Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Come on Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners (1982)

There are a few songs released in 1982 that take me away to an unknown place whenever I hear them. It must be something about a child's development: I guess at age seven, a child learns to love music in a certain way that leaves an indelible stamp upon him.

Alternately it could just be that there were some kick-ass good songs released that year.

Kevin Rowland doesn't matter very much to the world. A bit self-important, really, he thought more of himself than the public-at-large did, with the result that he spent about three years at the top of his game and generations a laughing-stock.

This is, however, the top of his game. It's rare, really, that someone's best song is also their most commercially successful (in fact, in the USA, this song is pretty closely associated with the state of being a 'one-hit wonder'). Rowland's dream of integrating soul with Irish music might have been revolutionary if Van Morrison hadn't already been spending decades at it by this point, but here he gets the balance pretty good. Being 1982, somehow this song manages to sound synthesised despite being performed entirely on acoustic instruments, yet it pulls the listener along from start to finish through an amazing ride of increases and decreases in tension as well as tempo. A wonderful vocal melody shares the spotlight with those fiddles and accordion and whatever else, with a result that must have struck a 7-year-old Canadian as in many ways other-worldly while still seeming so perfectly right.

I didn't have the first clue what they lyrics were when I was seven - I just heard it as another part of the music that would occasionally call out the title before lapsing back into mere sound. Had I never read them online, I might not have known that they reference Johnnie Ray and seem to be largely about getting a girl out of her 'pretty red dress'. And frankly at 7, neither of those things would have meant much to me. It is interesting, though, that like so many touchstones from my youth that make me nostalgic to hear now, it is a nostalgia piece itself - going back to 1950s radio with 'our mothers' crying in it. Ultimately, the music is all 'retro' too. Yet that doesn't stop it from being a truly awesome piece of work - with much less 'soul' than most other Dexy's Midnight Runners songs, but somehow with all the more soul as a result.

And ultimate proof that it really doesn't matter who or what you are, how good or how pompous a musician you are: it's still possible to find that elusive thing and pin it down for three minutes or so, thus entering you a place in eternity's record books.
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