Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)
Released in 1980 at the height of the Northern Soul revival, this record by Birmingham’s quirkiest of quirksters draws on a profound Soul sensibility, whilst also experimenting with Funk, Ska, and booming powerhouse Pop melodies.
Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is truly a record of its time; a powerful statement of defiance and fun by Kevin Rowland and his eight-strong army of “boys”. It’s the intense, four-dimensional soundscapes that first grabbed me when I got my hands on a second hand, semi-battered CD copy in the early noughties. New wave meant fresh air; and in a music chart dominated by Punk bands and semi-irrelevant popsters, Dexys were one of the larger waves sweeping over a changing musical landscape.
The album begins with the brilliant, cymbal crashing Burn It Down – full of balls and lifeblood and culture-shifting-angst, it’s a passionate attack on all those who dare demean the Irish and their heritage. Rowland reels off a host of Irish literary giants in defense of this great nation – Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Lawrence Stern, to name but a few. The horns are exquisite, and the vocals thumping. One of Dexy’s finest ever recordings.
Followed by Tell Me When The Light Turns Green – a rousing shifter, once again brought to life by a brilliant horn section, it’s more The Team That Meets In Caffs that pulls the ear into the speaker and wont let go. A moody, edgy instrumental, it demonstrates the true power of this band, and the voice behind them without needing voice. In fact, I ramble. The true voice of this band are those compelling horns.
I’m Just Looking is a gripping song of longing with yet another stunning brass section, followed by the epic bounce of Geno – one of the band’s staple super hits. The beauty of this band is that their music gets inside you before you realise it has to somehow get out. I’ve had many a night pumping the jukebox with Geno, much to the delight of EVERYONE. Seven Days Too Long, quite simply a Northern Soul institution, is every inch as rousing as the original.
I Couldn’t Help If I Tried is a gorgeous ballad sang with deep, raw emotion by Rowland, who flirts with falsetto throughout. It is bluesy in parts, jazzy in others, but at all times grabs you by the shirt collar. A superb change in tempo on an otherwise lively album. Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply – just about the oddest song title of them all – certainly lends an ear to the Punk movement of the time with its machine-gun bass, but the organ, coupled with Rowland’s fascinating flying-falsetto, throws the overall sound back into the Northern Soul scene. There is even a suspicion of Disco influence in this track – and that is never anything short of exciting.
And so, it seems that the only way to review this record is track-by-track. There is a spinal cord throughout the music. Love Part One is a unique, spoken word track complemented by a solo saxophone in the background, with an intrigue and poignancy: “They all dedicate lines to you/Thin lines – easy to see through/Of course they do it to be like others who/All feel something I wont pretend just for you.” Now that is cool.
The closing track on the album, There, There My Dear, is an exuberant and emphatic closing performance featuring dynamic backing vocals and a great lyric. And so comes a shock when the vinyl stops spinning and the needle clicks because your world has been nothing but Dexys indulgence for that space in time. As a complete package there are one or two dips, and it’s not looking to tear your heart out and stitch it straight back in. But, damn, it’s a cool record.
Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is a powerful piece of work that captures its time so well – a time when music called for rowdiness and energy and all-out passion.
Top track trio:
Burn It Down
Seven Days Too Long