I can’t recall hearing the debut single from Ian Dury played on Radio 1 back in August 1977. But then again, it had the words ‘Sex’ and ‘Drugs’ in the title, so it was most likely blacklisted.
Ian Dury was 35 years of age at the time of its release, so he wasn’t in his first flush of youth, nor was he an overnight sensation. He had, back in the late 60s, made a career out of visual art, as a college lecturer and as an occasional illustrator. He turned increasingly to the performing arts in the 70s, as frontman for Kilburn & The High Roads, one of the mainstays of the London pub circuit and who released two albums before breaking up in 1975.
His big break came in early 1977 when he hooked up with Chas Jankel, another veteran of the pub circuit, with Jankel adding killer tunes to Dury’s highly poetic and witty lyrics. A small, hungry and independent label, Stiff, liked what they were hearing and signed Ian Dury to a solo contract. Keen to get moving quickly to take advantage of the way punk was opening doors for all types of musicians and characters, Dury and Jankel recruited Norman Watt-Roy and Charlie Charles, two well-regarded session musicians, to respectively play bass and drums on the debut 45.
mp3: Ian Dury – Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll
The single didn’t chart, but it was well-received by many of the critics and writers employed by all the main music papers in the UK, and Ian Dury was soon being talked of as a serious talent in the emerging scene. This four-piece band would record the debut album, New Boots and Panties, which was a huge success, eventually reaching #5 despite not having any hit singles with which to be further promoted.
It was shortly after the completion of the album that the backing band expanded to take three other musicians – Mickey Gallagher (keyboards), John Turnbull (guitar) and Davey Payne (saxophone) – and be formalised as Ian Dury and The Blockheads, going on to enjoy fame and fortune including the very first #1 single for any independent label with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick in January 1979, having been stuck behind YMCA by The Village People for a couple of weeks.
I think it’s fair to say that while Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll was a very good, if not indeed an excellent debut, the continued development of Dury and Jankell’s song-writing partnership, allied to the musicianship of the Blockheads, meant many of those which followed were superior efforts.
The b-side of the debut saw Dury sit behind the drum kit while Jankell played the guitars and bass for an ode to some shoplifting exploits around soft-core porn magazines
mp3: Ian Dury – Razzle In My Pocket
It’s just occurred to me that I really should have kept this b-side for the ‘Great Short Stories’ series.