Perfect Pop Singles Vol.10: Come on Eileen

Dungarees by OshKosh B'Gosh

Dungarees by OshKosh B'Gosh

Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen (1982, Mercury Records)

Why It’s Perfect: In the great history of pop songs pleading for pussy, and it is a great history, few can match the sheer delight that is Come on Eileen (and what a loaded title…). This track conforms to how I imagine your average Irishman picks up a tourist:

1. He opens by playing on the womanly wooziness which is the usual result of exposure to his adorable accent, here represented by that irresistibly Celtic fiddling (though the actual fiddlin’ comes later in this narrative).
2. He behaves affably with a side of light hell-raising rakishness, which makes fucking him seem like it will be both an unmissably amusing experience and one which will prove a great way of sticking it to her father, who is probably of British ancestry and will therefore be horrified. In the song, this is represented by the goofy-grin banjo riff, “us against those boring squares” lyric and that redheaded accordion wheeze.
3. Finally, he begs for it (chorus).

Now, while most Irish blokes are at best probably about 50% successful, Come on Eileen is an absolute sure-shot. Maybe that’s because lead Runner Kevin Rowland is actually from Wolverhampton, but probably it’s because this group combine a Pogues-y feel for poppy Celtic folk with sublime melodic arrangements owing to the best ‘60s American soul. The Irish and American blacks, perhaps due to their turbulent histories, have spawned some of the most joyous and energetic musical forms of the 20th century, and the way the Dexys mix them is impressive; this song is strong enough to be a Motown hit, but its instrumentation instantly recalls every mug-emptying memory you’ve ever had of jigging (even if you’ve only ever seen a jig on TV). Far better than the novelty albatross hung round its neck would suggest, Come on Eileen is one of those tunes that just inspires you to have a good time making bad decisions. Oh Eileen please, indeed.

Defining Moment: Tough. On one hand, you’ve got some of the best call-and-response vocals of the ‘80s, particularly during the chorus: “Ah, come on Eileen, oh I swear, (what he means is), ah come on let’s take off everything / That pretty red dress Eileen… (tell him yes!)” It’s like making out in a back room with someone you met at a party, and then having a bunch of your dopey friends stick their heads out from the window/door/closet to shout encouragement. But it’s hard to get away from the pinpoint precision of the deceptively loose arrangement, the way it speeds up during the bridge and you start to wonder how in the hell this Eileen chick hasn’t been won over yet. I mean, you know she will be. What girl could resist a faux Irishman in dungarees?

Other Great Songs by Dexys Midnight Runners: In spite of their one-hit wonder reputation Stateside, DMR had a run of fetchingly competent records in the early ‘80s, of which Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and Too-Rye-Ay are generally considered the best. The band’s other #1 UK single, Geno, is an amusing, brass-led New Wave staple, and they do a smashing cover of Van Morrison’s Jackie Wilson Said.


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Filed under 1980s, dungarees, folk rock, new wave, soul

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