Written by Dexys lead singer Kevin Rowland, trombone player Jim Paterson and guitarist Al Archer, this song was an enormous hit, going to #1 in America, the UK and Australia.
While the song will fit nicely in an '80s music time capsule, it sounded nothing like the other hits of the era. There are no synthesizers on the song, but there is banjo, accordion, fiddle and saxophone. In our interview with Kevin Rowland, he explained how the song came together:
"We wanted a good rhythm and we found one. Lots of records we liked had that rhythm: 'Concrete and Clay,' 'It's Not Unusual' by Tom Jones. Lots of records we liked had that 'Bomp ba bomp, bomp ba bomp.' We felt it was a good rhythm. We came up with the chord sequence ourselves and just started singing melodies over it. I remember thinking, 'We're really onto something here.'
I came up with that, 'Too ra loo ra,' and I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is sounding really good.' You get a feeling when you're writing a song. Something happens. And in the end it kind of finished itself."
This song is based on a true story. Eileen was a girl that Kevin Rowland grew up with. Their relationship became romantic when the pair were 13, and according to Rowland, it turned sexual a year or two later.
Rowland was raised Catholic and served as an altar boy in church. Sex was a taboo subject, and considered "dirty" - something that fascinated him. When he wrote this song, Rowland was expressing the feelings of that adolescent enjoying his first sexual relationship and dreaming of being free from the strictures of a buttoned-down society:
You in that dress My thoughts I confess Verge on dirty
The song describes the thin line between love and lust.
Dexys Midnight Runners had no American distribution for their first album, which did very well in the UK and contained a #1 hit called "Geno."
"Come On Eileen" was their first single issued in US, and was the only American hit for the band - "The Celtic Soul Brothers" was served up as a follow-up single, but petered out at #86. Much of the US success for "Eileen" can be attributed to its video, which got constant airplay on MTV and remains one of the most memorable and beloved clips of the era.
Most videos at the time were slick productions featuring impossibly pretty people in unexpected locations, but Dexys' video was delightfully different, with the overall-clad band acting out the love story on a gritty street. Kevin Rowland doing an earnest jig became a defining image of the early MTV era. When we asked him about shooting it, he told us: "It was one day. We started at 6 in the morning, we finished very late at night. It just kind of worked."
When this hit #1 in the US, it knocked Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" off the top spot.
Dexys Midnight Runners released their first album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, in 1980. It contained the #1 UK hit "Geno" and earned the band lots of acclaim in their home country of England.
For their second album Too-Rye-Ay, the group added fiddles and switched to more of an Irish folk sound. Kevin Rowland changed out every member except for Jim Paterson and also updated their image, going from a stylish, rustic Italian look to a ragged, unkempt appearance.
This hillbilly theme was a great complement to their new sound and made for a striking visual. Rowland sold the look by appearing in patched-up denim offstage and insisting that it was not an act. When Smash Hits writer Dave Rimmer broached the subject in 1982, Rowland snapped: "I take deadly serious what I do. It's very important to me to be an individual. I don't care if people laugh. That's what Dexys Midnight Runners is all about: showing your feelings and not giving a damn what other people think."
The song leaves an impression with a group vocal breakdown at the end which is followed by an uptempo fiddle part. This fast section was modeled on the Hebrew wedding song "Hava Nagila."
This was the biggest-selling single of 1982 in the United Kingdom.
In the UK, four songs from the album were issued as singles before "Come On Eileen" was released. The second single, "Show Me," reached #16 but the next one ("Liars A to E") failed to chart and "The Celtic Soul Brothers" topped out at #45. Kevin Rowland had become fed up with the British music press, so in lieu of interview, Dexys took out full-page ads in music magazines explaining their new album and why they refused to talk about it.
Determined to send "Eileen" up the charts, Rowland called off the media blackout and granted some interviews for the purpose of promoting the song. These talks were often contentious, with Rowland sometimes abasing journalists and dismissing any questions he didn't deem worthy of an answer. The press served its purpose, as the song was brought to the attention of the public and rocketed up the charts.
