Okay, this song has bothered us for a while now. Most people know Dexy’s Midnight Runners for Come On Eileen in 1982.
But the band was no one hit wonder. And this is arguably Kevin Rowland’s finest moment.
This Is What She’s Like
There it is above, all 12 minutes of the bloody thing. It’s from the September 1985 album Don’t Stand Me Down.
And Tell Me What She’s Like is the best track of the lot, in our opinion! After a conversational intro, the song kicks off at the 2:07 minute mark and proceeds to go all over the place.
Listening to it, you can’t help but wonder if the band’s eccentric frontman, Kevin Rowland, is a genius or a lunatic.
Along with the distracting (and pretty unnecessary) half-naked drummer in the official video to the song, the vast set of musicians are kept very busy.
The structure changes tempo on several occasions. At the start, Rowland and guitarist Billy Adams have a casual discussion about the girl Rowland is dating.
Over the course of the song, Rowland tries to express his feelings. He grapples with the emoting part—telling Billy what she’s like—until enjoying a breakthrough with everything ending on a frantic and uplifting outro.
Also included in Tell Me What She’s Like is the brilliant line:
"Well, you know, the English upper classes are thick and ignorant."
We think the whole song is genius and Rowland’s talents shine through. But, the rest of the world in 1985 certainly didn’t agree.
Don’t Stand Me Down’s Commercial Failure
We had a big Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s phase around 2000. There was even a documentary about the band on British TV.
On that, the brief clips of Tell Me What’s She Like piqued our interest big time. But the Don’t Stand Me Down album wasn’t available anywhere. As if it didn’t exist. How come?
Many music aficionados now consider the album a neglected masterpiece, but it was a total disaster upon release. Sales were poor and reviews middling.
That was partially due to the sudden musical shift (although the band was notorious for that). But also because Rowland refused to publicise the album or release a single from it.
Decades later he acknowledged he was being too much of an obsessive prick about the project. But as a young man, he was famous for his relentless energy and intensity.
Anyway, Dexy’s third album—gone were the choppy pop songs from Too-Rye-Aye (1982). And everyone in the world wanted another Come on Eileen.
Rowland didn’t care. With a new look and heavily reduced line-up (from the Too-Rye-Aye era Rowland had only maintained talented violinist Helen O’Hara), the seven-track album bombed.
The songs are ambitious and much bigger in scope than the band’s previous short pop songs. There’s an impressive musical maturity here, despite the young age of the band members.
For example there are slow-burning, folk music gems such as this.
Rowland had thumped his heart and soul into Don’t Stand Me Down. So its dismal commercial failure was difficult for him to take.
It was enough to end the band. The members called it quits in 1987 and Rowland began a solo career.
Billy Adams has retired from music. Helen O’Hara released a solo album in 1990 called Romanza.
However, Rowland did eventually reform Dexy’s Midnight Runners in 2003. Then again in 2012-2016, with Helen O’Hara briefly rejoining.
And they’ve released two new albums since then—the last in 2016 was Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul.
We’ve not listened to either, but we’re most definitely tempted to upon revisiting Don’t Stand Me Down.