Songs A to ZMy 26-day challenge to myself -- write about a different band every day, working from A to Z.
Ian Dury & the Blockheads /
"Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 3)"
So yeah, there's no Part 1 or Part 2. Already we're in art school high-concept territory. But the thing I gotta love about Ian Dury and the Blockheads: For all their New Wave cabaret cleverness, they were still a kick-ass jazz-groove band,
Will Birch's inestimable biography Ian Dury tells us that this song was written in 1979 after one of the band's roadies was nearly electrocuted while setting up for a show in Rome; when the shows were cancelled, Ian and his co-writer Chaz Jankel bashed it out in a hotel room. It certainly has that late-night stream-of-consciousness quality. They ran right out and recorded it in Rome, and promptly released it as a single -- which ended up being their second-highest-charting single ever (after "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick").
Basically, it's a catalog song. It's also been called the first rap record, although to be fair, even Ian Dury himself would tell you he was indebted to James Brown's pioneering rap style. The lads lay down a seductive disco groove, above which Mr. Dury spins any number of cultural references: "Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly / Good Golly Miss Molly, and boats [thunk -- what?] / Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet [high-low, mix it all up] / Jump back in the alley, add nanny goats." Wait --wha? Nanny goats?
But Ian goes indefatigably on and on, in a deliciously random style. ("All other mammals plus equal votes / Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy [you don't want to know] / Being rather silly, and porridge oats,").
Because this is the secret message of "Reasons to Be Cheerful" -- whatever you get off on, mate. "The juice of a carrot, / The smile of the parrot, / A little drop of claret, / Anything that rocks." And now that Ian's in the zone, he'll reference everyone from runner Steven Biko to the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen. We have to be in the zone with him, letting that groove play itself out.
Even when it's crap: "Health service glasses, / Gigolos and brassies, / Round or skinny bottoms," Hit that groove and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
So goeth the gospel according to Ian Dury.