Kevin "Al" Archer was a guitarist in the early days of Dexys Midnight Runners. He left the group after their first album. Archer explained why to Mojo magazine July 2009: "Kevin (Rowland) ruled the group with a rod of iron - he wouldn't speak to us personally. After shows we'd be in a room on our own, it became 'hate Kevin Rowland time.' We were in Switzerland, we'd played to 2,000 people, and Kevin and I got on a plane to Luxembourg and the rest got in a van and went to England. That was it. Kevin got me to help form a new group, rehearsing in a freezing industrial unit in Birmingham. He was irritable, treating everyone like they were nobody. I did the (1981 single) "Plan B" demo, Kevin wasn't happy with it. It got too much. We met in the little Nibble caff in Bearwood and I said I was leaving. He never showed any emotion. He got me to go round to Billy (Adams) the new guitarist's house to teach him the new chords. I formed The Blue Ox Babes, and I lent Kevin a tape with three of our songs on including 'What Does Anybody Ever Think About.'" Shortly afterwards this song became an international hit. Archer was not impressed as Rowland had stolen the build-up of "What Does Anybody Ever Think About" for it and Too-Rye-Aye's whole style and sound was that of The Blue Ox Babes. Rowland later admitted that the sound of Too-Rye-Aye did indeed come from Archer and paid him royalties from the album.
The band's name was inspired by the amphetamine drug Dexedrine, which is commonly known as "Dexys" (Contrary to popular belief, the band's name does not have an apostrophe). The band itself steered away from drinking and drugs, saying nothing should interfere with their dedication to music.
Suggestion credit: Beau - Phoenix, AZ
After this album, group leader Kevin Rowland kept the band going, releasing Don't Stand Me Down in 1985 with a new set of musicians. He started a solo career, but didn't re-form Dexys until the early '00s. Their fourth album, One Day I'm Going to Soar, was finally issued in 2012. "We tried hard to get it done beforehand, but it just wasn't the right time, whether we weren't personally ready or musically ready," Jim Paterson told us. "But then suddenly, it did."
The girl representing Eileen in the video was played by Maire Fahey. The actress' sister Siobhan Fahey was a member of Bananarama ("Cruel Summer") and Shakespear's Sister ("Stay").
The band was building quite a legend at their live shows when this song took off. Rowland would often slow songs down and do vocal improvisations. When he did it during "Eileen," the crowd would sometimes simply sing over him, preferring a bawdy sing-a-long to a quiescent monologue. It should be noted that these interludes were offset by rousing performances, and that reviews of the shows reveal a good time had by all.
Producer Clive Langer recalled to Uncut magazine August 2007: "We recorded it as James, Van and Me - James Brown, Van Morrison, and Kevin. That was the original chorus, singing about people who influenced him to write the song - like he mentions Johnny Ray. And then he came in one day and said I want to change the lyric completely, it's a working lyric. And we actually liked James, Van and Me! Because we'd been working with it and got used to it."
Kevin Rowland added: "It did give me confidence when I wrote 'Come on Eileen.' But you know, when you write something you get confidence momentarily. Clive didn't think it would be a hit! He told me that! He said it wasn't as good as Celtic Soul Brothers. And my manager didn't think it would be a hit. He said he thought it was trying too hard. The record company wanted to release 'Jackie Wilson.' But in the studio we got some things right, and we got that right."
Suggestion credit: DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
John from Cleveland, OhioThe variety of brand new music in this period of time was incredible but I do not hear people talking about it. The article mentions that this pushed "Billy Jean" out of the #1 position, a very different song! One could flick between the pop rock and the light rock stations from the late 70's through the early 80's and hear this, Music Box Dancer, Pat Benatar, Blondie, Journey, the Eagles, Survivor, Chariots of Fire, Foreigner, Van Halen, Juice Newton, Hall & Oats (yes I cringed when they came on, but they were different), Men At Work, Billy Squier etc. If you are a true music lover, this was a great time.
I think the time when Dexys Midnight Runners were on the radio was as good as the 1960's where a Vince Guaraldi song, The Kinks, The Lovin' Spoonful, the Dave Clark Five, etc. were all in the top 40 at the same time.
