You might know me as the mild mannered janitor of this esteemed property, but I have a secret. A secret dark enough that it only speaks its name to a select few. A secret that I only shared with The Special One a few months before our wedding, for fear that she would call the whole thing to a grinding halt. It was touch-and-go for a while, it has to be said, and the secret still regularly brings her to the point of tears whenever it pops involuntarily into her head.
But now I don’t care who knows – I love “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners with a passion. Say it once, say it loud, I too-rye-aye and I’m proud.
I don’t know what it is about the song that I adore so much. Maybe it’s the feelgood intro, the “poor old Johnny Raaaaaaaay” lyrics, or the impossibly catchy piano line – but whatever it is, I can’t get it out of my head for about three weeks after I’ve heard it again. No wedding is complete in my mind without a bit of “Come On Eileen”, and the mere sight of dungarees (or overalls as I laughingly believe they’re called over here) can send me into a Dexy’s whirl.
Now clearly, not everyone is as comfortable as I am in their own musicality but I promise you that – deep down – half of Britain feels exactly the same as me. Admittely the other half would rather have rusty nails hammered into their skull, but that’s a side issue. The thing is that certain pop songs are irrevocably specific to one country and its people. Name a Brit who doesn’t know all the words to Robbie Williams’ “Angels” and I will show you a liar. As I mentioned here, the Special One is still recovering from the stampede to the dancefloor which occurred when “Dizzy” by Vic Reeves & The Wonder Stuff was played at a wedding we attended a couple of years ago. And it’s probably best not to talk about her reaction to the playing of the theme from “Minder”.
Obviously, America has its own selection of songs that do exactly the same thing – most of which mean absolutely nothing to me. I’ve lost count of the number of times The Special One and I have been in the car, and she’s suddenly turned the sound up on the radio to listen to a top tune, only for me to find out that it’s something along the lines of “Born To Break The Levee” by Harry Walton & The Tennessee Turncoats. I count myself as a man who knows a bit about music, but here it’s almost as if I’ve had all my cultural reference points removed in a botched surgical operation that was merely meant to take out my tonsils.
However, the one epochal American pop song that I’m all too familiar with is “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Mention “Free Bird” to any American, and their eyes drift off mistily to college days and their time with long-haired Megan with the impossibly flexible limbs/the night with butch quarterback Howie (and his roommate Mitch). Mention the song to a Brit, and they’ll ask “is that the one that Will To Power combined with Peter Frampton’s ‘Baby I Love Your Way’?”
The fact is that “Free Bird” is effectively the American national anthem – a statement of the country’s unwillingness to play nicely with anyone else, and its insistence on independence at all costs. And despite its dubious intentions, it’s universally loved and remains one of the most played songs on American radio.
But why for the love of all that is good and virtuous does it have to be so sodding long? The song came on the radio when The Special One and I were leaving Rhode Island on Sunday afternoon, and I would swear it was still playing when we entered New York state three hours later. I’ve had shorter relationships than that song. If US forces ever need to employ noise warfare techniques again to force Central American drug barons into the open, they could do worse than to consider the “Free Bird” guitar solo.