Friday, 9 January 2009

1980 Dexy's Midnight Runners: Geno

'Geno' details vocalist Kevin Rowland's love - or rather obsession - for US ex patriot soul singer Geno Washington who, with the Ram Jam Band, enjoyed a massive underground popularity in the late sixties."That man took the stage, his towel was swingin' high.This man was my bombers, my Dexy's, my high" - Rowland's heart is there on his sleeve, and yet for all the celebration of the Dexedrine fuelled R&B scene of those times, there is little chance of anybody working up a good head of steam dancing to this; in fact, it's hard to imagine a more fiercely uncompromising or defiantly uncommercial song at number one without heading off into the territory of the atonal or avant guard. 

The opening horns kickstart the song by stubbornly playing sluggish riff behind the beat as Rowland intones in his love in his familiar love it or hate it style - "Back in '68 in a sweaty club, Oh, Geno. Before Jimmy's Machine and The Rocksteady Rub, Oh-oh-oh Geno-o".  Then, after the wrongfoot, it shifts a mighty gear into a tuneful blaze of Northern Soul swing before collapsing back in on itself when the horn motif returns, forcing everything to slow down and leaving those on the dancefloor stranded high and dry, with their only option being to sing along to the 'Oh Geno' refrain because there's nothing left to be done with the feet. As an exercise in frustration it's hard to beat, simply because there seems to be two separate songs competing with each other in a race to the finish, both of which could have got to number one had they been separated at birth.

Not that Rowland would give two shits; compromise was never a word in his vocabulary and the fact that enough people bought it to put it at number one is neither here nor there; 'Geno' is fuelled by passion, sheer passion for both the man and the concept of the music that Dexy's themselves sought to create. Later singles and albums would get overtly political and often appear to use the music merely as medium to convey Rowland's increasingly idiosyncratic and marginal opinions, but 'Geno' is a blast of retro soul in a modern setting and it remains a fine illustration of the unbridled joy that can be inherent in the making of, and listening to, music.

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