Released : 1978
“Haven’t you heard” Ian Dury enquired of whoever was going by the name of ‘Mike Stand’ at Smash Hits in September 1981, “I’m a Fifth Columnist for the Year Of Disabled People. They’ve bribed me massively.” The singer was referring to his then single Spasticus Autisticus, a song written he expalined to confront prejudice by discomforting those who practiced it. For a man who’d contracted polio at the age of seven, this was an issue which was central not only to his life, but to his music as well.
The exchange took place three years after what had been his commercial peak with The Blockheads, the band he formed along with partner in crime Chas Jankel. They themselves sprung from the ashes of pub rockers Kilburn And the High Roads, whose gigs in the capital it was claimed were often frequented by a callow youth named John Lydon. Their debut album New Boots And Panties!! arrived just when punk’s appeal was fading but record buyers were still exhilarated by the shock of the new; a train smash of styles held together by Dury’s lairy caricatures, it went on to become one of the most unlikely million sellers of the decade.
As Jankel phoned his mum excitedly to predict when it was finished, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick would be their only number one. An early version of it had been in the singer’s head as early as 1975, but now he was in his element, the lyrics an avalanche of double entendres, his Billericay Dickie (maybe) character rap-chanting their way gleefully past the BBC censorship hawks. That wasn’t it’s only winning quality of course; outrageously funky like Chic’s Good Times at the dog track, the sax skronk and boogieing piano meant that a man whose body meant he couldn’t had written the most unfashionably danceable record of the year. Ever the fifth columnist, Dury was laughing at himself and us, his legacy one that eventually ran a direct line through Madness, Blur‘s Parklife and The Streets.