It was 1978. A year earlier punk had stormed the British music industry, when The Sex Pistols had managed to release a single, God Save The Queen, which reached No. 1 in the charts, while completely banned from radio play. I have a theory that its success was entirely due to the need to buy the damn thing to find out what the fuss was about – frankly, it was crap. Even so, punk exploded, and the charts were full of angry, shouting young men (almost entirely men, anyway) with spiky hair in unnatural shades, and a sartorial style that was big on plastic and safety pins. The music was vital, and spoke to rebellious youth.

These were the days of bands like The Clash, Sham 69, Elvis Costello, The Undertones and, somewhere in amongst them nestled Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

Dury probably couldn't ever have made it without punk. Short, partially crippled by polio, with the face of a scarily mischevious gnome, he really wasn't rock star material, but in an atmosphere where ugliness was the new black, Dury's slightly comic stage persona and his charity shop image (the title of his first album New Boots and Panties!! referred to the only items of clothing he didn't buy at Oxfam), together with semi-spoken Cockney-accented vocals and the tight musicianship of the Blockheads behind him guaranteed him stardom.

But Ian himself was never a punk. He wasn't young (he was in his thirties when he had his first hit), and he really, really wasn't angry. While The Sex Pistols called out for the Anarchy in the UK and Elvis Costello bit the hand that fed him in Radio, Radio, Dury gave us Reasons to be Cheerful (Part Three) While the Boomtown Rats were telling their fans that life was "A rat trap, and we've been caught!" Dury was telling his that, instead of a rock star:

I could be a lawyer with stratagems and ruses,
I could be a doctor with poultices and bruises,
I could be a writer with a growing reputation,
I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station,
What a waste!

Goodness knows he had more reason than most to be miffed, but Dury left anger to the real punks, and gave us, instead, gentle amusement, wit and innuendo. He took life lightly, and with a laugh, and his music reflected his attitude.

One song, more than any other, made him famous. The first million selling single on the last real big independent record label in the UK, Stiff Records, Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick is the essence of Dury. Released at the end of 1978, it reached the top of the charts in early 1979.

At first glance it looks silly, but a closer look shows it to be cleverly riddled with references to songs and singers (who but Ian Dury could merge Otis Redding and Shirley Bassey?), and it's joyful, celebratory fun.

It is with this, and songs like it, that Dury blazed a trail which bands like Madness and Squeeze followed with alacrity.

Find a sunny spot, get yourself a beer, turn the stereo up, and listen to this – I defy you not to start by smiling and end by singing along.

In the deserts of Sudan, and the gardens of Japan
From Milan to Yucatan, every woman, every man

Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me, hit me
Je t'adore, Ich liebe dich
Hit me, hit me, hit me

Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me slowly, hit me quick
Hit me, hit me, hit me

In the wilds of Borneo, and the vineyards of Bordeaux
Eskimo, Arapaho, move their bodies to and fro

Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me, hit me
Das is gut, c'est fantastique
Hit me, hit me, hit me

Hit me with your rhythm stick
It's nice to be a lunatic
Hit me, hit me, hit me

On the dock of Tiger Bay, on the road to Mandalay
From Bombay to San Jose, over the hills and far away

Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me, hit me
C'est si bon, ah, das machts nicht
Hit me, hit me, hit me

Hit me with your rhythm stick
Two fat persons, click click click
Hit me, hit me, hit me

Hit me, hit me, hit me
Hit me, hit me, hit MEEEEEEEEEEEE!

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