Saturday, January 06, 2007

"Inbetweenies" / Ian Dury & the Blockheads

Did anybody ever record more glorious nonsense than Ian Dury and the Blockheads? What a combination: this scruffy pub singer with the thick Cockney accent, backed by an extended funky jazz combo -- this in the days of stripped-down punk rock -- pouring out songs that sounded incredibly dirty, if only you could figure out what he was saying. Dirty, but also wickedly funny. (Just consider some of these song titles -- "There Ain't 'alf Been Some Clever Bastards," "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," and the iconic "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.") When I first heard Do It Yourself in 1978, I sat on my apartment floor with my friend Susan and we just laughed over and over, putting the needle back to replay every track until we got all the words.

I never saw Ian live, but I've seen films of him: a frail-looking geezer with a horrible limp (due to childhood polio), clinging fiercely to the microphone stand and distracting everybody from his affliction with that huge kerchief he kept flinging around. And that slapdash singing style, half talking, missing as many notes as he hit -- but the band, oh the band was tight, a well-oiled machine with a rhythmic groove that never failed. Who knows why it worked . . . but it did.

I'm not laying money on this, but I imagine "Inbetweenies" as a song about two friends, both of them between affairs, having a spot of sex just to keep their hand in, so to speak. Or, as Ian puts it, with a Noel Coward-like flair, in the second verse: "As serious as things do seem / At least you've put me on the team / And friends do rule supreme." Later on in the song, he adds, "Do lift the heart of my morale / To know that we are pals." But most of the rest of it is so frankly about lovemaking, I get flushed despite myself -- lines like "Shake your booty / When your back is bent / Put your feelings /Where my mouth just went." And somehow, Ian's exuberant off-key squawk makes it all so friendly, you find yourself thinking, "Oh hell, why not?" The back-up vocalists are chanting "Inbetweenies" over and over, the piano goes rippling all over the place, the saxophone wails in and out, and that rock-solid bass-and-drums unit grooves right along. You know you're coming along for the ride -- why fight it?

By the time you get to a goofy verse like "Spread your chickens / When you think of next / What the Dickens / If they're highly-sexed?" (with electronic clucking exploding around the word "chickens" ), you've stopped worrying whether it makes sense. If it feels good, just do it, that's the credo of "In Betweenies" -- or as Ian sings right at the outset: "In the mirror, when I'm debonair / My reactions are my own affair." He's flipping the bird at middle-class propriety, but that cheeky Upminster grin makes it more than all right.

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