The Infinite Jukebox: Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ ‘Dance Stance’

Just as was the case with The Flamin’ Groovies and ‘Shake Some Action’, once again we have the spectacle of a band not understanding what makes their own record great.
‘Dance Stance’ was the debut single by Dexys Midnight Runners, the first I and most people heard of them. It received relatively little airplay from Radio 1, who were more concerned with promoting The Q-Tips, whose lead singer was Paul Young, the big difference being that whilst both bands were soul revivalists, returning to the sounds of the Sixties, Kevin Rowland and Dexys were intent on using the sound in a new way, for their own ends, whilst The Q-Tips were just duplicating old songs. It was ever thus with Radio 1.
Nevertheless, ‘Dance Stance’ did reach the British charts, even if it was for only one week at no. 40, and more importantly it thrilled me every time I heard it, it went down brilliantly on tapes I made to dance to at parties, and it’s still as fresh as paint to this date.
Kevin Rowland hated it. He hated the production, by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, and sacked him and everyone else involved with it, bringing in Pete ‘Eighteen with a Bullet’ Wingfield as producer for the follow-up single, ‘Geno’, which got the band their first Number 1, and their debut album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. For the opening track, ‘Dance Stance’ was re-recorded, and reverted to its original title, ‘Burn It Down’. Kevin may have approved much more, but to me the second version hits the ground with a dull thud, just like the Dave Edmunds-produced ‘official’ version of ‘Shake some Action’.
What’s the difference? There’s not that much difference in instrumentation and arrangement. ‘Dance Stance’ kicks off with a storming riff, blasted out on two saxaphones and a trombone, that sets the single alight, and the fire of the horns keeps returning, to break down and restart the rhythm and set your heart beating.
Rowland comes in, his voice abrasive, his words abrasive and dismissive of someone he claims doesn’t understand. This person being described is a loser, a know-nothing, ignorant, not fully understanding the meaning. For once, the lyrics don’t really matter, the sneer overlooked in the passion of the music, an active bass, a cutting guitar playing underpinning chords, and then the song hits its chorus, its chant, its real moment of fun, because the chorus is the band, mixed to a distance that makes them sound like a crowd chanting, and what this guy who’s the target doesn’t understand turns out to be… classic Irish writers.
Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, Edna O’Brien and Lawrence Stern, a litany of names reeled off by the band in rhythmic delight whilst Rowland delineates different kinds of ignorance or unconcern prefixing each name.
It’s a colossal shock. Since when did pop or rock or soul concern itself with literary ignorance? But the sound’s so fresh, the beat so immersive, the chant so infectious that who gives a damn? Just dance and sing and groove on those horns until the thing fades out over a thankfully near incomprehensible rant by Kevin. Then cue up the needle and let’s go again, baby!
What you get when the song is re-recorded as ‘Burn it Down’ is, to begin with, a diffusive intro consisting of over thirty seconds of someone tuning an old-fashioned radio dial across different radio stations, talk and music, a few seconds of each, until there’s a shout from the background and a response by Rowlands, in disgusted tones, of ‘Just burn it down’, and then, finally, we get the horn riff and whilst it’s still proud and affecting, there’s something missing, or rather something’s been added, and that something is polish.
Yes, ‘Dance Stance’ is fresh, because it’s raw and the sound has an edge to it that Wingfield’s production robs completely. And Rowland’s singing is more affected, as if he’s deliberately trying to sing the lines with different tones and inflections only to be different, when he’d got it right first time. His voice is mixed further forward, to be more dominant, especially on the chorus, where the band chant close to him, sounding like two or three people, not a bunch.
Because ‘Dance Stance’s supposedly shonky production is crisp and clean. There’s a distance, a separation between the instruments. Rowland’s vocals are mixed a bit further back, and given a touch of echo, emphasising the separation from the band, both when they play and when they sing. ‘Burn it Down’ makes all the aspects of the sound into a composite, and its polish diminishes the song. The band are used to playing it by now. It doesn’t excite them the same way to be riffing on this.
Or, to put it another way, ‘Dance Stance’ has the energy of playing live baked right into it and ‘Burn it Down’ wouldn’t know what the hell to do outside a studio.
Which is why Kevin Rowland was talking through his woolly hat when he slated this song.


4 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ ‘Dance Stance’

  1. I love The Flamin’ Groovies from Supersnazz (1969) through Rock Juice (1992), I haven’t heard their 2017 album Fantastic Plastic, yet. I love Roy Loney’s solo career. I caught him once on a swing through Schleswig, at that time in West Germany. As much as I adore Shake Some Action, and I do adore Shake Some Action, for me their peak was the 2 earlier albums on Kama Sutra: Flamingo & Teenage Head. Not a duff song on either album. The late, great Mike Wilhelm (from The Charlatans) jointed them with Flamin’ Groovies Now, in 1978, and their stuff with him was terrific. He was with them for 2 albums before concentrating on a solo career, also great. I saw him guest perform with John Cipollina, Barry Melton, Peter Albin & Spencer Dryden in San Francisco some time in the late ’80s. Killer slide player!

    1. The Groovies were much more of a cult interest over here, and I don’t remember hearing anything by them until Shake Some Action (with Teenage Confidential on its b-side one of the best two-sided singles ever). I borrowed the album from the library and taped five or six tracks off it, but despite Dave Edmunds being, on paper, the ideal producer for their style at the time, I thought he did an uneven job on that and an awful one on the follow up.

      1. They were pretty much of a cult interest in the US, as well. Although from San Francisco, the primary San Francisco bands disdained them because they didn’t play long form experimental music (which I happen to like, but I also like great pop songs). Shake Some Action was their “breakout” in a sense. It didn’t get much air play, but magazines that specialized in Power Pop like Trouser Press (named after a Bonzo Dog Band song), who put them on the cover and pushed them. Not many of us followed them, but those who did followed them enthusiastically. The 2 Kama Sutra albums didn’t sell AT ALL when they were released, the label being a subsidiary of Buddah who didn’t know how to market them. Then after more people caught on with Shake Some Action, the earlier albums became big collectors’ items.

  2. I’d thought they were not that successful over there either. Some bands are just not quite right for the times in which they exist. Perhaps I should investigate a bit more.

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