Dexy’s Midnight Runners Singles Ranked, 21-29

Kevin Rowland, main creative force behind Dexy’s Midnight Runners (currently known as Dexys – official website here) is one of the premiere song writers of the last half century. He is a poet whose lyrics often take the form of personal conversations – sometimes with other singers, sometimes with the audience and sometimes with the songs he’s chosen to cover. He’s not shy about being direct and stinging with his observations (often about himself). More so than many of the other artists I’ve written about so far, it’s almost impossible to separate the singer from the song. I’ll try to provide context whenever I can.

Rowland has been the only permanent member of Dexy’s Midnight Runners/Dexys, so this list will attempt to cover his career with the band but will also cover his two solo albums. I’ve included all tracks I could determine that (with supporting evidence) were 45rpm singles, promotional singles, songs that charted or song released on promotional videos.

I really rather like every single song on this list so this process has been one of just putting them in the “which song do you like more than the last one” order – which is, after all, my primary guiding philosophy for ranking things. For a general overview, check out the About This Project page. Leave a comment if you have other questions!

29. Concrete and Clay
Artist: Kevin Rowland

(That’s a fan video – There’s a snippet of the original video here)

Single from My Beauty, 1999
Cover of a song by Unit 4+2

Unit 4+2 (so named because the band Unit 4 added two members) weren’t quite one hit wonders, but this song was big enough in the UK (it was a middling hit in the US) that it’s really mostly what they’re remembered for these days. However, they did have a second top 40 hit, so in my mind that disqualifies them from the one-hit wonder category. We’ll be addressing this concept while writing about Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Kevin Rowland took 11 years between his first solo album in 1988 and his second in 1999. This was a dark time in his life – he ended up going through rehab in the late 90’s and his My Beauty album consisted of covers of songs that helped him through this process. At the time, I remember seeing the album cover at Borders (Rowland is in a dress) and wondering if he was genuinely trans or if this was just a pose. I had no idea about anything else going on in his life. I am now of the belief that nothing that happens with Rowland is a pose – it might be planned, but it’s always where he is at that moment in his life. My Beauty was savaged at the time (and Rowland apparently said in 2003 that we “was nuts” at the time), but I think it’s a considerably better record than its reputation would suggest. Part of what makes it work, for me, is the recognition of how much these songs mean to Rowland. Even when they don’t quite click, there’s a real love there in his voice.

Anyhow, in context of the struggle he was going through in the 90’s, I completely understand why an upbeat folk rock song about eternal love from the 60’s would appeal to him. Rowland adds a “you are going to be all right” refrain to the end and its easy to imagine him singing this to himself during difficult times. My main issue with this song is that it’s the least musically interesting piece on this list. That’s not to say it’s not a perfectly catchy song, but Rowland hit much greater heights with all of his other singles.

28. Because of You
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Stand-alone Single from 1986

“Because of You” was Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s 9th and final top 40 UK hit – indeed, it was the last release before Rowland disbanded the band for the first time. It was used as the theme song for a sitcom titled Brush Strokes. It’s not a bad song, per se (though I find the “you love nature” refrain to be slightly tedious) but it suffers in context of Rowland’s broader career because it came out right after the brilliant (but commercially unsuccessful) Don’t Stand Me Down LP. Fabulous to know he could still pen a catchy pop single.

27. Young Man
Artist: Kevin Rowland

Second Single from The Wanderer, 1988

I’ve written about this at length regarding other bands, but how an artist responds to having an enormous hit can often determine their career path. Radiohead loathed their big hit (#21) and spent a chunk of their post-“Creep” career repelling themselves away from it. Rowland’s first enormous hit in the UK was “Geno” and the success of that, perhaps, is what pushed him away from horns and towards strings. “Come on Eileen” was a huge worldwide hit and it’s not much of a surprise that he reacted to that success by abandoning pop song structure on Don’t Stand Me Down. The lack of support he received from his label coupled with that album’s critical and commercial drubbing led Rowland to disband Dexy’s Midnight Runners and attempt a solo career. He’d been the driving creative force in the band so this make perfect sense.

His first solo album, The Wanderer, is a must-have for fans of his work. The song writing is sharp and if the musicianship isn’t quite up to the level of his early records, it’s always professional and never mediocre. “Young Man” is an open letter from Rowland to the titular young man (Rowland was all of 35 when the song was released) giving him the advice he wished somebody had given him (“Young man there’s no need to be the best at everything you do/but if you do that’s good too”). The lyrics are typically intelligent and the worst that can be said about the music is that Rowland’s vocal completely outshines it.

26. My Life In England (Part One)
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

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

Rowland reformed Dexy’s Midnight Runners (later shortening the name to Dexys) in 2003 and recorded two new songs for a greatest hits package. Both songs were released as promotional singles but the label declined to release them as commercial singles.

“My Life In England (Part One)” is a biographical song about (as you may have surmised) Rowland’s life in England. Rowland’s parents were from Ireland but gave birth to him in Wolverhampton, UK. Even though he grew up for the most part in England, Rowland never quite felt like he fit in (he addresses this on his later song “Nowhere is Home”) particularly after his family moved to Harrow when he was a lad. This song focuses on his life during this period. The song’s hook – Rowland sings “My life” like “My-ayyyyyyy-ay-ay-ay-ay” – is great (and he calls it back on his contemporaneous single, “Manhood”) and I really dig the piano work by the terrific Mick Talbot.

