What’s in a name? Band names come from any number of different sources, from the obvious (“Van Halen” after two of its founding members) to the punny (“The Beatles”) to the downright baffling (“Flying Burrito Brothers”). In the case of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, it was exactly what the “rock is dangerous” crowd has always suspected: drugs. The band named themselves after the amphetamine drug dexadrine, and its ability to keep a user going all night. The band is best known for their second single, “Come on Eileen”, released in 1982.
The song is filled with lyrical and musical references to other songs. The opening lyrics refer to American singer Johnnie Ray, known for performing sad songs and theatrically crying on stage. The music includes a chorus that has a similar rhythm to “A Man Like Me” by Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, and two Irish folk songs are partly worked into the song as well — “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms” and most particularly “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral”, which forms the bridge to the chorus and also gives the album Too-Rye-Ay its name.
“Come On Eileen” was a major hit in both the U.S. and the U.K., hitting #1 in both locations. It would rank at #13 on the year-end Billboard chart for 1983. It would be their only hit in the United States, leading the song to be deemed a one-hit wonder; indeed, VH1 ranked it as one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time, at #3, and the greatest one-hit wonder of the 1980s. However, the label only truly applies in the United States; in their native United Kingdom, not only was the song not their only hit, it wasn’t even their first hit. The song “Geno”, off their debut album, also hit #1 in the U.K. Success after “Come on Eileen” was limited, with their follow-up album doing poorly (at least partly due to lead singer Kevin Rowland refusing to release a single), and the band breaking up. The band has recently reformed under the simplified name Dexys.
“Come on Eileen” is still their lasting legacy, particularly among fans of music from the 1980s. MTV named the video as one of the greatest of all time, at #205. VH1 listed the song as #18 on their list of the greatest songs of the 1980s. And it’s been used in the soundtrack of multiple movies, including last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, released thirty years after the single.
All in all, not a bad run.