Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dexys Midnight Runners

I love this band so much I have their live concert film on Beta.  I keep a working Betamax so I can watch it.

Most people consider this band to be a one hit wonder and nothing more.  This is a common opinion in the U.S and it may even be true in the U.K., despite having had two number one and four total top ten singles.  I understand that "Come On Eileen" relegated them to CD compilations alongside "Too Shy", "Whirly Girl" and other 80's masterworks.  But there is a difference between understanding and acceptance.  

Dexys Midnight Runners had three distinct phases : Horns, Strings, Accountants.  The first singles and album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, are completely Northern Soul influenced horn-based songs.  The second batch of singles (including Come On Eileen) and album, Too-Rye-Aye, still have horns but are driven by string arrangements.  The last phase is hard to define but it will become clear why "Accountants" is the best descriptor if you keep reading.  In their career, Dexys Midnight Runners released thirteen singles and I have at least one copy of every one.  I have Kevin Rowland's pre-Dexys punk single by the Killjoys (it's great - see this) and a few records by The Bureau, the band the horns section started after working with Rowland became too challenging.

Now, maybe I have some kind of problem to have amassed the collection below.  Nevertheless, I will try to be objective.  I would say it's safe to call Kevin Rowland a very ambitious musician.  A lot of the original class-of-1977 punks (the Clash for one) went different ways pretty quickly once the initial fire went out of punk.  Morrissey was the singer for the Nosebleeds, Billy Bragg was in Riff Raff.  So no one can blame him for getting out of punk early - he clearly had other things in mind.  Another thing that is pretty safe to say about Dexys Midnight Runners is that there is no band that can really be compared to them.  All the other bands with horns at that time were aping the Specials and playing ska.  Not these guys.  Let's see what they did.

Dance Stance b/w I'm Just Looking
(Oddball R6028)

It may only be their first single but Kevin Rowlands has gone ahead and given himself a fake name ("Carlo Rolan") just for the fun of it.  Perhaps he didn't want his name on it if it bombed?  The A-side is pretty weak soul that was later re-titled and re-recorded as "Burn It Down" on the first LP.  The B-side though - that's the first real sign of life.  A great song that was also re-recorded for Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.

Geno b/w Breakin' Down The Walls Of Heartache
(Late Night Feelings R6033)

Ah, Geno.  The first classic, an ode to Geno Washington.  Watch this and try to tell me this is not a great song.  And the cover photo is spectacular.  This is probably the zenith of the Horns version of the band, though some of the album tracks on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels are very good.  The B-side is a cover of a 1968 Northern Soul single by the Bandwagon.  I can't really say I like the original or the cover all that much.  But with an A-side as indestructible as this, the B-side could be blank and it would be a great record.

There, There, My Dear b/w The Horse 
(Late Night Feelings R6038)

"There, There My Dear" is a very good example of the first iteration of Dexy's Midnight Runners.  Kevin Rowland does too much vocal goofiness in the first few verses but then it all comes together and forms a great horn-driven song.  "The Horse" is a pretty frantic and great instrumental that doesn't make it onto a proper album, just the 1983 odds-and-ends compilation called Geno.

Keep It Part Two (Inferiority Part One) b/w One Way Love
(Late Night Feelings 6042)

"Keep It" is even more guilty of vocal goofiness than "There, There My Dear" and it doesn't really work.  It's a slower song and doesn't go anywhere no matter how overly emotional and Scottish Rowland manages to make simple words sound.  This song was on the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels LP.  The B-Side, while not great, would be a better album track.  It's a better example of what made this phase of the band good.  The band busted apart after this single came out, with several members forming the Bureau.  One of those members, Mick Talbot, formed the Style Council a few years later with a lad named Paul Weller.

Plan B / Soul Finger
(EMI R6046)

Interesting things afoot here.  "Plan B" is a very good Northern Soul-inspired song, here recorded and released by the re-furbished Horns version of the band during a contract dispute with EMI.  The song is good and would easily fit in on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.  "Soul Finger" is a non-album instrumental that is solid but not nearly as good as "The Horse".  "Plan B" was re-recorded by the Strings version of the band and included on Too-Rye-Aye.

Show Me b/w Soon

"Show Me" is a song recorded by the Horns but subsequently re-recorded by the Strings and included on Too-Rye-Aye.  What a great song and perfect in both incarnations.  It's up-tempo and a little ragged - right on the money.  "Soon" is a short, soulful song that was not released on an LP but was reprised partially on Too-Rye-Aye as an intro to the re-recorded "Plan B".  This is a great, great single.  It was originally issued with a two-sided insert and only the lyrics on the back of the sleeve.  Later issues of it did away with the insert and stuffed everything on the back in tiny type.  As a back-handed way of explaining that I have both variations, I scanned both versions above.