25. Liars a To E (A Side Dexys 7)
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Stand-Alone Single (later re-recorded for Too-Rye-Ay), 1981

Rowland is a restless artist. The version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners that recorded their debut album – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – released this terrific single in 1981. By the time of the release of their next album – Too-Rye-Ay – much of that band had split and Rowland recorded an – in my opinion – inferior version of the song. I appreciate that Kevin references himself in the lyrics (Rowland penned almost every good song that references our shared name). I’m really into the horn line-up of the first iteration of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and they’re typically excellent on the single.

24. Grazing in the Grass
Artist: Dexys

Promo Single from Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul, 2016
Cover of The Friends of Distinction’s version of a song originally performed by Hugh Masekela

Rowland renamed the band Dexys when he brought them back. Under that name, he’s released two excellent albums. The most recent album is the covers album Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul. As with My Beauty, its clear that Rowland has great love for all of these songs and the band sounds like they’re having a blast throughout.

The original version of “Grazing in the Grass” is a jazz instrumental by Hugh Masekela. The Friends of Distinction added lyrics for their very appealing 1969 version.

When I first started this project, I tried to avoid including cover versions in these lists, but I’ve come around on the idea. I think, for the most part, great bands reveal their voice through their choice of covers and how they play them. Rowland has always loved soul music (Northern and otherwise) and this song fits very nicely into Dexys catalog. It’s the most upbeat song on a generally melancholy album.

23. Seven Days Too Long
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Canada-only single from Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980
Cover of a song by Chuck Wood

Kevin Rowland modeled his early singing style after General Johnson of the Chairman of the Board. While he still employs this style sometimes, he’s often opted to sing in a more natural voice on his more recent albums. Either way, I find his singing to be powerful and appealing. On this cover of Northern Soul singer Chuck Wood’s song, Rowland’s sob-singing is particularly affected – but that works on a tune about missing your lover. He sounds wounded and desperate, which is kind of spot on perfect. This was the only cover on Dexy’s Midnight Runners brilliant debut album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.

22. Come On Eileen
Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Second Single from Too-Rye-Ay, 1982

So please understand, I like this song fine. I used to love this song. I’ve just heard it too. Damn. Much. I’m going to spend a lot of time here, though, because there’s a lot to grapple with here.

Are Dexy’s Midnight Runners truly a one-hit wonder band? Well, in the US, yes. In the UK, they had nine top ten hits. 1983 was a weird, weird time for music in the USA. If you check out the Top 100 songs for the year, “Come On Eileen” came in at #13. Its surrounded by a pretty huge variety of styles of songs (including the inexorable “Maniac” by Michael Sembello). There’s a sense that almost any style of song could have made it big that year, but let’s point out “Eileen,” “Electric Avenue” by Eddie Grant, a cover of “Putting on the Ritz” by Taco, “Sexy and Seventeen” by The Stray Cats and “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash as indicative of what a weird year it was. By the time we reached the late-80’s, hair metal and over produced schlock had started to dominate the charts, but in the early 80’s, you could be considerably quirkier and have US pop hits. Thank you, MTV! So, yes, US one-hit wonder even if they were a much more major band in the UK. Also, this song prevented Michael Jackson from having back to back number one hits with “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” which is kind of too bad and kind of cool at the same time.

“Come on Eileen” has become a standard (and sometimes a punchline) over the years. I think many listeners don’t recognize that the lyrics are considerably more complex than just a lad trying to convince a lass to sleep with him. It’s significant that each verse is tied to the singer’s parents’ generation – the opening verse about Johnny Ray and then the whole “these people round here” section. While the singer assures the object of his affection that they won’t end up like their parents, the “too-ra-loo-rye-ay” sequence coupled with the “you’ll hum this tune forever” line hints that they’re going to follow that same path (no matter how “young and clever” they might be). There’s also a layer of comment on Catholic oppression embedded in the song (which gives it something in common with Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young”). I feel like Save Ferris’ excellent (but perhaps ironic) cover of the song brushes over some of the depth but it’s so much fun that its hard to care that much.

Anyhow, having an enormous hit across the world is a great and terrible thing. Everyone wants you to play it all the time for a while and then it becomes sort of laughable as everyone gets sick of it. When I first heard “Come on Eileen,” it was an exhilarating burst of musical art and was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time. For a few months, it was a thrill following up the charts and seeing it hit number 1 felt like one of “my” songs had become an enormous success. And then it didn’t go away pretty much ever. As much as I’ve loved and hated the song over the years, I can’t imagine what it must be like for Rowland to have to be forever associated in some peoples minds with this one song – and for most of them to have so little understanding of what he was getting at with the song. Rowland has a rather strong opinion regarding what the success of “Come on Eileen” did to the band and his career.

An absolutely brilliant song that I don’t ever necessarily have to hear again.

21. Tonight
Artist: Kevin Rowland

(Remix version of that song – I can’t find the original)

First Single from The Wanderer, 1988

“Tonight” is another great tune from Rowland’s first solo album. The songs from this album vanished so deeply into obscurity that the lyrics don’t seem to exist online. You have let me down, Internet. If the songs on Don’t Stand Me Down were sprawling, epic anti-songs, the tracks on The Wanderer are all solid, intelligent pop songs. My read on the lyric (and I’m concerned that I’m hearing mondegreens so I want to be careful not to be too specific) is that the song is about a man going out looking for a sweet girl – not a rich girl. This is essentially a matter of authenticity, though he’s also careful to specify that he doesn’t need a rich girl because he has money of his own. I am reminded that there are a number of UK songs about unemployed men living with rich wives – a nice contrast with the US’ obsession with gold-diggers. Anyhow, Rowland wants somebody who is authentic and doesn’t need a woman just for her money. The real attraction of this song is the melody which is catchy as all get out.

Coming Soon: The other number one hit.

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

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