It is inspirational to know that Rowland began writing this with the Latin rhythm from Concrete And Clay. It is also funny that all of the producers thought that no one would like it but it hit #1. Everybody's got an opinion.
Seventhmist from 7th HeavenA friend and I both had trouble understanding one of its lines, so we sang "Come on Eileen, I swear I'm eighteen!"
Tim from Northfield, MnThese lyrics are off. I listened to this song while reading the lyrics and some of the words are either wrong, or flat out missing. It sounds like it should be "Our mothers cried" or tried. I'm not aware of the context. And the reprise towards the end does not match up at all to what's written here.
Rosalie from Columbia, MdI loved this song in the 80s and thought it was just about this guy wanting to have sex with Eileen. I just watched the video and read the lyrics, and the meaning I get now is much different. Its about kids who have been friends forever, and yes he is trying to convince her to have sex, but the rest of the song? Seems to be lower middle class or even a poor community "These people 'round here With their beat down eyes sunk in smoke dried faces They're resigned to what their fate is"
And how when we are children we think we are special, we will be superstars, famous, "But not us, (no never) no not us (no never) We are far to young and clever"
Whats going to keep them from these dreams? They have sex, she gets pregnant, they marry young and end up staying there just like their parents did. Just my take
Huw from St Davids, United KingdomPlease can someone explain why I remember the video to this with all the band singing in a camper van? (bedford or vw sticks in my mind). Someone must know!
Desha from North Bethesda, MdI was about 30 when this song came out. Too busy to remember the band, etc. But whenever I hear it, I am blown away. A nice complexity to it and who cares what the lyrics mean? Aren't all lyrics, when you get down to it, about love/sex? Isn't that what all of us want? Excepting money.
Mike from Dorchester, MaAn interpretation: This song describes the emergence of sexual self-awareness made possible by the birth of rock 'n' roll. The setting is in the early '50s, before Elvis. There's this American singer, Johnnie Ray, who is popular mostly with housewives ["our mothers"]. Ray is an innovator among his pop contemporaries; he wears his heart on his sleeve, he looks fragile [he was], he was almost androgenously pretty, he allows himself an unheard-of range of passion on stage, building up some painfully twee little ditties to a point he often sobbed, pounded the stage, whirled his microphone stand in the air, ripped his shirt. Housewives, no doubt unconsciously, found Ray very sexy, like no one before him. Back to the song: the kid had been listening to the same radio as his mom, mostly vapid Tin Pan Alley pop. "Too Rah Loo Rye Aye" obviously refers to the chorus of the unctuous "An Irish Lullaby" by Bing Crosby. Mom played lots of that sentimental pap. But Johnnie Ray snuck in! An Johnnie Ray was SEX. Johnnie Ray predicted Elvis and his gyrating hips, and the kid is getting a sexy feeling himself! He looks over at his innocent girlfriend Eileen -- whose name runs through endless sentimental pseudo-Irish pop ballads -- and he thinks, "What is this feeling? I listen to mom's boy Johnnie Ray, see Eileen in that otherwise innocent dress, and suddenly my thoughts -- yikes, they verge on *dirty*!" He's describing the birth of rock 'n' roll, my brothers and sisters. The music parallels the lyrics. It starts with goofy-sweet fiddle music -- very typical Danny Boy sentimentality -- then it build and speeds up, faster and faster, more and more rock 'n' roll, bigger and bigger. I dunno about Detroit or LA, but in Boston and New York nightclubs, people get up and *dance* to this song, grinning and sweating like maniacs. This song decribes the introduction of popular music to sex, the birth of rock 'n' roll. Thank you for your indulgence.
Camille from Toronto, OhThese lyrics are not anything to be sad or shocked about. They are typical words guys use trying to convince a girl to hook up. The "dirty" thoughts this guy has looking at this chick in the red dress are thoughts millions of red-blooded American men have on a daily basis when looking at attractive women. Come on! It's normal.
Horace from Las Vegas, NvI was about 10 when this song came out,I was mesmerized by it. My friends didn't like it, glad to see it wasn't me with bad music taste. I have a feeling they listened to it in secret. Scotty, the joke goes "what's grosser than grease on olivia newton john, come on eileen." Thank god for sirius satellite, there 80's channel plays it often.
