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 + The Blockheads: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – US – 12″ 
- Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick [disco version] 5:20
- 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.
I 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.
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