Meaning of “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners is a nostalgic trip back to youth, with a sprinkle of sexual awakening. It’s about Eileen and the singer’s yearning to escape the mundane life they were born into. They’re not willing to settle like the older generation. As for Eileen, she’s the muse who represents everything the singer aspires to be free, brave, and untamed. The song connects generational woes and youthful rebellion with the exuberance of love.

Ready for a deep dive into one of the ’80s most iconic hits? Let’s unpack the lyrics, history, and the emotional rollercoaster behind “Come On Eileen.”

“Come On Eileen” Lyrics Meaning

As the song kicks off, “Poor old Johnnie Ray / Sounded sad upon the radio / Moved a million hearts in mono,” it instantly sets the scene of a time long past. Johnnie Ray was a popular singer in the ’50s who captivated audiences with his emotional performances. He’s a symbol here of the older generation’s struggles and the sadness they felt but couldn’t express openly.

The line “You’ve grown (you’re grown up) / So grown (so grown up)” and the chorus “Too-ra-loo-ra, Too-ra-loo-rye-ay” serve as a nod to a simpler time when singing folk songs was a familial and cultural activity. The chorus is a modern adaptation of an old Irish folk tune. It’s as if they’re saying, hey, we’re aware of our roots but we want more than what they had.

In “You in that dress / My thoughts, I confess / Verge on dirty,” the singer admits his attraction for Eileen, who’s all grown up now. It’s this juxtaposition of pure nostalgia and the heat of the moment that makes the song so compelling. Their desires are no longer innocent.

These lines are followed by, “These people ’round here / Were beaten down, eyes sunk in smoke-dried face / They’re so resigned to what their fate is / But not us (no never), But not us (not ever).” This part packs a punch. The song contrasts the apathy of the older generation with the fiery resolve of the youth. The singer and Eileen refuse to succumb to the same defeated spirit that plagued their parents. They’re “far too young and clever” to fall into that pit.

Why Was “Come On Eileen” Written?

This song was a product of its time, released in 1982 during an era of economic difficulties, societal changes, and youthful rebellion. The songwriters Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson, and Billy Adams aimed to create a work that combined the folk tradition with modern storytelling. It was a way to bring back a sense of community and cultural continuity but with a twist. They were tired of the fatalistic attitude of the older generation. Their music screamed: we want change and we’re willing to chase it. “Come On Eileen” was a shout into the void, asking for something more significant and fulfilling than what society had preordained for them.