Bearing in mind what a serious soul Kevin Rowland was (and doubtless still is) it’s probably a hard enough cross for him to bear that Come On Eileen, his most famous composition with Dexy’s Midnight Runners (actually credited to Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express), will forever be identified as one of the greatest dance floor fillers of all time rather than anything more significant.

Imagine his chagrin then that it is also (amongst other accolades) the opening track of the triple CD collection The Ultimate Cheese Party – alongside such other delights as Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy, Black Lace’s Agadoo and Jive Bunny’s Swing The Mood.

It clearly matters little that the song has been interpreted as riding “a wave of working class nostalgia and youthful pride, with the narrator trying to convince the titular Eileen that by pulling together and embracing music and sex they’ll break out of their crushing hometown and the chains put on them by their parents and the poor economy of the time. In effect, it’s the Celtic soul iteration of Born to Run.”

Why let some wordy analysis get in the way of a song which becomes increasingly attractive the more alcohol you’ve consumed before the dj gets round to playing it on his/her way to the end of the evening/morning smoocher? That’s if they still do that kind of thing of course.

Come On Eileen was released in the UK on 25 June 1982 as a single from the album Too-Rye-Ay. It reached number one in the United States, and was the Dexy’s second number one hit in the UK, following 1980’s fellow floor filler Geno. The song was actually written by Kevin Rowland and band members, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, and was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. It went on to win Best British Single at the 1983 Brit Awards and in 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s sixth favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV. It was ranked number 18 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s.

Lyrically it’s clearly chalk not cheese despite being doomed to share space with the Fast Food Rockers and Afro Man. Not that it necessarily makes too much sense. What’s this all about then?

“Poor old Johnnie Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
Moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried
Sang along, who’d blame them?
You’ve grown (You’re grown up!)
So grown (So grown up!)
Now I must say more than ever
(Come on Eileen)
Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, ay
And we can sing just like our fathers.”

It’s easier to interpret when the narrator finally admits “You in that dress, my thoughts I confess verge on dirty.” Or put another way: “These people round here
Were beaten down, eyes sunk in smoke-dried face
They’re so resigned to what their fate is
But not us (No never)
But not us (Not ever)
We are far too young and clever
Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, ay
And you’ll hum this tune forever, oh

Come on Eileen
Oh, I swear (What he means)
Aah, come on let’s
Take off everything
That pretty red dress
Eileen (Tell him yes)
Aah, come on let’s
Aah, come on Eileen
That pretty red dress
Eileen (Tell him yes)
Aah, come on let’s
Aah, come on Eileen

Their only American hit, the song reached number one in the USA on the Billboard Hot 100 charts during the week ending 23 April 1983 and prevented Michael Jackson from having back-to-back number one hits in the US.

Billie Jean was the number one single the previous seven weeks, while Beat It was the number one song the ensuing three.

The Dexy’s were never easy to categorise. They were founded in 1978 in Birmingham by Rowland (vocals, guitar, at the time using the pseudonym Carlo Rolan) and Kevin “Al” Archer (vocals, guitar). Both had been in the short-lived punk band The Killjoys. Rowland had previously written a Northern soul-style song that the two of them sang, Tell Me When My Light Turns Green, which became the first Dexy’s “song”.
The band’s name was derived from Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine used as a recreational drug among Northern Soul fans to give them energy to dance all night. While recruiting members for the new band, Rowland noted that “Anyone joining Dexy’s had to give up their job and rehearse all day long. . . . We had nothing to lose and felt that what we were doing was everything.”
Understandably the band went through went through numerous personnel, style and musical changes over the course of three albums and 13 singles, with only Rowland remaining in the band through all of the transitions and only him and “Big” Jim Paterson (trombone) appearing on all of the albums.

One minute they were zoot suited, the next dustbowl denimed Depression survivors, Irish vagabonds or street corner brawlers straight from New York’s Mean Streets.

Rowland said of the band’s sound and look in January 1980: “we didn’t want to become part of anyone else’s movement. We’d rather be our own movement”.

A unified image became very important to the group, with Rowland commenting “We wanted to be a group that looked like something … a formed group, a project, not just random.”

By 1985, the band consisted only of Rowland and long-standing members Helen O’Hara (violin) and Billy Adams (guitar). The band broke up in 1987, with Rowland becoming a solo artist. After two failed restart attempts, Dexy’s was reformed by Rowland in 2003 with new members, as well as a few returning members from the band’s original line-up (known as Dexy’s Mark I). Dexy’s released their fourth album in 2012 and a fifth followed in 2016.

Although often believed to have been inspired by a childhood friend with whom Rowland had a romantic, and later sexual, relationship in his teens, there was actually no real Eileen. He later said: “In fact she was composite, to make a point about Catholic repression.”

The phrase Come on Eileen, used as the chorus to the song was loosely inspired by A Man Like Me by the 1960s British soul group Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. There are various versions of the song, some in addition to the main section featuring either an intro of a Celtic fiddle solo, or an a cappella coda both based on Thomas Moore’s Irish folk song Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms.

In 1997, ska band Save Ferris released a cover of the song as a single from album It Means Everything. In 2004, the band 4-4-2 was formed to cover the song as Come On England with altered lyrics to support the England football team during their appearance in the 2004 European Championships.

On 7 August 2005, the song was used to wake the astronauts of Space Shuttle Discovery on the final day of STS-114 in reference to commander Eileen Collins. The song was used in the films Tommy Boy, Take Me Home Tonight and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Cheese? Eat your heart out Right Said Fred.

WRITERS: Kevin Rowland, Jim Patterson, Billy Adams 
PRODUCER: Clive Langer, Alan Winstanley
GENRE: New Wave, Celtic Folk , Pop, Blue- Eyed Soul
ARTIST: Dexy’s Midnight Runners
LABEL Mercury
RELEASED 25 June 1982
COVERS Save Ferris