'DON'T STAND ME DOWN' (Mercury 1985)
by CHRIS ROBERTS
"I OWN records that have the power to make me cry. Records to be by or with – truly precious possessions. It is the ambition of the Midnight Runners to make records of this value..."
Inspirational and provocative, Dexys Midnight Runners had already, by 1985, made the greatest album of all time not once but twice. Many were the dullards itching for them to fall at the third attempt. The commercial disaster that was "Don't Stand Me Down" gave the scavengers their chance to gloat, but this artistic triumph is one of the most unique and emotionally challenging albums imaginable.
Kevin Rowland, a poet/pugilist on record if guarded and monosyllabic in interview, was the central energy of every incarnation of Dexys, controversial, revered or reviled (this could look sombre on "Tiswas") he'd driven various line-ups of the band to a) distraction, b) implausibly abrasive and uplifting successes. Never merely two tone, but harder than a bunch of dockers, they'd carried their own brand of soul into the charts ("Dance Stance", "Geno", "There, There My Dear") and, on the subsequent “Searching For The Young Soul Rebels" (1980), displayed Kevin's ranting lyricism in embryonic delirium ("I'm just Looking", "Keep It"). They'd upset the music press by taking out full-page ads of polemic in lieu of playing the interview game, and rogered their record company by stealing master tapes from vaults. Their grail: perfection. Hardly a week went by without Dexys doing something considered 'outrageous' by one of the most conservative industries in the country. Rowland, however, worked to his own logic, and it generally paid to take the leap of faith with him.
"Don't drink, don't smoke, what you do... pretending that you're Al Green, goody two shoes." Adam Ant was not the only star of the time intimidated by Rowland's extremism (later, ironically, these two wrote together). Rowland adopted Plan B, coming up with 1981's Projected Passion Revue – accepted even by sceptics as one of the most searing live outfits ever – and then 1982's classic, "Too Rye Ay", and accompanying global hit singles. "Come On Eileen" was a trans-Atlantic Number One and the biggest single of 1982. The band were now The Celtic Soul Brothers, woolly hats and donkey jackets replaced by dirty dungarees and a considered dishevelment usurping the razor sharp "pure and precious" look. With its breathtakingly intense set-pieces ("Until I Believe In My Soul", "Old", "Liars A To E"), "Too Rye Ay" remains a landmark. "It was rubbish," said Rowland later. "It wasn't leading anywhere. I could just make money – so what? I have to have self respect." "Don't Stand Me Down" was the very definition of long-awaited, much-anticipated. Rumours were rife. It was (gossips said) the most expensive album ever recorded. It was about class war. Two hundred hours of tape were piled up. Sometimes it took Rowland a whole day just to find the right section he wanted to work on. The new image, in the heyday of and Culture Club, with Sigue Sigue Sputnik on the launchpad, was going to knock us sideways.