Record Review: Ian Dury + The Blockheads – “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” US 12″

ian dury + the blockheads

Ian Dury + the Blockheads ca. 1978

I’m trying to remember when I first heard Ian Dury + The Blockheads. It might have been on FM Rock of the day; possibly a very rare airing of “Sex + Drugs + Rock + Roll,” for surely either WORJ-FM or WDIZ-FM would have touched either side of this disc with a ten foot pole. Or it might have been the occasion of a few videos on Rockworld, the hourly TV show of [mostly British] music videos int he pre-MTV era. Once I picked up on the college radio revolution by 1981, I heard a bit of both Dury with the Blockheads and solo on WPRK-FM as they liked playing his then-new single “Spasticus Autisticus.” But I never bit for any Ian Dury records until I chanced across this in the early 90s and realized that I needed it in my Record Cell.

ian dury and the blockheads - hit me with your rhythm stick US 12" single

Stiff-Epic ‎| US | 12″ | 1979 | 48-50779

Ian Dury + The Blockheads: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – US – 12″ [1979]

  1. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick [disco version] 5:20
  2. Reasons To Be Cheerful [Part 3] 4:53

This US 12″ was ambiguous. It was hard to tell if either song was the intended A-side of the disc without checking the matrix scratchings near the label. The fact was that each song was a huge Dury hit, and given that only “Rhythm Stick” was given an extended mix, I’ll peg that as the A-side. Which was a bit of a missed opportunity  since there was also a 6:39 long version of “Reasons To Be Cheerful [Part 3].”

If one had to have just one track by Dury, it certainly should have been “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick!” This was viewed as “punk disco” at the lens of the times and one can certainly understand why. The band grooves like fiends here. Normal Watt-Roy’s bass punctuates the groove with sixteen notes per bar; coiling the song in a tight rondo of recirculating energy. The jazzy piano and Hammond organ fills by musical director Chas Jankel and Mickey Gallagher make it all very lively and vivid. The twin saxes of Davey Payne were unrestrained and approached free jazz inspiration. The squelchy Moog hook was like aural flypaper.

The groove was the furthest thing from the kind of dead-on-arrival quantized disco nightmares we would have today with such a song. Or even the production line disco of the era. The band pull ahead or stop short of the beat as necessary throughout the mix. This was a disco song that perspired. It was actually recorded live in the studio in a series of full takes. The break where the percussion chugs mightily and the berserk sax solos occur was supremely funky. But the element X in all of this was the rough-hewn Dury’s gruff, warts-and-all presence. So diametrically opposed to the kind of voice normally associated with other music for the dance floor. The chorused guitar solo on the climax was icing on the sweaty cake. I can’t really tire of hearing this song. Not for nothing did it sell over a million copies in the UK alone.

The flip side, was another left-field disco funk confection with tight rhythm guitar riffing competing with the cowbells and disco whistles. This was a little more synthetic with  almost subliminal Moog funk and tom-tom beats and handclaps in the slightly dubby mix. Dury’s delivery of the verbose lyric here almost constituted proto-rap with him deftly delivering mouthfuls of lyrics syncopated to the beat. The song managed to deliver an incongruous yacht rock/disco middle eight with with MOR saxes and string synths taking the listener to down to Rio for a quick holiday before getting back to business with more strict syncopation and another wailing  guitar solo.

ian dury - jukebox dury cover artI think I enjoyed every single I ever heard by Ian Dury + The Blockheads, but their penchant for not including singles on their albums probably worked against me ever investing in any of the myriad copies I’d seen of “Do It Yourself” [with dozens of Crown wallpaper cover designs!] in the years since. I remember always looking at the cover and not ever seeing any of the songs I was familiar with and holding off since nothing seemed to have “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” on it. Maybe a Dury compilation is where I should finally make my mark on his canon? Two songs after 40 years hardly cuts it from where I’m standing.

– 30 –

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9 Responses to Record Review: Ian Dury + The Blockheads – “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” US 12″

  1. diskojoe says:

    There’s a great compilation that Rhino Records put out in the early 1990s called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll The Best of Ian Drury and the Blockheads which has on the front cover his lower crown w/the Union Jack painted on.

    Hate to sound like a broken record, but I do remember listening to all those great Ian Drury singles on WBCN back in the day. I especially remember this particular single played a lot back in the summer of 1979, along w/”Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO, “Five Foot One” by Iggy Pop & “(I Wish I Could Be Like) Superman” by the Kinks

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  2. Mr. Ware says:

    I have a great single disc anthology on the Demon label from 1987 that covers all the bases for me. Got it years ago when Ron Kane was selling off some of his “duplicates”.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mr. Ware – Wow! Would never have pegged you for someone who liked Ian Dury…! Color me surprised. You think you know someone after 35 years and there’s always a few surprises along the way. Thank goodness.

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  3. I enjoy Drury as well, but primarily the period where the music was (seemingly) 100 percent Chas Jankel (who went on to do a few great things as well) — he added such a Sly+The Family Stone vibe, which when paired with a rough voice just works wonders.

    I believe I have NB&P!! and Do It Yourself, I think I had (but parted with) Laughter (no Chas Jankel!). I concur with Mr Ware that a “greatest hits” type record should cover most of what you need of Ian, but the ideal compilation would need to include the proper (not live) “Spasticus Autisticus” (the first time I ever heard the term or even concept of “autism”) from Lord Upminster — aka the return of Chaz Jankel (not to mention Sly & Robbie!). It might be worth a listen to the final album Dury created while still alive, Mr Love Pants.

    Sadly, a quick check of Discogs reveals that even the forthcoming (this month) new compilation of Dury, Hit Me! only has the live version of SA (like all the other “greatest hits” comps I’m aware of). It’s still great, the live version, but it’s not the original.

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  4. Echorich says:

    For me, Do It Yourself is the essence of Stiff Records. I own four of the 12 Barney Bubbles wallpapers covers and love every track on the album. Inbetweenies and Waiting For Your Taxi are my favorite Dury songs. The album moves from Pure Pop to Cabaret to Funk, giving proof to the album title, although I am pretty sure the real meaning of the name of the album is more to do with self satisfaction.

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  5. Ade.W says:

    I just had to check to see how old ‘New Boots and….’ is, it’s from 1977, yikes! . It was an LP I played to death, I took it everywhere. It’s seen some action. ‘Hit Me’, ‘What a waste’ and ‘Sex and Drugs’ were all good but I was a little bit disappointed with ‘Do it yourself’ even though i have 2 copies of it for some reason. I bought ‘Reasons to be cheerful’ but for me it’s all on ‘New Boots’ I never bothered with ‘Spasticus’. The biopic with Andy Serkis is ok.

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