Travis from Grandisland, FlThis song was covered by Save Ferris on thier 1997 Album called "It Means Everything". Good song by the way!
Ross from Leicester, United KingdomKevin Rowland later admitted there was no Eileen, he just liked the name and wanted to include it in a song (the lyrics sound like they might be based on some real life experience though so perhaps she just wasn't called "Eileen"). Dexys interviews over the years were full of stories that later turned out to be not entirely true...
Camille from Toronto, OhThis tune was named the #1 One-Hit Wonder Song of the 1980's by VH1. Very catchy song.
Mchael from Winston-salem, NcJohnny Ray was an old 40's/50's crooner who was known to cry on stage while performing (for showmanship). Several of his big hits were along those lines 'Cry', 'The Little White Cloud that Cried'.
Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesAll I can think of now when I hear it is Jill Thompson's brilliantly funny take on it in "At Death's Door". It's one of the songs used by Desire (along with "Hey Mickey") to subdue a group of unemployed demons from the black pit of hell... guaranteed to go through their heads for eternity and drive them insane.
Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI loved the song,and the music video to this.The girl in the video is Shioban from Bananarama's sister. I can't Understand about Johnny Ray and mono.
Liquid Len from Ottawa, CanadaHaha Scotty, thanks for making me laugh. I didn't think the armpit hair added much to the video either. I think this is a very catchy tune, and certainly the lyrics are not particularly deep, but it doesn't matter because the only words I can make out are 'Come On Eileen'. Oh, and at the end of the second verse, 'young and clever'.
Scott from Palm Desert, CaI had this l.p and now have it on c.d. It is really good and almost all the songs are great. I am surprised "Let's Make This Precious" was not a big hit too. Their follow-up "Don't Stand Me Down" was a huge disappointment.
Kent from Toronto, CanadaThe full name credited on the single is one of the longest in popular music history: "Dexy's Midnight Runners & Emerald Express".
Kent from Toronto, CanadaA word to Scotty of Apache Junction: while I definitely agree that the lyric of a song is of great importance (and that nowadays too much pure fluff is being praised as inventive), it is a failrly narrow view of the popular music form (or art in general) to expect that it should have what you term "value and worth", especially if meant to be like the rather uncreatively sentimental lyric you printed in its entirety ("Our Wish Came True (Upon A Falling Star)". While this may have some particular association for you, on the face of it, it seems to be nothing short of trite. I also think you might have more meaningful thoughts about any song than your apparent shock at seeing armpit hair on a male singer in a video... is that really worthy of mention at all?
Scotty from Apache Junction, AzWhile this song is catchy and melodic, it certainly is not a song that has much of any lyrical worth. If there is a message about teenagers being friends and being lustful, I can't obtain any reference to that. When I think of this song or hear it, I am reminded of the video and how the lead singer should have worn a shirt so his hairy armpits should have been covered. I heard that they wore nothing under their overalls at all and the lead singer insisted on that for everyone. Has anyone heard the joke that this song inspired? What's worse than dirt on Olivia Newton-John? Come on Eileen! I believe if a person is going to sing lyrics in a song, those lyrics should have value and worth.
Scotty from Apache Junction, AzWhile this song may be melodic and catchy, it certainly is NOT
Michael from San Diego, CaOne of my all time favorite songs! Takes me right back to high school, and all those intense feelings between boys & girls at such a young and reasonably innocent age.
Aaron from Seward, Akthis song was also in tommy boy.."come on" you know the scene!
Anastasia from Anaheim, Caalright, as much as Dexy's is my favourite band, i have to say that Save Ferris' version is way more awesome.
Phil from Oxford, EnglandHi, I went out with a girl 1984-6, who said she was the lead in the video, her name was Glynis Potter. Can anyone confirm this. She did look like her. Unfortunately Glynis died in 1989. This song brings back very good memories for me as even after we broke up and moved away, we still remained good friends. I miss her
Mel from South Australia, Australiai thought this song was about a prostitute...'my thoughts i confess, verge on dirty'...'with you in that dress', man i was wrong!...also to the people who want to know the words: get singstar 80s! its classic, and it has all the songs i should have grown up with...damn parents, i was only around for 6 months of the 80s!
