Dexys Midnight Runners, Too-Rye-Ay (1982)

This is perhaps the most memorable of the many, many one hit wonders of the 1980s. Like many groups, Dexys Midnight Runners (I’m told the lack of an apostrophe is intentional) became an instant world wide success and then just as quickly disappeared into the night. This isn’t surprising, as the British band changed images and members as quickly as a chameleon. They started out dressing like the characters in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, but all of the original line up but two quit before the second album, Too-Rye-Ay. A new lineup wore the scruffy overalls familiar from this song’s video, but despite its success, it too dissolved. New lineups and new looks, including a big hair New Wave attempt, failed to duplicate anything near the level of success of this song. The core of Dexys was Kevin Rowland, a control freak who was the cause of the strife and frequent departures. It’s a shame Dexys wasn’t more stable or successful, because Rowland could write a damn fine song and his bands produced a catchy blend of folk, pop, and soul.

This song starts out with a tribute to a stateside singer named Johnnie Ray (1927-1990). This isn’t surprising considering that the band’s first chart topper was “Geno”, a tribute to another American-born crooner, Geno Washington. Ray, a tear-jerking 1950s star, was gone from the charts by 1959, but before then scored huge hits with “Cry”, “The Little White Cloud That Cried”, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”, and “Just Walking in the Rain”.

Rowland invokes this era as one of pastoral innocence, back when the radio was in primitive mono and people couldn’t afford a shirt to go with their overalls. (Just watch the video, you’ll see what I mean.) But in the end, as with most pop songs, this is about a man trying to get a woman into bed. Too-rye-aye, baby. After the poignant opening, the rest is typical: we’re gonna get out of this place, just you and me baby type stuff. But it’s got a certain clever charm about it, and when he sings “At this moment, you mean everything,” it seems utterly sincere. And the horns make you want to stomp.

Ska band Save Ferris covered it on their album It Means Everything (1997), a catchy cover which I can’t say anything bad about, but it’s pretty straightforward, and it made me want to buy a Dexys album, not a Save Ferris album.

Poor old Johnny Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
He moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried and sang along and who'd blame them
Now you're grown, so grown, now I must say more than ever
Go toora loora toora loo rye aye
And we can sing just like our fathers

Come on Eileen, well I swear (what he means)
At this moment, you mean everything
With you in that dress my thoughts I confess
Verge on dirty
Ah come on Eileen

These people round here wear beaten down eyes
Sunk in smoke dried faces
They're so resigned to what their fate is
But not us, no not us
We are far too young and clever
Eileen I'll sing this tune forever

Come on Eileen well I swear (what he means)
Ah come on, let's take off everything
That pretty red dress Eileen (tell him yes)
Ah come on Eileen