Liars A To E b/w ...And Yes We Must Remain The Wildhearted Outsiders

The last of the in-between singles, the A-Side here was also re-recorded for Too-Rye-Aye.  In this case, the 45 version is better than the LP version.  The song itself is great, very melodic and beautiful.  The LP version adds some irritating harmony vocals and a slicker production that takes away from the sincerity of the song.  The B-Side (what a great title...) is another instrumental that alternates between melodic, exhilarating and a bit of a jumbled mess.  All of it adds up to a perfect single, on a par with anything they did.

The Celtic Soul Brothers b/w Love Part Two

The first product of the Strings version of the band.  This single is credited to "Dexy's Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express".  This would mark the beginning of a lot of mucking around with the band name.  This song is the first song on Too-Rye-Aye.  It's a really good song that has all of the elements that made "Come On Eileen" so popular, just not pieced together in such a deliberately commercial way.  "Love Part Two" consists of Rowland talking over a piano about how the holiday season makes him sick.  Pretty much worthless.  No matter, they had another single up their sleeve...

Come On Eileen / Dubious

Everyone's heard the A-side once or twice.  If you are not a fan, you most likely once were but now can't get through it due to overplay.  "Dubious" is another pretty stellar rollicking instrumental.  Notice we're still including the Emerald Express in the name.  This is another name for the fiddle section.  The 12" version of this single includes the re-recorded "Liars A To E".

Jackie Wilson Said b/w Let's Make This Precious
(DEXYS 10)

The third single from Too-Rye-Aye.  Note the name change to "Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners".  Incidentally, this is the name on Too-Rye-Aye as well.  This is my personal favorite in their discography.  The full title of the song is "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)", a SPECTACULAR cover of the Van Morrison song.  Absolutely phenomenal in every way.  I recently bought an extra copy of the 12" of this record at a flea market just because I couldn't let it set there and get destroyed by careless flea marketers.  The B-side is a song from Too-Rye-Aye that is almost as good and has a line about "guitars too noisy and crude".  As an FYI, the 12" includes a cover of "T.S.O.P.", originally done by MFSB and done tremendous justice by Dexys.  This record is so good I simply can't say enough about it.  If you have worn out "Come On Eileen" on your copy of Too-Rye-Aye, you should really do yourself a favor and listen to the rest of it, including these two songs.  If you'd like a copy of the 12", you know where to find me.

Let's Get This Straight From The Start b/w Old
(DEXYS 11)

The A-side must be an outtake from the Too-Rye-Aye sessions because it sounds exactly like the rest of the album even though it's not on it.  "Old" is an slower album track.  It's a nice song but it definitely belongs on the B-side.  I don't really know what happened with this song - it's certainly better than "Old" so why it was left of the album is beyond me.  We've finally settled on a band name here that makes it clear who's in charge.  By the way, the photography is done by a young Anton Corbijn.  The 12" replaces the studio version of "Old" with a much improved live version that almost answers my questions about why it's on the album ahead of "Let's Get This Straight From The Start".  The 12" also adds a live version of "Respect".  "R E S P E C T".  B A D.

The Celtic Soul Brothers b/w Reminisce Part One
(DEXYS 12)

Rather bizarre reissue of the first single from Too-Rye-Aye with a different mix and B-side.  The full title of the A-side is "The Celtec Soul Brothers (More, Please, Thank You)".  The people credited on the back are different than the people on the original DEXYS 8 edition of the 45.  Rowland has thoughtfully updated the band name.  The B-side is a new one.  There's a sequel to this song on the Don't Stand Me Down album called "Reminisce Part Two".  These songs both consist of Rowland telling a story from his youth over some toned down Dexys music with some singing on the outro.  Nothing to write home about.  There is a version of the single that comes out with a six-panel fold-out poster of, you guessed it, Kevin Rowland.  The 12" adds on a great live version of "Show Me".  This band was clearly a great time live.

