Number Ones: #59


  • DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS This Is What She’s Like (Mercury)
  • Week Ending 23rd November 1985
  • 2 Weeks At #1

“I’m looking for the Celtic Soul Brothers. I can’t find them anywhere! Where have you hidden them?”

Okay, so I’m paraphrasing a little, and taking some artistic license, but it could apply to the return of Dexys Midnight Runners in August 1985. Three years on from the all-conquering Too Rye-Ay era, with its transatlantic chart-topping Come On Eileen and two other major UK hit singles, Kevin Rowland and his assorted comrades finally emerged with a follow-up.

Don’t Stand Me Down. The one where they’re all dressed like Wall Street Bankers. Or Ivy League undergraduates. Or, as one critic described them, double-glazing salesmen. (This refers to the original sleeve, by the way, rather than the alternatives which adorned various revisionist reissues in the years since).

Rowland, the master tactician, the restless spirit, the searcher for the young soul rebels, the artist never happy with standing still, had once again re-invented the band’s image and deconstructed their sound. Over the course of two painful years, of great expense, abandoned sessions and the breakdown of some relationships within the band, Don’t Stand Me Down was eventually completed and then released into the world without a lead single to trail the project, or to whet the appetite.

The world was, unfortunately, rather nonplussed by what it saw and even more indifferent to what it heard. If the hope was to draw upon the cachet of Too Rye-Ay‘s success and the profile Dexys had been enjoying in 1982/83, and to create an event by launching the album on its own, with no promotional assistance from anything as mundane as, you know, a round black piece of vinyl playing at 45rpm, then the plan backfired quite spectacularly.

The pop scene had moved on. It was 1985, post-Live Aid, and everyone, however feted and however “alternative”, was playing the game. You needed singles, and singles taken from albums. The Smiths, New Order, The Cure. Even a band like The Style Council had largely given up issuing standalone 45s, and were about to lift a third single from their current album Our Favourite Shop. Only the brave, or foolhardy, would try to do things any other way.

Upon Don’t Stand Me Down‘s release, retailer WH Smiths had placed it at #2 on their in-store chart, which was usually a reliable barometer of what to expect on the real chart the following week. A little optimistic, maybe?

Just a little. The album would debut at #22, causing red faces at WH Smiths and white ones at Mercury Records, no doubt. Rowland’s decision was now seen as an act of hubris, and the vultures circled. A surprisingly hostile interrogation on its faliure by Radio 1 and Whistle Test’s Richard Skinner (who had been full of praise for the record on its release) cemented Don’t Stand Me Down‘s reputation as a dud.

All of which was a bit unfair. Curiosity piqued by this album without a single, with such an odd sleeve, with this growing notoriety, I ordered it from a local library on vinyl. It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Though I’d enjoyed most of the Too Rye-Ay hits, you couldn’t call me a real Dexys fan by any stretch of the imagination so I had no real baggage to contend with, no expectations to live up to.

It was actually quite good, in its rambling, bloody-minded way. Some of it, when the best songs got a chance to breathe and stretch their legs, were better than quite good. Sections of tracks like Listen To This and Knowledge Of Beauty, or the finale of This Is What She’s Like where the head of steam created by the string section is something to behold.

Perhaps out of desperation, perhaps just to see if they could salvage anything from the project, Mercury (or Rowland, or both) did relent in their “no singles” approach and, in early November, an edited version of This Is What She’s Like was thrust upon the market.

Chopping around 9 minutes from the original album version, the A-side loses the interminable pre-song dialogue between Kev and his faithful sidekick Billy Adams, but the best thing about the song, its second half, gets omitted (it does at least form the B-side). Which was unfortunate but if they weren’t going to choose the more obvious Listen To This, a necessary evil.

In a further throw of the marketing dice, the 7″ single was available in a swish gatefold double-pack edition (which yours truly eagerly purchased!), adding a bonus disc that included an unironic cover of Status Quo’s Marguerita Time. The result was a UK chart peak of #78.

There would be no further singles from Don’t Stand Me Down.

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