ends exactly where these songs usually end – with a statement that he has to find a way to make her want to love him. Some of Rowland’s finest songs are confessional, some are tributes, and some are conversations. This one is proof that if he wants, he and his collaborators can sit down and craft a crazy good traditional pop song.

3. One of Those Things
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Promo Single from Don’t Stand Me Down, 1985

Don’t Stand Me Down was both Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ finest moment and their downfall. The album completely flopped upon initial release but has since gone on to be considered by many as their finest record and one of the finest albums of the 80’s. Even for a band whose style (both musical and fashion) and changed a couple of times already, this record was a bridge too far. Rowland refused to tour to support it or to release a single (until it was too late), the record company didn’t promote it, and latest Dexy Midnight Runner’s saxophonist Nick Gatfield went right back out the brass revolving door after the album was recorded. Of the seven songs on the album four were 6-12 minutes long. Many of the songs consist of dialogue between Rowland and guitarist Billy Adams interspersed with sung lines, including “One of Those Things,” which was a promotional single. The lyrics are a sly comment on how popular music and popular political thought can often all sound the same. You know what he means? Rowland doesn’t make it absolutely clear, but that’s kind of the point of some of the lyrics on this record – sometimes, musicians don’t communicate literally or communicate through inference instead of through directly saying something. I hear the slightest touch of Warren Zevon in this song, but maybe that’s just me.

2. There There My Dear
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Second Single from Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980

“There There My Dear” is a classic English “take down a poseur” song. Its addressed to a man named Robin who might be a real person or might be a metaphor for the music scene. I thought for a time it might be Adam Ant who apparently references Rowland with unironic praise on his song “Goody Two Shoes.” It is not about Adam Ant. Indeed, “Goody Two Shoes” might not be about Rowland because Ant may be an unreliable narrator. Whatever, the two eventually co-wrote Ant’s song “If You Keep On.”

Anyhow, the thing about this song is that it moves, man. When Kevin Rowland isn’t rolling his “R’s” or attacking the chorus with a devilish glee, he is squawking, taunting and mocking with every sound he makes. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to know that somebody is being taken apart. Rowland, as I’ve noted, is extremely sincere in his approach to songwriting – most of his best songs are about himself, his insecurities and his life. It only makes sense that he’d record a – well – basically a manifesto about the importance of being earnest (I have heard about Oscar Wilde). The whole band sounds great – sharp, tight and rocking. The song is an absolute, undiluted, vituperative joy.

1. This Is What She’s Like
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

First Single from Don’t Stand Me Down, 1985

Spoiler: you never learn what she’s like, only what she’s not like.

The single is great, but I’ve linked the 12 minute album version of “This is What She’s Like” because you deserve it. Rowland is in love with a woman of whom he has very positive thoughts. Guitarist Billy Adams tries to get him to explain what she’s like. Rowland keeps answering by describing people he hates and saying she’s nothing like them. Trying to describe what a person whom you love is like is potentially absurd – you resort to poetry or a laundry list or an inventory of physical parts (or a wiggle). Rowland tries to get his point across but its unlikely that he succeeds. At one point, he asks if he can express himself and, in a series of enthusiastic “la la,” comes perhaps closest to capturing what she’s like. In my opinion (and, after all, that is what this whole blog is about) it is the finest song on Dexy’s Midnight Runners finest album. A sometimes catchy, sometimes baffling tour de force of music, conversation and signaling through the flames a la Artaud. In all these words I’ve written about Dexys the band and Rowland the man, I’ve done less to capture what they’re like than Rowland does in twenty seconds of emoting on this track. Check it out.

Coming Soon: Throwing Muses

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

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