“One Of The Greatest Records Ever Made”: Dexys “Don’t Stand Me Down”

Dexys Dont Stand Me Down

In March 1985, Kevin Rowland, lead singer and songwriter of Dexys Midnight Runners was facing total ruin. “Don’t Stand Me Down”, his labour of love and an album he had spent two years of his life writing, recording and mixing, might just have been burned in a fire at the record label’s office in New York, and lost forever. Two years work, and possibly the best album of the eighties might just have gone up in smoke…

This news came just a few weeks after he had failed in an attempt to steal the tape back from the studio he was mixing it in after an unpaid bill meant it was being held to ransom. But both of these incidents were just two of a long line of setbacks in recording the follow up to the three million selling Too-Rye-Ay.

The attempted theft happened, according to record producer Alan Winstanley * when Kevin and the band “allegedly grabbed the tapes, ran through the Electric Lady studio, straight through reception….got to the car, and the chauffeur had gone off for a cup of coffee…the door was locked! A studio employee foiled the getaway.”

And the fire? After the tapes were released they were stored at the record company office in New York. The office below suffered a fire and for a week no one could enter Phonogram’s offices to see whether the tape had survived. We can only imagine Rowland’s state of mind for that week…

The tape survived, as it happens. And although the album that resulted was, by all commercial measures, a failure, it remains an artistic triumph and one of the most important albums of the eighties.

Some 29 years later, I was at a record fair thumbing through some Gerry Rafferty and Linda Ronstadt LPs with gloom in my soul, when my heart leapt. There it was: the purple cover of “Don’t Stand Me Down”. It’s a record rich in beach boy harmonies, a “Blonde On Blonde” vibe and Van Morrison-esque soul which has barely dated since its release in 1985, but which was born out of tremendously difficult circumstances and, as I hinted earlier, on release was almost entirely ignored by the general public.

I should probably pause for breath at this point as you may find yourself in one of three camps:

  1. Those who know and love “Don’t Stand Me Down”.
  2. Those who thought Dexys split up after “Come On Eileen”.
  3. Anyone under the age of (roughly) thirty five, the vast majority of which will never have heard of Dexys Midnight Runners. (This is a strange fact, but one I have tested on many occasions. Whilst most people born in the eighties will generally be aware of Wham, Boy George and Adam Ant, very few in comparison will know Dexys Midnight Runners, despite how huge they were, particularly in the UK).

I told the dealer I bought the record from how pleased I was to find it. “Well, it’s only one of the best albums ever made…” he said, as though this was received wisdom, akin to “The Beatles were a good band” or “never eat yellow snow”. Yet, like many people, this is an album I came to quite late.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s start from the beginning.

In April 1983 “Come On Eileen” reached the top of the Billboard charts, knocking off Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. The album sold millions. Yet whilst band leader Kevin Rowland had experienced success, it left him feeling unfulfilled. His reaction to this feeling was encapsulated in the making of “Don’t Stand Me Down” which began as a vision of Rowland’s socio-political view of Ireland but ended up being a more personal record. After nine months of writing, demos were made in the spring of 1984 featuring a band which included Atomic Rooster keyboardist Vincent Crane and ex-Spider from Mars Mick “Woody” Woodmansey. These songs were recorded, dumped, and re-recorded.

Dexys Dont Stand Me Down reverse cover

Three weeks in the studio became six months. Two hundred boxes of tape reels revealed the lengths perfectionist Rowland was going to. There were tales of 120 versions of “This Is What She’s Like”. Eight months into recording, only two songs had been completed and the record company were getting a little nervous. Strangely, the turning point appeared to be when Al Green’s drummer Tim Dancy replaced Woodmansey. A flurry of songs were recorded by September 1984 and then Rowland began mixing the album – in New York. This took another two months, the release date was scheduled for spring 1985….

Yet still Kevin Rowland wasn’t happy, and he spent another two weeks mixing the tapes at Electric Lady studio. The record company refused to pay the bills, and Electric Lady reputedly threatened to withhold the master tapes, leading to the incident that began this story.

But what about the music?

It is perhaps the twelve and a half minute suite “This Is What She’s Like” that most separates “Don’t Stand Me Down” from the foot-stomping rag-wearing cartoon version of Dexys that has been the traditional floor-filling staple of every party ever held since 1983. What a tune this is! Two minutes of studio chatter gives way to a killer first phase, which fades to a gorgeous a cappella “Pet Sounds” style harmony, which builds across a killer finale that knocks “Come On Eileen” into a cocked hat.

Listen also to the “Satellite of Love” feel to the reflective “My National Pride”. Or even the absolute outright thievery of the excellent “One of Those Things”, a song which Kevin Rowland belatedly gave Warren Zevon songwriting credit to (it is a terrific song, but a complete lift of the latter’s “Werewolves of London”) saying in the liner notes to a later re-issue he was “embarrassed” he hadn’t credited Zevon before. There’s also the hit-single-that-never-was of “I Love You (Listen To This)”.

Meanwhile the eight minute closing track “The Waltz” might have sat comfortably on “Tupelo Honey” without ever feeling like it had gate-crashed an Ambassador’s reception. This was an album released in 1985, which, to remind ourselves, was also the year of No Jacket Required, Songs From The Big Chair and Wham!’s Make It Big.

