#254: 1980, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Burn It Down

by George_East on August 11, 2011

It seems like only the other day I was writing about Dexy’s iconic Geno in intros week.  Well, now that Jackie, with his post yesterday on Patti Smith’s superb version of Gloria, has decided that our fourth theme week is the one suggested by guest poster Geoff Elliott, I am back to the album from which Geno comes: the astonishing Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.

The challenge by Geoff in his piece on Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was great opening album tracks.  One of the problems with this as a theme week is that before the get go we have already featured a whole bunch of prime contenders.  In fact ten of the very greatest of album openers off the top of my head have appeared:  The Clash’s London Calling, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, Blur’s Tender, Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat, The Velvet Underground & Nico’s Sunday Morning, The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dinosaur Jr’s Freak Scene, and The Beatles’ Come Together.

This though I think is fully deserving of its place amongst the great opening tracks.  It is not just the opening track to an album, but the opening track to Dexy’s debut album.  It is about announcing themselves to the world.  And oh, how they announce their intentions.

Kevin Rowland listens to the radio turning the dial to find something, anything worth listening to.  An easy listening station, some kind of foreign announcer are rapidly moved through, some jazz.  He finally finds some rock music.  The dial is moved more slowly: the sound of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water is heard – jesus this is the self-indulgent music that punk was supposed to have killed dead.  Move on.  Their assassins emerge from the ether, the Pistols, Anarchy in the UK. Punk is tired, gone, so yesterday – it has become no more interesting than the music it replaced.  And then, then what’s this, The Specials‘ Rat Race – the coolest band around at the moment, a record that was only released the year before. A group who share similar fans with Dexy’s – rude boys, soul boys, sta press and Fred Perry. Though, Dexy’s dress was all construction worker donkey jackets and woolly hats.  Rat Race. A great track.  Surely this is worth listening to.

How wrong you are.  Rowland’s reaction – he calls to Jim Patterson on trombone:

Hey Jimmy’,

‘Yeah’,

‘Now’

‘Yeah’

And then spitting with contempt for the music he has just heard: ‘for god sake burn it down’.

Cue the greatest brass section ever to appear in a white band, the trademark of Dexy’s Mark 1, blowing everything  that has come before away, as the song proper kicks off.  An angry song in which Wolverhampton born Rowland celebrates his catholic Irish heritage, with its list of Irish literary figures  – the implication that Ireland was never spoken about at the time other than through the prism of the troubles: ‘shut your fucking mouth until you know the truth’.

And as it happens this also fulfils Ray’s challenge – as at the peak of their powers, after Geno went to Number 1 and Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was raved by the critics, Rowland junked the entire brass section, the sound that had made them, and Dexy’s went all raggle taggle.

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George_East August 13, 2011 at 8:57 am

You are right, of course. It is amazing how familiarity with a track means that you sometimes don’t listen to it carefully enough. For some reason ever since I first got into the album in my late teens its been Anarchy In The UK. And if you think about it, Holidays In The Sun makes even more sense. It is after all a song in which post-Matlock the Pistols were left with stealing the riff from The Jam’s In The City perfectly illustrating that punk had run its course.

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