Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners: Song meaning, lyrics, covers and more facts revealed

18 June 2024, 13:19

Dexys Midnight Runners: Steve Shaw, Helen O'Hara, Kevin Rowland, Seb Shelton and Billy Adams
Dexys Midnight Runners: Steve Shaw, Helen O'Hara, Kevin Rowland, Seb Shelton and Billy Adams. Picture: Getty Images

By Mayer Nissim

Too Rah Loo Rye Aye!

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Dexys, as you'll all know, have been back together making excellent music for over 20 years.

As well as songs from return albums One Day I'm Going to Soar and The Feminine Divine, fans seeing the band – formerly known as Dexys Midnight Runners – are also being treated to some of their classic back catalogue.

And you don't get more classic than 'Come on Eileen', the band's biggest song and most enduring hit.

But how much do you know about the song?

Below, we round up all the fast facts about one of the greatest pop moments of the 1980s.

Who wrote 'Come on Eileen'?

Dexy's Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen (Live)

A straightforward question, but one without a simple answer.

According to the official credits, 'Come on Eileen' was written by Dexys Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowland together with Jim Paterson and Billy Adams.

When he was having a bit of a personal crisis in the late 1990s, Kevin tried to shove over a fair bit of credit to ex-Dexys star Kevin Archer.

Archer had left the band a year before 'Come on Eileen' and the band's massive Too-Rye-Ay album, and, Rowland suggested the overall feel of the album was due to him.

Dexys Midnight Runners in 1980
Dexys Midnight Runners in 1980. Picture: Getty Images

"The idea and sound was his; I stole it from him, hurting Kevin Archer deeply in the process," Rowland said.

But a few years later he said that while there was a bit of truth, he'd gone a bit overboard as a result of his own mental state at the time.

"He played me his demos and he was using a combination of a Tamla-style beat with violins, which I thought sounded better than what we were doing," Rowland explained.

"So I nicked that style, and the idea of speeding up and slowing down. I didn’t steal one note, one chord, one melody."

What does 'Too Rah Loo Rye Aye' mean anyway?

Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's An Irish Lullaby)

The main refrain in the song, and the title of its parent album, takes its name from classic Irish-American song 'Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby)'.

The song was a big success after it was written by for the Tin Pan Alley musical Shameen Dhu, and enjoyed another burst of success when covered by Bing Crosby for 1944 movie Going My Way.

Bing's version sold over a million copies.

As for what the phrase means, well it's quite obviously nothing.

Apparently it dates back at least three quarters of a century before the original foik song, and it's said to be a play on "turelurelu" – the onomatopoeic description of the noise a flute makes.

Is the 'Eileen' in 'Come on Eileen' based on a real person?

Dexys Midnight Runners live in London in 1982
Dexys Midnight Runners live in London in 1982. Picture: Getty Images

Apparently, Kev used to tell people that yes, Eileen was very much a real person – his childhood girlfriend who, "in that dress" would prompt those thoughts that "verge on dirty".

But that's not quite true,

"In fact she was composite, to make a point about Catholic repression," Rowland told The Guardian many, many years later.

Dexys in concert in 2022
Dexys in concert in 2022. Picture: Getty Images

A little bit of inspiration also came from a good-looking interviewer the band met during their tour the previous year.

As for the other name mentioned in the song, Johnnie Ray is of COURSE a real person, with the winsome rock 'n' roll pioneer best remembered for his classic version of 'Cry'.

And the scratch version of 'Come On Eileen' was known as "James, Stan and Me' before they had a proper title  – a reference to major Dexys influences James Brown and Van Morrison (nickamed "Stan" for reasons we're not actually sure).

What does 'Come on Eileen' have to do with Bananarama?

Dexys Midnight Runners, Kevin Rowland - Come On Eileen (1982 Version)

Okay, 'Come on Eileen' has nothing to do with Bananarama.

But the Eileen character on the single sleeve and in the music character was played by Máire Fahey, the sister of Siobhan Fahey from Bananarama (and Shakespears Sister)– her sole acting credit on IMDB.

The music video was directed by Julien Temple, already known for directing the classic Sex Pistols fauxumentary The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

When was 'Come on Eileen' released and where did it get in the charts?

Dexys Midnight Runners - Come on Eileen on 7"
Dexys Midnight Runners - Come on Eileen on 7". Picture: Alamy

Dexys Midnight Runners were FAR from one-hit wonders, and 'Come on Eileen' wasn't even Dexys' first number one.

The group had topped the charts with 'Geno' in 1980 (when Archer was still in the band), and parent album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels had gone to number six in the charts.

But it felt like they were already on the wane, with 'The Celtic Soul Brothers' stalling at number 45 and the label and band both feeling a few nerves.

Everything changed when 'Come on Eileen' was released as a single on June 25, 1982.

Dexys - Come On Eileen (From The Album Too-Rye-Ay, As It Should Have Sounded) 2022 Remix

In the UK, we had 'Dubious' on the B-side, while the Americans were treated to 'Let's Make This Precious' on the B-side in the US.

If you splashed on the 12", you also got 'Liars A to E'.

We've already noted a few times that the song went all the way to number one in the UK.

It was the biggest-selling song in 1982, and also the closing track on the massive Too-Rye-Ay, released on July 22, 1982.

Who has covered 'Come on Eileen' over the years?

School of Rock 2022 Students perform "Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners

'Come on Eileen' shifts speed and keys enough to scare off plenty of people from covering it, we reckon, but there's still plenty brave enough to give it a clue.

Favourites include the School of Rock 2022 students, plus Scottish band Texas.

There's also versions by Nouvelle Vague, Lou Bega, Badly Drawn Boy feat. Jools Holland and – in 2004 – a reworked version by 4-4-2 called 'Come on England'.