Don’t Stand Me Down entered the UK charts at a lowly 22, three years after the release of Too-Rye-Ay. It would take many years before it was recognised as being one of the greatest albums of the eighties.

Here’s a TV clip from 1985 of Listen To This. Check out Rowland’s intensity…

The Director’s Cut edition of this album adds a track or two and can be found on CD with a little searching. It’s worth the effort. Especially after what Kevin Rowland went through to make it…

“Don’t Stand Me Down” is thirty years old next year. Dexys reformed in 2012 and made the excellent album “One Day I’m Going To Soar”.

A new documentary “Nowhere Is Home” about the reformed Dexys is out in May 2014

* Young Soul Rebels: The Dexys Midnight Runners Story by Richard White


22 responses to ““One Of The Greatest Records Ever Made”: Dexys “Don’t Stand Me Down””

  1. Sad Laff Avatar

    Fascinating! I fall into the camp of those who heard that “Eileen” tune ad infinitum in the 80’s, and wrote it off as a one-time irritant. (I had pretty elitist views about what was good and what wasn’t, but then again, who didn?)
    It’s nice to know that there was more depth behind the facade – thanks for the enlightenment, as always!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading this one.


    2. Dr K Avatar

      The original title of “The Waltz” as “Kathleen ni Houlihan doesn’t talk to Winifred Winpole anymore”. The original version of the song was faster (personally I preferred the demo version). Kevin went into perfectionist mode and slowed the whole song down radically. A great album, nonetheless. But with a bit more flexibility on the way it was marketed and less perfectionism it could have been an all time hit.


      1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        I haven’t heard the demo versions. On a bootleg, or is there a commercial release?


  2. Pdubyah Avatar

    We’ll. that’s a bit good. I’ve put it on he list. Have to say that those years around and about are somewhat fuzzy in the memory.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      By coincidence I just spoke to a record shop owner today and he told me it was his favourite album of all time also….


  3. jayrb1971 Avatar

    I believe the clip is from The Tube as it’s live. A fantastic song though and my favourite on the album.


  4. Philip Walter Avatar

    Christmas Day, andI found “Nowhere is home” and this is something like track 20… it was with the wait


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s great to hear – Merry Christmas!


  5. John A Avatar

    Great piece – loved the summary of the three ‘camps’.

    Sadly, “Listen To This” never got anywhere close to being on Top Of The Pops (unless you count a showing on TOTP2 about a decade ago) which says as much about why most people don’t know how good “Don’t Stand Me Down” was as your article does – the Eighties were all about hit-singles and “Don’t Stand Me Down” wasn’t! That clip was most definitely (as jayrb1971 comments above) performed on The Tube.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pil Avatar

    i fall into the camp of “loved Soul Rebels hated Eileen stopped listening to them after it.” seeing as a friend whose taste i respect shared this on the book of face (and coupled with it being a well written piece), i’m gonna have to track it down

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Justin Avatar

    What a lovely piece. Listening to the album as I write (listen to this).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Det ble brukt måneder i studio og til miksing og i  det hele tatt var tilblivelsen en tung og lang affære. Faktisk er alt en ganske fornøyelig historie som du kan lese mer om her: https://everyrecordtellsastory.com/2014/04/28/one-of-the-greatest-records-ever-made-dexys-dont-stand… […]


  9. Billy Blagg Avatar

    Good to see this article. ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ is a work of genius. All three of the original Dexy’s albums are ‘must haves’ (although the reformed ‘Soar’ album is also superb) but ‘DSMD is a towering triumph. If you haven’t heard it, do so now, and if you don’t get it at first – although I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t – I’d advise at least six listens.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Trish O'Farrell Avatar
    Trish O’Farrell

    It’s a masterpiece! ‘ This is What She’s Like’ is 12 minutes of perfection …

    Liked by 1 person

  11. jezfleming Avatar

    Steve, Large chunks of your review have been lifted and reused in the following ‘review’: https://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/65752/Dexys-Midnight-Runners-Dont-Stand-Me-Down/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks for the heads up Jez. Very strange to go to a review site and use someone else’s words!
      Ah well, you know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Phillip Avatar

    I bought Don’t stand me down when it was released, late summer 1985, I already knew the two first albums by then. At first I loved the two long tracks on side one ( This is what she’s like and Knowledge of beauty ). I wore side one more than side two. Decades later I listened to side 2 with a fresh pair of ears and loved it too. This album is Kevin Rowland’s Smile ( referencing Brian Wilson ). It is one of my all time favourite album, I have a tight connection to Don’t stand me down. Too rye ay was an excellent album, so what do you do after a blockbuster? what do you do after a masterpîece? after Pet sounds or the White album? I think Kevin knows the answer, I totally agree when you compare This is what she’s like to Pet sounds, I would go even further and compare it with Smile ( 2004 version ). It’s THAT good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Phillip. No arguments here!


  13. callingcaptainautumn Avatar

    Delighted to find other kindred spirits. Discovered this while looking for an image to include in an article in my work newsletter about great lost albums. With each passing year I’m more convinced that it is a masterpiece.

    Also, with apologies for the terrible pedantry, there’s no apostrophe in Dexys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thank you Captain – I wrote this many years ago, so glad to update it without the apostrophes – thank you for highlighting!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: