After achieving critical and commercial success with their 'Young Soul Rebel' image and music, frontman Kevin Rowland pulled the rug out from under expectant fans by switching tack and adopting an Irish Gypsy, Celtic folk model for their next album.
Opening with a reel played on a Celtic fiddle, the many key and tempo changes throughout 'Come On Eileen' make it an unlikely wedding party staple, and it's meaning is obscure as a Picasso on first listen. But there's no denying that from the off, something intense and something exciting is afoot and Rowland soon pulls you in to his tale of a youthful attempt to charm a girl out of her clothes at the point where liking someone turns to lust:
"Ah come on let's take off everything,
That pretty red dress Eileen
Ah come on let's, ah come on Eileen, please".
'Come On Eileen' is almost impressionistic, a Monet set to music. The whole piece is structured so as to be a snapshot of a time and place populated by hints of memories and emotions that aren't meant to be nailed down or carved in marble. Indeed, the music is drawn from varied sources; the opening fiddle motif is the Irish song 'Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms', while the chorus is loosely based on 'A Man Like Me' by the Jimmy James and the Vagabonds.
Nevertheless, the end product more than exceeds the sum of these parts and instead of some stitched together Frankenstein monster of borrowed phrases, 'Come On Eileen' drips with the excited promise of teenage sex, a 'Teenage Kicks' as imagined by a nineteenth century Romany troupe if you like.
As a celebration of being arrogantly young, it's almost without peer; growing old is not on the cards for Rowland or Eileen, it simply could not happen:
"These people round here wear beaten down eyes
Sunk in smoke dried faces they're so resigned to what their fate is,
But not us, no not us we are far too young and clever".
Which maybe goes some way to show that the message in The Specials' earlier 'Too Much Too Young' will always fall on deaf ears.
What everybody remembers about 'Come On Eileen' (and what gets the parents out on the dancefloor) is the bridge. Here, the band call a sudden halt and begin a slow burning counter melody that increases with speed and intensity with each passing bar to build into a climax when the main theme kicks back in to defuse the tension and any dancefloor erupts to the sound of stamping feet.
Personally, I've always thought that Rowland missed a trick here in that the ending is resolved too quickly and the band comes back too soon. With just one more bar it could have built into the perfect orgasm instead of almost falling flat as a premature ejaculation - if Rowland was making another comment on teenage sex here then he did a damn fine job!