It’s the last song of the night, the bride and groom are long gone and we’ve kicked our legs to ‘New York, New York’ and swayed to ‘The Power Of Love’. A familiar, skipping bassline starts up, with the fiddles in close attendance. The dancefloor is flooded with hardy revellers, linking arms in the auld tradition. One lad stands scowling at the side, he’s had a good night but this strikes a sour note yet again. Doesn’t he like the song? He bloody LOVES it.
How did it come to this? A visionary work struck an unexpected note with the public, sold way over a million and became the wedding/school disco standard, danced along to by a pissed-up crowd who’d normally claim to dislike it but find it a “laugh” in a champagne haze. It cheapens it, steals its wit, strips its pathos.
How did it come to this? Kevin Rowland was no callow youth; Dexys had already had one Number One, had already released the best album of the decade and had already tried a couple of styles and line-ups. 20 years later, apparently free of his cocaine mania, Rowland was in full confessional mode, claiming culpability for all manner of sins. He said he stole the raggle-taggle gypsy style of ‘Come On Eileen’ and beyond from former bandmate Kevin Archer, who’d formed the Blue Ox Babes and played Rowland some demos. Whatever, Archer didn’t have the extra spark to turn ideas into tunes. Rowland ran with it and the rest is history. Blue Ox Babes were painted as Dexys copyists in the press and the rest is, er, history.
‘Come On Eileen’ is hugely ambitious. Strings, tin whistles, banjos, pipes, and pianos should make a folk song, but end up with a rousing piece of power pop. Sheer bombast allows Kev to sneak in some racy lines, while at the same time hiding some beauties, “moved a million hearts in mono”, “beaten down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces”. It was a revelation until it was a cliché. I guess that’s the way things go.
Of course I’d like my daughter to love my favourite single. She stood in front of the stereo, palms face down on the coffee table in “let’s see if this is all you’ve cracked it up to be” style. I could handle her snubbing Bowie, The Jam, Scritti Politti, even Girls Aloud, but this, this is different. She dances. All the way through. And she doesn’t link arms with anyone.