In my last blog post, I mentioned how “life happens” and I took an unexpected couple of weeks off from the blog because of it. One reason is because of my oldest niece, Elizabeth. Yesterday, she left Maine for Philadelphia (for training) as she embarks on a 2-year journey with the Peace Corps, in one of five English teaching positions in the African country of Tanzania. She’ll be leaving America tomorrow (7.11.2016), and she’s already missed. She’s even started a WordPress blog, ELIZABETH LIVING LIFE: TANZANIA (https://elizabethlivinglifetanzania.wordpress.com/)
Elizabeth’s an amazing young woman and I’m awful proud of what she’s doing. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of Maine at Farmington (an alma mater of yours truly) back in May 2016, Elizabeth could have started teaching (and coaching) this year, but she really wanted to travel and wanted to help people. And this is absolutely the best time in her life she could have done this.
She had asked me to put together an elite bunch of songs for her to take on her trip (165 songs to be exact), and I was more than happy to oblige. It took three late nights during the work week, but I found them all, and added some of my favorites too. At her “going away” party a couple of days ago at my parents’ house, she even had the playlist going, and one song above all others stood out.
Elizabeth recruited some of her friends and my other four nieces to come out and dance to a song that was already more than ten years old when she was born in December 1993 – “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners.
From a playlist that included the likes of relative “newcomers” Lukas Graham, Walk The Moon, Ingrid Michaelson and American Authors, I was extremely pleased to learn it was “Come On Eileen” that she had discovered, and in turn, shared and loved with those in attendance.
Dexys Midnight Runners (led by vocalist and guitarist Kevin Rowland) formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, and by 1980, they released their first album, SEARCHING FOR THE YOUNG SOUL REBELS. The album was certified Silver in the U.K. and gave the band their first No. 1 U.K. hit, “Geno” (which also reached No. 2 in Ireland).
“Come On Eileen” was released in late June 1982 in advance of the band’s second album, the U.K.-Platinum TOO-RYE-AY (a lyric from “Come On Eileen” which inspired the album’s title). It only took two weeks in release for “Come On Eileen” to reach No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, spending four weeks at No. 1 and ending up as the biggest U.K. single of 1982.
Over here in the U.S., where it sometimes takes singles from other parts of the globe to catch on (Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America,” for example, took a whole year for it to become a hit in the country the song is named after), “Come On Eileen” finally made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late January 1983, the same week that Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” entered the chart.
Three months after its BILLBOARD Hot 100 debut, “Come On Eileen” (fully credited to Dexys Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express) dethroned “Billie Jean” at No. 1 (after seven weeks on top), and in the process, interrupted (for one week) the stranglehold Michael Jackson had on the Hot 100. The surging third single from Michael Jackson’s THRILLER, “Beat It,” would have surely replaced “Billie Jean” at No. 1, had it not been for the success and popularity of “Come On Eileen.”
Who would have thought a song by a relatively unknown band in the U.S. that features a banjo and Celtic folk overtones would replace the second-biggest Michael Jackson solo hit of all-time at No. 1? I have to admit, I was even surprised, but really glad. The love I have for this song has only grown with age.
NERDY FUN FACTS: for 33 years, I’ve been incorrectly labeling Dexys Midnight Runners with an apostrophe (Dexy’s Midnight Runners). It’s not entirely my fault though – even publications like BILLBOARD list them with the apostrophe. Also, there was no actual girl named “Eileen.” According to singer and co-songwriter Kevin Rowland: “In fact she was composite, to make a point about Catholic repression.”
Around the globe, “Come On Eileen” was a huge hit, reaching No. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and Switzerland, and the Top 10 in Austria, Canada, France, Germany and Holland.
Although “Come On Eileen” was the one big hit the band had in the U.S. and are oft-labelled as a “one-hit wonder” because of it, they did have a minor follow-up hit, “The Celtic Soul Brothers,” which peaked at No. 86 and had already dropped off the chart before “Come On Eileen” finished its 23-week run in June 1983.
Overall, Dexys Midnight Runners charted nine songs in the U.K. Top 40, including a No. 5 kick-ass version of Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” (also from 1982’s TOO-RYE-AY album).
In 2012, the band released ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR, their first album since 1985, and just released (as Dexys) their fifth studio album in June 2016, LET THE RECORD SHOW: DEXYS DO IRISH AND COUNTRY SOUL. Tim Sommer of the British Sunday newspaper, THE OBSERVER, said the album is “the most surprising album of 2016” and is an “amazing, subtle, powerful, visceral album that lays bare the soul, memories and losses of Kevin Rowland.” Can’t wait to hear it.
Also can’t wait to hear about my niece Elizabeth’s adventures with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, through Skype, Facebook and blog posts, and maybe letters too. Who knows – maybe she’ll share “Come On Eileen” with the children of Tanzania and think, “at this moment, you mean everything…”