In Australia, Dexys Midnight Runners are remembered, but as a one hit wonder. “Come on Eileen” was huge, top of the charts for six or eight weeks in 1982. But they never had another hit here: not one. Which is odd, because in the UK they were big, and for years. They had seven singles which reached the top 40. They had three top-ten LPs.
I was an avid listener to pop radio back then. If I had heard anything else by Dexys, I am sure I would remember it. This is probably just a reflection of what I wished I could call “the appalling timidity of commercial radio in the 1980s”, except that things have actually got worse. Tune in to FM radio and you will still hear “Come on Eileen”, and other hits from 30-odd years ago, and absolutely nothing that you have not heard (and heard often) before.
Why? Radio is terrified of losing listeners. “Don’t play anything which might make people change stations,” is the philosophy. So: nothing new. Nothing old, either, unless everyone already knows it. No jazz. No classical. No country. No folk. No nothing. Strangely enough, this dismal approach is causing commercial radio to slowly die.
Community radio (a bit like college radio in the States) gives the lie to the “don’t lose listeners” approach. Community stations are run on volunteer labour and the whiff of an oily rag, much of the oil coming in the form of voluntary subscriptions paid by listeners. People pay eighty or one hundred dollars a year, and sometimes much more, to support community radio. I do this for PBS 106.7 FM, which is perhaps the weirdest and most wonderful radio station on the planet. If you don’t believe me, check it out.
The thing is, community stations are not allowed to have advertising. Their audiences are easily large enough to support a (modestly) profitable commercial operation. But to build that audience would require commercial radio to play interesting, different, engaging music, to challenge people and take them outside their comfort zone.
Maybe, just once in the hour, you could try something different. Flip the single, and see what the B-side to “Come on Eileen” might be.
Commercial radio. As a muted voice-over in this joyful, solos-all-round, soul-tinged instrumental declares: “Yeah, I don’t know, it’s dubious”.
- Artist: Dexys Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express
- Single Title: Come On Eileen
- Track: Side B “Dubious”
- Format: 7”, 45 rpm
- Label: Mercury
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Catalogue number: 6059 551
- Year: 1982
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