Michelle from Elkridge, MdI just bought "Dexys Midnight Runners Greatest Hits and it is sooo amazing. They have such a ska kind of sound, and you can tell they really care about what they are playing. I reccomend it to all of you.
Brian from Massapequa, NyThere is a poignant sadness to this song, and when I learned the true lyrics, It became even more sad. But it is a good sadness. The combination of innocence lost with the power of youth. The song writer should be very pleased, i know I am.
John from London, EnglandSadly, Jo of London will probably never check back to find this out, but the video was filmed on the junction of Brook Drive and Hayles Street, near the Elephant & Castle. As I was just telling my wife last night as we walked down it. Looks nothing like the video now, but it did when I moved in to the area fifteen years ago - and the shop was still called Vi's Stores then, too.
Caitlin from A City, NcThis song was mentioned in Megan McCafferty's third Jessica Darling novel, "Charmed Thirds." In this book, a character, Dexy, was so named because her parents loved the song "Come On Eileen."
Terry from Northampton, EnglandI Know all the words to this song-WHY? Because i make it my business to learn the words of every song that i think is Fantastic.Need i say more
Nathan from L-burg, KyNo Doubt covered this song though their cover was never released its floating around the web right now .
Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaActually, the ditty in the Irish Lullabye is Too-Rah-Loo-Rah-Loo-Ral.
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaLike everyone has said, I'm 13 and I love this song. You can't not sing along after you've heard it once.
Eric from Corunna, MiThis is in my top ten favorite songs of all time, and Kat, depending on when you placed this comment we should be around the same age *wink wink*, i don't even know you but you seem to have good taste in music.
River from Sdfa, IcelandThere is an Irish lullaby named "Toora, Loora, Loora," this being the most likely source for their "Toora, loora, toora, loo-rye-aye" lyrics.
The band is, in fact, considered an Irish soul band, the reason for the Celtic-like taste. Though born in England, Kevin Rowland's ancestory comes from Ireland.
Nathan from L-burg, Kymy dad always tries to find a radio station that plays this come on eilenn , our house , and/or safety dance so i know the lyrics by heart
Nathan from Defiance, OhThis song reminds me of my childhood, although I wasn't even born when it came out!
Jo from LondonDoes anyone know where the video for Come On Eillen was filmed? It looks like it might be Camden but I couldn't tell for sure. Thanks!
Breige from Co.clare, Irelandalways a favourite at any wedding or family function I've been too!
Steven from Orlando, Fl I'm old now, but in my youth Eileen was my love, and this song plays still, in my head. I miss my first love even now. Be well sweet Eileen.
Debra from Brisbane, AustraliaI've always like this song too but could never figure out what the words were..now I know! 22/7/05
Eileen from Wouldn't U Like To Know, WyMy name is Eileen, and I love this song!!! Everytime a DJ finds out there is an Eileen in the audience, they play the song. The sad part is I just found out the words were.
Jane from Bangor, MeThis song is one of the reasons i feel i was born in the wrong decade! Its nice to know im not the only one who has an appreciation for it!
Kristin from Kingsland, GaThis was my mom's favorite song when she was growing up (her name is Eileen), she never really knew the words but always sang along. I think its a great song and we still listen to it... "Come on Eileen"
Dale from Parm, OhDid you ever have a childhood friend of the opposite gender? If so, you remember that point in time when being "friends" was practically impossible, as age and hormones - not to mention the deep-set feelings of care - turned platonic fun into interests less innocent. That's the point of this song: our protagonist and the loverly Eileen lass have been friends since thier youth. Running through the grass, chewing gum, and chucking dirt clods at each other were what they did, just like two boys (or two girls). They were mates. However, as youth fades away and the pair press into thier teen years, the two learn of the carnal desires that dwell within together, and that the concept of friendship is now forever changed. The young male, inferred to be about thirteen, is expressing his new-found interest in sexuality with his old friend, someone close for whom he has feelings and has known for some time. The blunt requests to "do something dirty" show that his inhibition is lowered due to the comfort he has with the girl as his now-budding feelings of lust are coupled with the love that comes with years of friendship. If only adolecent sexual exploration were this ideal and comfotable in real life...
