Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" (1977)

It would have to be a very, very bad song for anything called "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" to miss. Fortunately, Ian Dury was a witty master of words with well-chosen collaborators and a cooking band behind this bent three-minute anthem.

In the October 2007 issue of UK music production magazine Sound on Sound, journalist Richard Buskin accurately called Dury's music "pub-rock disco." Dury recruited a band of fellow R&B-loving Brits for an unlikely blend of 4/4-heavy beats, funk bass, and comical lyrics. The musical director was the brilliant keyboardist/guitarist Chaz Jankel, who was totally in synch with Dury's musical direction. Jankel would go on to write the Quincy Jones hit "Ai No Corrida," record his own solo albums, and score various films.

Picture the unlikeliness of of Ian Dury & The Blockheads: The heavy Cockney-accented Dury, limping from a childhood bout with polio... disco, funk & R&B beats when punk rock was raging... recording on Stiff Records, the pistol-hot British indie rock label that gave us Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe... Dury's sharp satirical lyrics which belied the disco beats.

I remember hearing the song in college and admiring such a blatant song title when the radio was full of syrupy schlock at the time. Let's face it, in 1977, the top songs were Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," Stephen Bishop's "Save It For a Rainy Day," Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life," and Kenny Nolan's "I Like Dreamin'." There was nothing remotely edgy or punk about them.

But there was no way to miss when you had a singalong chorus like this:

Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Is all my brain and body need.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Is very good indeed.

Fuzzy guitar line echoing that famous "sex and drugs" chorus, with that rhythm section in a funky groove, Dury's lyrics are quite mild compared to the chorus, and you've got to really listen when that accent is so strong. As a matter of fact, I'm not quite sure how the verses connect with that chorus except the verses seem quite conservative compared to what he's proclaiming in the chorus. Maybe that was his inside joke, but they are sung practically like nursery rhymes:

Every bit of clothing ought to make you pretty
You can cut the clothing, gray is such a pity
I should wear the clothing of Mr. Walter Mitty
See my tailor, he's called Simon, I know it's going... to... fit!

And if that wasn't a bit twisted enough, Dury starts yelping like a dog during the outgoing choruses, while some kind of ragtime chorus is heard building, sounding vaguely Zappa-ish.

In Buskin's Sound on Sound interview with Dury's producer/engineer Laurie Latham, he recalls: "That song was recorded with hardly any equipment. Chaz played his Gibson ES335 through my little Selmer amp, which had a blown speaker — that's what you hear the 'Sex And Drugs' riff going through..."

Below is a video of the boys doing the song live in 1977 and talk about being locked in a groove... You also get to see the dark showman side of Dury too, in a dapper black derby and kerchief.

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