Officially into 1979, then. The end of the decade is in sight. Meanwhile, a funky groove slinks in…
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 21st – 28th January 1979
We start mid-riff, and it feels like the doors to a club have just opened wide, filling the night with possibilities. And yes, this is definitely a song you can dance to. But it is so much more than that. For starters, we’re off on a trip around the world…
In the deserts of Sudan, And the gardens of Japan… we see Milan, then Yucatan. Every woman, Every man… Taking up where the Village People left off, there’s more innuendo ahoy: Hit me with your rhythm stick, Hit me slowly, Hit me quick! Is it about dancing? Is it about sex? Or is it about both? After about thirty seconds, does anybody care?
There’s a lot to love here. The whiplash sound effects after each Hit me! The frenzied piano that comes in midway through. The angry saxophone solo, which includes a note so jarring that it would ruin many a lesser song. But the main highlight is Ian Dury’s vocal performance. He sings, he croons in cockney, he squeals, he rolls certain sounds around in his mouth as if they were a fine brandy.
Contrast the way he caresses Borneo with the way he barks, in German: Das ist gut, Ich liebe dich! And the way every Me! is different. Mu-eeeh! Meeeeaaah! May! And my personal favourite, the one where he dog-whistles as if his bollocks are in a clamp. We’re four hundred and thirty two #1s in, and there can’t have been any with a lead singer so energetic, so enthusiastic, so borderline unhinged. Ian Dury had been a singer for many a year before forming The Blockheads in 1977. A bout of polio as a child had left him with a withered left arm and leg, but he was an enigmatic performer. In his very own words, from this very same single: It’s nice to be a lunatic!
It must be hard to write a song so strikingly inventive, and yet so dumbly catchy. It works on all levels. It is New Wave, I’d say, but sounds so different from our first New Wave chart-topper, ‘Rat Trap’, proving just how hard a genre this is to pin down. By the end, as the choppy guitars come in, and we clunk to an abrupt ending, as Dury howls his HIT ME!!s over the maelstrom, things have suddenly gotten very punk. We may never have had a real ‘punk’ #1, but the movement did at least pull aside the drain covers, allowing wonderful weirdos like Ian and his Blockheads to emerge.
They weren’t around for long, but The Blockheads did manage one further Top 10 single, ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful, Pt. 3’, on which Dury performs what must be one of the British chart’s first raps. He passed away in 2000, from cancer, but his legacy lives on. There’s ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, for example: a provocative riposte to what Dury saw as the patronising ‘International Year of Disabled Persons’, there’s ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and his acting. But above all, there’s this crazy little one-week wonder, perhaps the ultimate ‘January #1’. Go on then … Hit me, one more time! (No wait, wrong song…)