In all, this is a wonderful song about the changes of how people look at each other as time progresses, and the tension present when children's feelings reach the point when they change from "like" to "love" (or "lust").
Well, all that plus the music kicks ass, too. Can't be an intellectual all the time, you know!
Tom from Adelaide, AustraliaYeah this song was a beauty! I have it on Cd and every now and again we whack it on and dance on the table. I must admit, I never knew the words but its just one of those songs that makes you feel good. Ah, the eighties.. Gotta love 'em!
Gregmon from Intelbuquerque, NmYeah Kate--
I owned this on vinyl years ago and the liner notes to this song included something about frienship, but wanting to "rip off your clothes and do something dirty to(with?) you.
I remember watching Music News on MTV, and these guys were the warm-up band for Bowie. The crowd was jeering and Roland asked "You wanna se David Bowie?", to which of course they screamed in the affirmative. Then he said something pompous about Bowie's tallent and his own little finger. Didn't hear much of Dexie's after that.
Kate from New Hartford, NyI LOVE THIS SONG SOOOO MUCH!!! It's my absolute favorite!! The 80's had some Great Music! Come On Eileen is my song! A friend and I listen to it all the time and dance together.. her name is Eileen so she grew up with this as her song... she introduced it to me a while ago, and now I'm obsessed with it! haha.. It's so good! How can you not love it? It's the BOMB! haha I'm a big dork, but Eileen and I admit that we are huge dorks and we are proud!! If you don't hum, sing, or dance to this song, there is something seriously wrong with you! I have this song on CD's but I still wish they played it on the radio.. Oldies are the greatest and classics like this one should always be kept on, and not forgotten in the dark.. Come On Eileen!!
Ross from Guernsey, Europe"And what's up with the "Too Ra Loo Ra Too Ra Loo Ra Yay"? These guys are from England, that bit of "Too Ra Loo Ra Too Ra Loo Ra Yay" sounds more like it's Irish!"
Irish? Pshaw! That sort of thing is endemic in English folk music - "Hey nonny no, too ra li ay" etc.
Ace from Marion, VaThe new version of this by No Doubt gives a whole new meaning to the song...kinda creepy, though being sung by Gwen Stefani...guess it's an aquired taste...not their version of the song though, it rocks!!!
Annabelle from Eugene, OrAnd what's up with the "Too Ra Loo Ra Too Ra Loo Ra Yay"? These guys are from England, that bit of "Too Ra Loo Ra Too Ra Loo Ra Yay" sounds more like it's Irish!
Kate from Nepean, Canada-Is this song about a member of the band trying to bed this Eileen character? Because in it it says "We should take off everything." "My thoughts I confess, verge on dirty." so I'm just wondering...awsum song though.
Shana from Pembroke, CanadaI am addicted to this song...just awesome
Maggs from Newcastle, EnglandLittle known fact about this song. It was credited as Dexy's Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express, not just Dexy's ....
Michael from Gso, NcKnow what's grosser than Grease on Olivia Newton John? Come on Eileen. (joke from my childhood -sorry)
Rich from Elkins, WvThis is a cool song...I wish they still played it now and then...it's a shame when a good tune gets put away and forgotten...The eighties had some great music. I hardly listen to the junk they play these days... Yikes , I sound old.
Helen from York, EnglandI thought that Geno was also a hit in the US. Oh well.
Melanie from Reader, WvThis song is awesome! The video is cool and it's an all-around kick ass video
Edward from Miami, FlThis song is a fun song to dance to, there was this club in L.A. named "CHERRY" that would play this song and in no time at all the dance floor would be packed- I still get the chills thinking of all these people jumping and screaming (and the laser lights in sync) with the climaxing end of the fiddle solo.
James from San Bernardino, CaJohnny Ray was an old 40's/50's crooner.
Nazrul from Ampang, MalaysiaSave Ferris did this song and it still rocks!
Ann from Baltimore, MdThis is my favorite pop song of all time- I dare you not to dance when it comes on!