I’m kind of embarrassed that it took this long for me to connect the dots. The last two albums I looked at from 1982, XTC’s Wire and A Flock of Seagulls’s self-titled album, were extraordinary listens, albums deserving far more status than the underrated gems they are. It took covering a third damn great album from the year that no one talks about for me to look up what was going on that year to determine how any of this got any mainstream notice (well, for Flock and Dexys anyway) in the first place, and the simple answer is that 1982 was MTV’s first full calendar year on the waves.
What I think happened (and what a cursory bit of research sorta confirms) was that MTV, knowing full well that music videos could still easily exist without their channel to show them on, aimed to show off unique works and music in an effort to stand out. They weren’t against showing off the biggest artists of the day, sure, but there has to be something to play besides “Thriller” and “Dancing In the Dark”, and a lot of acts that might not have otherwise gotten big were able to, at the very least, have a chance at a hit. If Dexys Midnight Runners aren’t the strangest band to claim the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, they are certainly in the top ten choices for that titles.
The music video for “Come On Eileen” may have given the impression that Dexys are a bunch of rednecks who lucked into a hit, but it is hard to imagine how much farther from the truth that could be. They’re English, for one thing, and the rest of their second album, Too-Rye-Ay, is jam-packed with infectious ditties that hint they could have had another hit in the United States off this record if they were packaged correctly. It is easy for me to focus on that “if” as representing a massive failure by the people in charge of marketing their music, but in all fairness, Dexys were working hard in Celtic folk along with their bread-and-butter of blue-eyed soul, and—wait, what the fuck is blue-eyed soul? That’s not a term I’m particularly familiar with. Let me look this up…okay, there’s too much to break down here, but, um, you know how everyone just kind of politely pretends that David Bowie never made Young Americans? Well, imagine if that album were part of a wave of white folk who were into soul music, then stop imagining because that’s what happened.
That niche genre term is a fine way of describing Too-Rye-Ay, and Dexys opt to go for the most obvious route of navigating the most troublesome aspects of the above description: by playing the shit out of what they got. The album has the energy of a live show, with a proper big intro, big hand claps, and uppity interludes to get the energy up after the few slow numbers. Actually, those slow numbers are the few strikes against Too-Rye-Ay. I think “Old” and “Until I Believe In My Soul” are fine enough songs, but I don’t believe they’re good enough songs to make up for how they harm the pacing of the album. The album is otherwise a brisk and fun listen, though easily worse than A Flock of Seagulls, which is fine because a lot of albums aren’t that good. Goddamn, 1982.VERDICT: OWN
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.