They don’t make songs like that anymore …
So many folks are absolutely convinced, with a certainty eclipsing any religious belief, that music isn’t as good as it was in the 60s, or the 70s, the 90s or the zeros.
Truth is, it’s all subjective.
It’s the music you were really into when you turn eighteen that’s the best. That’s the time when you’re leaving home, getting a job or off to college, learning to get by on your own and falling in love for the first time – and if you’re really lucky, the last time.
1980 was the year I turned eighteen. 2-Tone had occupied most of my attention during the previous year – The Specials, Madness, Selecter had all released stunning debut albums that had been on my turntable constantly.
I’d heard about this band with a stupid long name who’d been supporting The Specials on the last leg of the 2-Tone tour, replacing Madness, which annoyed me as I didn’t consider it was worth shelling out a fiver for The Specials, The Selecter and the band with the stupid long name.
I actually bought my first Dexys record unheard. I was with my girlfriend in Charing Cross Road just after New Year and walking past Our Price I saw the Dance Stance single with its distinctive cover, with what looked like a gang of football casuals staring out from it.
More to the point it was reduced to 50 pence. Tessa, my significant other, was bemused that I would spend money on a record I hadn’t heard.
I got the record home late that night and put it on. Right from the first horn stabs, it got me.
Five months later, Tessa was impressed at my ability to spot the hit-makers of tomorrow when Geno went to Number One.
“Searching for the Young Soul Rebels” soundtracked every mood for eighteen-year-old me – there’s songs that take you up, songs that you can dance to and songs that are there for you when nobody else is, when you’re eighteen and your problems seem insurmountable, you have all these hormones raging and you can’t talk about it to anybody.
It became the go-to record, all the time.
One song in particular stands out. Used to lose myself in it on a regular basis.
I still have the original vinyl copy with key lyrics underlined (“If There Is Someone …”) from when I lent it to a girl. (It didn’t last btw)
The sleeve notes were a work of genius. It’s worth reading them in full, and bearing in mind that the band had stopped giving any interviews at the time, so this was their only communication with what was becoming a passionate and devoted fanbase:
“On a hot night in July 78 two men, Kevin Rowland and Al Archer left their Iow profile Birmingham hide-out to round up a firm of boys. Fed up with petty spoils from their previous team – a small-time new wave group – and disillusioned by the lack of response from the major fences, they knew this one was going to be the big one and if they were going to have it off they would have to be eight handed. . . with the hardest hitting men in town.
First stop was a rundown nightclub on the edge of town, well known for its clientele of hard rock villains from the last generation. The band were in full swing as the two men strolled in. They were a bunch of smash and grab artists thumping away and rolling over on the floor, as if expecting a punk revival – all apart from the drummer, Andy Growcott, who was exceptional and was recruited immediately. A week later, young Pete Saunders armed with a Hammond organ, was instated. His only form was having played with a local pop group. The following day tenor sax player JB was kidnapped from the late great “Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band.” Then there were five.
The rest of the team took a bit longer to recruit and some of the boys got impatient. Rowland and Archer assured them that this sound was the big one and was well worth waiting for. The boys cooled down and consoled themselves by listening to records of Cliff Bennett, Zoot Money, Sam and Dave, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. etc
Soon after a young bass driver by the name of Pete Williams walked into the hideout carrying his tool under one arm and the complete Stax collection under the other. Disillusioned with new muzak, he put his soul records on the table and shouted “I want to do something as good as these – only better.” The boys knew exactly what he meant and welcomed him with open arms.
The team was completed by the inclusion of Steve “Babyface” Spooner, the alto who got the word from a local snout and Big Jimmy Paterson who had been laying low in the north of Scotland. He got wind of a big one going off in the Midlands, grabbed his trombone and jumped on the next train. The firm was complete – now for the caper…”
One of my major regrets is never having seen the original lineup live – Kevin Rowland singing, Al Archer on guitar, Pete Williams on bass, Pete Saunders playing the organ, JB Blythe, Steve Spooner on saxaphones, Big Jimmy Paterson on trombone and Andy “Stoker” Growcott on drums. You think I had to look that up? Gimme a minute and I’ll list every musician who was ever a Dexys Midnight Runner. Actually, don’t. You’ll lose the will to live.
I’ve followed Dexys through every incarnation since then, and I can’t say, hand on heart, that I’ve loved everything they’ve ever done.
I’m with Kevin Rowland when he says the songs on the follow up album “Too-Rye-Ay” were better but the production is too commercial. I’m guessing producer Pete Sinfield wouldn’t have fancied the production chair second time round after the band kidnapped the master tapes of “Young Soul Rebels” in order to negotiate a better deal with EMI.
(btw I was in the crowd at this gig. A CD to the first person who can correctly identify me at 0:03)
I think Kevin Rowland’s unrelenting emphasis on the way the band looks is a distraction from the music – although I understand its function as a way of attracting media attention, it’s not for me.
The 2012 rebirth of the band with the release of “One Day I’m Going to Soar” with three original members, albeit in a very different configuration, was a triumph.
Three and a half years on an I’d rate the album their best since Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (in my estimation – I know I’m in a minority here as most hardcore Dexys fans go for “Don’t Stand Me Down”)
The record is focussed, tight, emotional and funny, and the live shows have netted them a fair few new fans, while delighting the old fans.
We’ve really got no right to expect an album as good as this from a band 44 years into its career, and with a 27-year gap between albums three and four.
By my reckoning the next Dexys album will be released in 2039.
As the chorus of the climactic song on “One Day I’m Going to Soar” goes… I can’t fucking wait!
I’m on Twitter @BeatCityTone and I also do a couple of hour-long music shows every week to listen to / download.