Ian Dury's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

24 July 2023, 14:19

Hit Me! The Best Of Ian Dury – album trailer

By Mayer Nissim

With and without The Blockheads, we round up Ian Dury's very greatest moments.

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They don't make 'em like Ian Dury any more.

While you can hear his influence all over the pop world, there's no-one whose music sounds quite like the man himself.

Starting with proto-punk pioneers Kilburn and the High Roads and both with and without The Blockheads, Dury released a string of fine albums and incredible singles.

Not sure where to begin, or looking to revisit his very finest moments? We've got you covered with our top ten ranking of Ian Dury's very biggest hits.

  1. There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards

    There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards

    The B-side of 1987 single 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick', 'There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards' was written by Ian with Russell Hardy, his former Kilburn and the High Roads bandmate.

    It's a classic Dury celebration of, well, some magnificently clever bastards throughout the years, including the likes of Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Noël Coward.

  2. Wake Up and Make Love with Me

    Wake Up and Make Love with Me

    Originally appearing as the opener of Ian's best-known album New Boots and Panties!!, 'Wake Up and Make Love with Me' is one of those released as Ian Dury, rather than -and the Blockheads.

    The song later resurfaced on the B-side of the ID & The Blockheads single 'What A Waste'.

    Opening with a melodic piano, it soon segues into that music hall/jazz/pub rock/new wave mashup and Dury's inimitable spoken-word saucy lyrics.

  3. I Want to Be Straight

    Ian Dury and The Blockheads - I Want To Be Straight [Official Video]

    'I Want to be Straight' was the very first release from the Blockheads after the departure of key figure Chaz Jankel.

    While the band could have been rocked by the loss of such an influential member, getting Dr Feelgood's Wilko Johnson in as a replacement certainly smoothed the transition.

    This tale of getting off the drugs and becoming a more normal member of society ("I'm sick and tired of taking drugs and staying up late / I wanna confirm, I wanna conform") got all the way to number 22 in the UK singles chart.

  4. What a Waste

    Ian Dury and The Blockheads - What A Waste (Official HD Video)

    This non-album 1978 single originally released on punk label Stiff Records, 'What A Waste' is all about not doing those jobs you could have had and – instead – doing what you love, like being in a rock 'n' roll band.

    The song was written with Rod Melvin after the breakup of Kilburn and the Highroads and before the formation of the short-lived Ian Dury & the Kilburns.

    It peaked at number nine in the UK singles chart and was later sampled by A Tribe Called Quest for their mighty 1991 single 'Can I Kick It?'.

  5. Sweet Gene Vincent

    Sweet Gene Vincent

    Before he was a star in his own right, Ian Dury was a Gene Vincent superfan.

    For his second solo single, he wrote this ode to the rock 'n' roll icon, whose death greatly affected him and inspired him to start taking his own musical career more seriously.

    It's claimed that Dury read two Vincent biographies to make sure he got things right when writing the song and actually came up with enough lyrics for a 15-minute epic, before the track was neatened up and finished off by Chas Jankel.

  6. Spasticus Autisticus

    Ian Dury & The Blockheads : Spasticus Autisticus

    Plenty of Ian Dury's lyrics were considered risque or close to the bone back in the day ("I shall caress your clitoris as we reach the toilet" in 'Sweet Gene Vincent' B-side 'You're More Than Fair', for example), but it was 'Spasticus Autisticus' that went too far for the BBC.

    Dury, who was disabled as a result of having polio as a child, wrote the song in response to what he thought was the patronising International Year of Disabled Persons of 1981.

    The mantra "I'm Spasticus, I'm Spasticus, I'm Spasticus Autisticus" was a nod to the classic ending of Spartacus, while the lyrics inevitably earned a BBC ban ("I wibble when I piddle / Cos my middle is a riddle").

    As with the rest of the Lord Upminster album, the song was recorded in Jamaica with reggae legends Sly & Robbie, and also featured Talking Heads icon Tina Weymouth and her sister Laura on backing vocals.

    Spasticus Autisticus@The Paralympics London 2012

    "Ian Dury said, 'Hey, you want to do some backgrounds, background vocals on our track?," Tina said years later.

    "And we said, 'OK'. We went in there and he said, 'I want you to sing I’m spasticus, artisticus', and so that’s what we did.

    "We just sang these big loud backgrounds on what... It was banned. I think the BBC banned it because it was supposed to be inappropriate for a cripple to be singing about cripples."

    By 2012 things had change enough for Orbital and the Graeae Theatre Company to perform the song during the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony in London.

  7. Billericay Dickie

    Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Billericay Dickie

    One of the many highlights of New Boots and Panties!! 'Billericay Dickie' is a saucy slang-filled stomp that may as well be called Confessions of a Naughty Essex Lad ("I had a love affair with Nina/ in the back of my Cortina").

    Not a hero though, Ian would sometimes mock breaking down in tears during live performances before the final chorus, while the song had an unlikely second life inspiring the jingle for Ajax Spray n' Wipe for a couple of decades in Australia.

  8. Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3

    Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3 (Official HD Video)

    The final single of the Chaz Jankel-era Blockheads, 'Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3' is one of the most enduring Ian Dury songs and one of their biggest hits, going all the way to number three in the UK charts.

    "In a way, it was inspired by the Sgt Pepper's sleeve," Ian told Smash Hits at the time. "Just a load of nice people. I write quite a lot of songs that are just lists."

    And that great sax solo? Apparently, Dury told Chaz to pop that in so unhappy saxophonist Davey Payne would have his own reason to be cheerful – a share of the writing credits.

  9. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

    TOPPOP: Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll

    One of Ian's signature songs, 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' also gave its name to the must-see 2010 biopic about Ian starring Andy Serkis at the very top of his game.

    The song itself was a punk era solo single for Ian on Stiff released in the summer of '77, though it was written with Blockhead Chaz and he, Norman Watt-Roy and Charlie Charles all appear.

    And that classic riff? It was yoinked from Ornette Coleman's 'Ramblin', played by bassist Charlie Haden, but it turns out that Haden or Coleman had actually "borrowed" it themselves for an old Kentucky folk number called 'Old Joe Clark', so all was well.

    It wasn't actually a hit at the time, but has since found a spot on pretty much every Ian Dury compilation going and has grown in stature over the years.

  10. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

    Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (Official HD Video)

    Released in 1978 under the Ian & the Blockheads name, 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' was a critical and commercial smash hit, going all the way to number one in the UK and scaling the charts all over the world, eventually selling well over a million copies.

    The music was written during a Jankel and Dury jam session, while Dury had all-but completed the lyrics in 1976, possibly having started them two years earlier.

    Chaz Jankel claims that after recording the finished version, he phoned his mother to say: "I've just recorded my first number one."

    He wasn't wrong. After two weeks of fierce resistance from The Village People's 'YMCA', Ian Dury and co were finally at the toppermost of the poppermost.