457. ‘Geno’, by Dexys Midnight Runners

Our next number one starts off with some live chanting, and a short, sharp horn riff, giving the impression that we’re heading off in the same 2-tone, ska direction that The Specials took us… Until it switches tack and suddenly we’ve got a brassy, soulful saxophone line leading the way.

Geno, by Dexys Midnight Runners (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, 27th April – 11th May 1980

And that’s not the only abrupt shift over the course of ‘Geno’ – it’s a song that’s chopped up into lots of little bits. Lots of catchy little chunks. There are the woozy verses… Back in sixty-eight in a sweaty club… with lyrics that need serious Googling thanks to lead-singer Kevin Rowland’s unique delivery… Before Jimmy’s Machine and the Rocksteady Rub…

It’s a potted history of the band, or of Rowland’s formative years, bunking school and sneaking in to clubs to see soul legend Geno Washington step on stage, swinging his towel high… Then the tempo swings again, and there’s an insistent post-punk drive to the middle-eight. Academic inspiration, You gave me none… And then there’s the live chanting, which is actually sampled from a Van Morrison live album.

When writing these posts, I usually jot down my impressions on a song without looking at any other sources. You know, if you read that such-and-such a song is included in the Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 of all time, then it might influence your judgement… But with this record, I’m a bit stumped. The components are catchy, the oh-oh-oh Geno hook is great, but I’m struggling to place it.

It’s another insistent record, yet another chart-topper from ’79-’80 that is brimming with confidence and with ideas. Listening to this era’s chart-toppers is like going to an art school’s open day and being performed at by some very confident young wannabes. It’s all very impressive; but it can get a bit much.

So, do I like this song? Should I be enjoying this? The consensus seems to be that this is a classic… but that’s probably just because the Runners’ next chart-topper is so overplayed and people want to look cool. I think the big negative here is that the song’s topic is quite niche – a description of a gig – and the vocals so unintelligible. Still, it’s not boring, and that is always something.

This was just the second single that Dexys Midnight Runners’ had ever released, after their formation in Birmingham in 1978. Their name is the shortened version of Dexedrine, an amphetamine popular in clubs at the time, and which is referenced in this song: This man was my bomber, My dexys, My high… Oh Geno! It’s also the reason why there’s no apostrophe in the band’s name, which goes against all my English teaching instincts… They will be back, in good time, with one of the decade’s signature hits. One that may be overplayed, but that I will have no problem justifying as a classic!


16 thoughts on “457. ‘Geno’, by Dexys Midnight Runners

  1. I never heard this before…of course, I’ve heard the other one. I like this a lot…the music and the call and response. The other one is one of the best singles of the decade…this one is very good.

  2. It’s a classic to me, and i do prefer it to Come On Eileen. Its roots are 60s soul, and Dexys had a run of great soul-based stroppy singles from Dance Stance through to 1981 when the band split away from Kevin Rowland and became The Bureau. I saw The Bureau support the Pretenders and both were smokin hot in concert. I wonder if its a generational thing for Geno – in a recent online Buzzjack music discussion -based poll this one seemed to puzzle folk expecting to hear Come On Eileen and it didnt go down well.

    Dexys Mk 2 were basically Rowland snd hired musicians, The sound of early Dexys is closer to Geno Washington than Van Morrison. Dexys 2 is t’other way round.

    • It definitely has been overshadowed by the later monster hit… ‘Geno’ wasn’t completely unknown to me – I could have hummed the hook maybe – but listening to it properly it just didn’t quite take, for some reason. Having said that, I probably haven’t heard ‘Come On Eileen’ properly for a long time either, so may find it doesn’t live up to its reputation when we get there.

  3. I feel for Rowland in this video…his voice is shot probably because of a tour…I can’t believe they let this out at all.

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