This Is What She's Like b/w This Is What She's Like (Finale)
Marguerita Time b/w Reminisce Part One
(DEXYS 13)

You can now see why this was called the Accountants phase.  Out are the dungarees and scruffy look.  In are suits and sweaters and shaving.  The full-color picture is from the inside of the gatefold.  I don't actually have the regular one-record version of this single.  I only have the double 7" set, along with the 10" and 12" versions.  The song "This Is What She's Like" is very hard to deal with on the album because it has a two minute intro of Rowland talking, warming up his voice etc.  The song is good once it gets going and the single edits out most of the trash.  Rowland is careful to note that this is "An Extract From This Is What She's Like", as though it's his magnum opus and should not have been tinkered with by the record label.  He was apparently opposed to issuing any singles at all.   The B-side is more of the album version of the song, which totals over 12 minutes by the time it's all put together.  "Marguerita Time", the A-side of the second record is a part-Hawaiian, part-country, part-Irish, part-Dexys disaster that almost works at times.  It's a tribute to Kevin Rowland's talent that he could even come close to pulling something this ridiculous off.  The B-side of the second record is the same as on the second version of "The Celtic Soul Brothers" (DEXYS 12).  The 10" gives you the album version of "This Is What She's Like" with "Marguerita Time".  The 12" has the album version, an instrumental version (just what you needed) and "Reminisce Part One".

Because of You b/w Kathleen Mavourneen

This is another, better, attempt at the part-country, part-Irish, part-Dexys style first tried out on "Marguerita Time" on DEXYS 13.  Rowland's voice is not really smooth enough for it and it gets a little distracting.  The music is pleasant enough but that's part of the problem too.  Dexys Midnight Runners was never just pleasant.  It was soulful or raucous or excited or sad or something other than just plain old pleasant.   "Kathleen Mavourneen" is a traditional English song given a pleasant country-ish Irish arrangement.  No more Dexys to be found.  Last note - the name of the band is now "Kevin Rowland FEATURING Dexys Midnight Runners".  That was all.

Dexys Midnight Runners broke up after that.  Kevin Rowland went on to a failed solo career.  In the span of four years from 1979 to 1982, Dexys Midnight Runners issued eleven singles and two albums.  One song remains in most people's consciousness and that's fine.  I'll be over here watching them on my Betamax.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Need vs. Want and the Plimsouls

Linus brought home a permission slip today. It's for a thrilling field trip to the local supermarket to learn about the difference between needs and wants. Sounds like a good lesson to learn. I realized quickly that I should also probably attend this field trip.

When I was in high school it was "I need this record". As in, "that record is so good I need to get it". The first time I heard the Plimsouls it was in the film Valley Girl. At some point a few years later I decided I needed to get a copy of the song "A Million Miles Away" since it's basically the best song ever. Of course, by about 1988, finding a copy of this song was a near-impossibility. There were no downloads, no compilations of 80's obscurities, not even a friend with a copy on tape. So I looked. And looked. Around 1990, I came up with this 45.

A very plain looking 45 with the very perfect song and a decent B-side, "I'll Get Lucky".  Indeed I had.  With my need satisfied, I listened to it a thousand times, put it on tapes for all my friends, put it on tapes for the car etc.  Naturally, about a month later, I came across this.

Wow.  Much, much better cover.  Same B-side.  I most certainly did not need it.  I wanted it.  What was I to do?  It was cheap.  I bought it.   Because I wanted it.  This would be the first time I did this.  And by "this", I mean "buying something completely and totally unnecessary".  I actually remember telling myself it was frivolous and that I would not be doing it again.

So there I was literally DAYS later in a store in Philadelphia in the LP section.  Who would have thought this song came out as a 12"?

Totally the same right?  Well the cover of the 12" actually writes out the name of the B-side.  The same exact B-side as on the two 45 copies, by the way.  No matter, it was technically a different cover.  And it looked really great with a bigger cover.  I didn't need it at all, but boy did I want it.  I mean I really, really wanted it.  The bad thing is that I didn't even hesitate or pretend to debate with myself.  I grabbed it like the store was teeming with people looking for this thing and went straight to the register to relieve myself of five more dollars on this song.

A quick aside : this "when it rains it pours" happens all the time when you collect records.  I'll go years looking for a certain record and then find three copies in the span of a week.  And if the hunt has been long enough I will buy each copy.  For no good reason at all.

So now I'm up three copies of the Plimsouls song, well past the point of need.  It went quiet for a couple of years.  Early 1993.

Oh my.  Absolutely, positively one of the best picture sleeves ever made.  I was in my junior year of college and basically broke.  I spent $10 of my last $20 on it.  A divorce lawyer once told me, "Don't get too attached to money.  You can always make more of it."  I won't pause to scrutinize that advice too carefully but it appears I was following it years before I met him.  In some ways, despite having three copies already, I needed this record.  I'm not sure I would benefit from the "need vs. want" field trip.  I don't really think I could have handled the situations above any differently.