Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (1978)

Written by on 18 March 2021

Written by Dury and the Blockheads’ multi-instrumentalist Chaz Jankel, it is the group’s most successful single, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in January 1979 as well as reaching the top three in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and it was also a top 20 hit in several European countries.

Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” was named the 12th best single of 1978 by the writers of British music magazine NME, and best single of 1979 in the annual ‘Pazz & Jop’ poll organised by music critic Robert Christgau in The Village Voice. It was also named the 3rd best post-punk 7″ ever made by Fact magazine. By September 2017, it had sold over 1.29 million copies in the UK, making it the 114th biggest selling single of all time in the UK.

Co-writer Chaz Jankel has repeated a story both in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: The Life of Ian Dury and Ian Dury & The Blockheads: Song by Song that the song was written in Rolvenden, Kent during a jamming session between him and Dury. Jankel relates that the music was inspired by a funky piano part near the end of “Wake Up and Make Love with Me”, the opening track on Dury’s 1977 debut album New Boots and Panties!!

Dury mentioned a number of origins for his lyrics, including claiming that he had written them up to three years earlier and it had just taken him all that time to realise their quality. Blockheads guitarist John Turnbull gives a different account, claiming the lyrics were written while on tour in America six months prior to the song’s recording and that he was still adjusting in-studio.

Whilst researching his book Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography, Will Birch discovered that Dury wrote the lyrics for “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” as early as 1976. Ian’s typed manuscript, which differs only slightly from the later recorded version and with handwritten notes about arrangement and instrumentation (‘drums and fuzz bass doing Roy Buchanan volume trick’ after the first chorus, for example), was posted to a friend in September of that year. The ‘lunatic’ line reads ‘one two three fourithmatic’. ‘O’er the hills and far away was original ‘down to Hammersmith Broadway. The manuscript, complete with handwritten annotations, was reproduced in Hallo Sausages, the book of Dury’s lyrics compiled by his daughter Jemima. According to Jemima, it appeared that the origins of the song could be traced as far back as 1974.

The song is noted for a complex 16-notes-to-the-bar bassline played by Norman Watt-Roy, and the saxophone solo in the instrumental break in which Davey Payne plays two saxophones.

In addition to English, the song’s lyrics contain phrases in both French and German.

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