A British New Wave group founded in Birmingham in 1978, Dexys Midnight Runners are probably one of the best known One Hit Wonders of all time, although to label them as such would be a misnomer. The band that brought us the ridiculously catchy single "Come On Eileen" was created by Kevin Rowland and Kevin "Al" Archer, two guitarists who had previously been members of a a Birmingham punk group called the Killjoys. Fans of soul music, this duo created Dexys Midnight Runners as a horn-driven Northern Soul outfit which achieved success with its early singles "Geno" and "There, There, My Dear" and their seminal album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.
After several changes in their line-up, including the integration of strings into the group to create a fusion of Irish folk and soul music (heavily influenced by the work of Van Morrison) described by Rowland as "Celtic Soul," Dexys released a second album entitled Too-Rye-Aye, which contained the enormously successful single "Come On Eileen," the group's only American hit.
This was followed up by several further singles, a whittling down of the band from many members to a core quartet (Rowland, violinist Helen O'Hara, guitarist Billy Adams and saxophonist Nick Gatfieldnote ) and a third album, Don't Stand Me Down. Unfortunately for Rowland's vision, this album turned out to be a commercial failure, primarily due to his ardent perfectionism in the studio which saw the album (which he originally resolved to complete in three weeks) taking three years and at least as many producers to record, with costs running to half a million pounds. This was compounded by his refusal to release a single before the album was released (and it didn't help that the song eventually issued as a single, "This is What's She's Like," was twelve minutes long). Nevertheless, it is considered to be the band's ultimate artistic triumph, and frequently appears on "best album" retrospective lists in the British music press. The band would break up a short time later.
After a few solo efforts (most infamously the My Beauty Cover Album) and years spent battling personal demons, Kevin Rowland got the band back together in 2003 under the abbreviated name Dexys. A new studio album: One Day I'm Going to Soar was released in June 2012. A fifth album, Let the Record Show followed in 2016.
The band's albums are:
- Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (1980)
- Too-Rye-Aye (1982)
- Don't Stand Me Down (1985)
- One Day I'm Going to Soar (2012)
- Let the Record Show (2016)
Notable songs include:
- "Dance Stance/Burn It Down"
- "Show Me"
- "Come On Eileen"
- "Let's Make This Precious"
- "Because of You" (the theme song from the Brit Com Brush Strokes)
- "This is What She's Like" note
- Album Title Drop: A short spoken section in "There, There, My Dear" for the first album and the bridge of "Come On Eileen" for the second.
- The Band Minus the Face: The spin-off soul group known as The Bureau was essentially the original Dexys line-up without Kevin Rowland.
- The Bus Came Back:
- Helen O'Hara, the second longest tenured classic-era member aside from Kevin Rowland, returned to the band for 2016's Let the Record Show
- O'Hara and co-founding member Jim Paterson rejoined Dexys in 2021 in advance of a Too-Rye-Ay anniversary tour in fall 2022.
- Control Freak: Kevin Rowland by all accounts. Aside from making other band members called Kevin use stage names, he reportedly frustrated the Killjoys by refusing a £20,000 record deal, imposed a strict physical training regimen for band members and refused to release a single from Don't Stand Me Down, which is often blamed as a reason for its failure. More outlandishly, he refused to associate with the music press and insisted on communicating with fans through printed essays and "manifestos" in ad space in music magazines. More strangely still, during the filming of the "Come On Eileen" music video, he urged the rest of the band not to wear underpants to make it feel "authentic to the 1950s". He later admitted that in he had a tendency to try and change others' opinions by "being autocratic" and that it was the only way he could think of to overcome his lifelong insecurity and self-esteem issues.
- Cover Version: Many of their early B-sides and live performances were covers of classic soul songs, including "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache", "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and Respect, and their last top ten single was a cover of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)."
- Let The Record Show consists entirely of these.
- Ear Worm: Invoked. The lyrics of "Come On Eileen" include the line "you'll hum this tune forever".
- Gratuitous Italian: Subverted in "This is What She's Like:" During their conversation about his new girlfriend, the singer knows there's a word in Italian that sums her up perfectly... But can't actually remember what it is:Singer: I think it means "thunderbolt."
Friend: You mean, the Italian word for "thunderbolt"?
Singer: Uh, yeah. I don't speak Italian myself, you understand. But I knew a man who did.
- I Am the Band: To the point where Too-Rye-Aye is specifically credited as being by "Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners". Billy Adams and Helen O'Hara became a lot more prevalent by the time of Don't Stand Me Down, mostly because of their significant contributions to the album and its artistic direction, partially because they were the only other members left. Rowland even appointed O'Hara as the band's "musical director." Rowland and trombonist "Big" Jim Paterson are the only two band members to appear on every Dexys album.
- In the Style of: "Geno" is not only a tribute to Northern Soul legends Geno Washington's Ram Jam Band, it was also done in the Ram Jam Band's signature style. This style was used again in "Come On Eileen."
- Long List: The first half of "This Is What She's Like" is the singer, after being asked what his new girlfriend is like, rattling off a long list of everything and everyone he hates while insisting that she's nothing like that. The second half is him explaining without words what she is like.
- New Sound Album: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels featured horn-driven songs rooted in American soul music, accompanied by a mod-influenced image. The next album, Too-Rye-Aye, saw the addition of strings and brought in influences from Irish folk music. It also generated the most recognised Dexys "hillbilly"/Irish Travellers image. Don't Stand Me Down turned them into a experimental soul/post-punk band that performed twelve minute songs laced with spoken dialogue.
- Officially Shortened Title: The 2012 revival is just called Dexys.
- One-Steve Limit: Guitarists Kevin Archer and Kevin Adams were required to go by their nicknames Al and Billy respectively, because Kevin Rowland insisted, "There's only room for one Kevin in this band."
- Revolving Door Band: Rowland's heavy-handed control of the band led to a lot of members coming and going. He fired the drummer during the video shoot for "Come On Eileen".
- The Rival: According to Horace Panter of The Specials, they had a habit of booing when a demo tape by fellow Birmingham musicians The Beat were played on a tour bus.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: The band was named after a recreational drug called Dexedrine, which was popular among fans of Northern Soul at the time. Even so, the group itself made a point of avoiding drugs and pursued a group exercise regimen because they didn't want to risk giving a bad show (although Kevin Rowland had problems with drugs after Dexys broke up).
- She Is All Grown Up: Implied in "Come On Eileen".Now you're all grownNow you have shownOh... Eileen
- Shout-Out: The number one hit "Geno" is a shout out to the American expatriate soul singer Geno Washington and describes one of Kevin Rowland's experiences at one of his concerts, "back in '68 in a sweaty club."
- The Troubles: The cover of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels features a photo of an Irish-Catholic boy in Belfast carrying his belongings after being forced out of his home in 1971.