Dexys Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

On the surface, “Come On Eileen” tells the story of a young man sexually pursuing a young woman. However, the hidden meaning of the track involves young people’s general desire to stay unattached to the tired desperation they see in older generations. It also deals with how the young approach feelings of attraction in general.

Kevin Rowland wrote the song to discuss “Catholic repression” and to generally comment on the fear of an unfulfilled life that young people experience. It is not strictly literal or based on any particular person. The track’s composition was influenced by Kevin Archer, who played Rowland some demos that sparked the song’s inspiration.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these interesting lyrics to reveal their hidden meaning. We’ll also discuss some of the song’s themes that allow anyone to relate to it, as well as the songwriting story. Let’s get started!

“Come On Eileen” Lyrics Meaning

The beginning of the track is a reference to the melancholic hits of Johnnie Ray (a famous American musician), which “moved a million hearts in mono.” This reference is meant to talk about Kevin Rowland’s parents’ generation. It’s worth noting that Rowland says, “our mothers cried,” instead of himself or his peers.

Johnnie Ray was known as “The Prince of Wails” and “The Cry Guy” for his emotional performances of sad songs. This sadness is what Rowland wants to avoid, which he explains in the next section.

Here, Rowland first turns his attention to Eileen. He starts by focusing on her appearance, flattering her by noticing how she’s “grown.” He continues being playful with her, singing “too-ra-loo-ra” as a child might. This is all an introduction to his upcoming blunt advances toward her.

In the chorus, Rowland fully admits that he wants Eileen. He says, “you [Eileen] mean everything” and that his thoughts “verge on dirty.” The straightforwardness and enthusiasm of the chorus contrast with the slow, repressed weepiness Rowland wants to escape.

Kevin Rowland has confirmed that the song is meant to address “Catholic repression” and feelings of social guilt. In the same interview, Rowland described being “surrounded by Irish Catholic girls you couldn’t touch” while having feelings of “lust which you’re not supposed to have” as a teenager. This song is Rowland’s confession of those feelings.

After the first chorus, Rowland transitions into a long criticism of the older people he doesn’t want to become. He describes them as “beaten down” and “resigned to what their fate is.” Nonetheless, he seems confident that he and Eileen can escape this cycle since they are “far too young and clever.” There is a hint of irony in that line, but Rowland does still want to try and live freely with Eileen.

This section demonstrates that Rowland and Eileen are equals in terms of age and their say in the relationship. This disproves any claims that the song is problematic for describing an older man pursuing a newly legal woman. Rowland wants a real partnership with Eileen, not a meaningless encounter.

After he tells Eileen his hopes for their future, Rowland launches into another chorus. This one is even more direct since he asks her to “take off everything” with him. The chorus becomes a slowed-down chant backed with more “too-ra-loo-ra” in the background and then returns to full speed one more time.

After this final chorus, the song ends with an interesting addition. Rowland loosely quotes four lines from an old Irish song, “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms.” That song is about a man promising a woman that he will love her even when her beauty fades.

Basically, Rowland includes these final lines to show that his feelings for Eileen are not shallow. While he is openly sexual towards Eileen, this is not all he wants her for. He does want to be freed from the sexual “repression” of his elders, but he also wants a lasting connection.

In summary, “Come On Eileen” is about a young man’s brash advances toward a woman he loves. The hidden meaning is about the fear of becoming your parents and falling into a desperate, repetitive life. The song owes its success to its ability to liberate people from their personal inhibitions.

The Story Behind “Come On Eileen”

Kevin Rowland wrote the track after listening to demos from Kevin Archer, his friend and fellow songwriter. After hearing the demos, Rowland admits he “nicked that style” and the “idea of speeding up and slowing down.” However, he didn’t take “one note, one chord,” or “one melody” from anyone but himself. 

Regarding the purpose of the song, Rowland wanted to combat the “Catholic repression” he experienced growing up. He disagreed with the enforcement of chastity he grew up with, and the song is a criticism of that viewpoint. Simply put, he’s responding to the idea of sexual purity by being sexually blunt and open.

Because of this sexual flair, “Come On Eileen” was sometimes subject to bans by various organizations. However, it appears the success of the song couldn’t be stopped by that obstacle. “Come On Eileen” was a number-one hit in the US, UK, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, and more. It has sold millions of copies worldwide and received critical accolades as well as commercial ones.

The story behind a song is inseparable from its success, and “Come On Eileen” is no exception.