"Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" is a song and single by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, first released November 23, 1978 and was first released on the 7" single BUY 38 Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick / There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards by Stiff Records. It went to number 1 on the UK popular music charts in January, 1979.
Its lyrics mix various locations across the world and a number of phrases in non-English languages (including French and German). According to its author Ian Dury, the song has an anti-violence message. Its music is noteworthy for bassist Norman Watt-Roy playing 16 notes to the bar and saxophonist Davey Payne playing two saxophones at once.
Co-writer Chas 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 Rolvendon, Kent during a jamming session between him and Dury. Jankel relates that the music was inspired by a piano part near the end of Wake Up And Make Love With Me (a song on Dury's solo debut New Boots and Panties!! that Jankel had co-written) and that after listening to it, Dury presented the lyrics for Rhythm Stick to him the same afternoon. This was later corroborated by Dury.
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. Johnny Turnbull (guitar) 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. He said the line "it's nice to be a lunatic" was originally "it don't take arithmetic".
The song was recorded in The Workhouse Studio on the Old Kent Road, London, the same place Dury's debut album, New Boots and Panties!!, was recorded. At least 11 takes of the song were recorded before one, reportedly an early take, was chosen for the single release. Mickey Gallagher (keyboards) remains jaded about this method and much of the band as well as producer Laurie Latham remain unhappy with the chosen take's mix, claiming it to be too dominated by piano and vocals. Despite this, Chas Jankel often re-tells the story that after recording it he phoned his mother and told her, "I've just recorded my first number one".
On radio Rhythm Stick was a popular song from its release, but the single was initially kept from the number one spot in the charts by The Village People's smash hit YMCA, which was at number one for five consecutive weeks. However, on the 27th of January 1979, Watt-Roy, Turnbull and Charley Charles (drums) were waiting outside the Kilburn State Cinema, Kilburn, London listening to a car radio when it was announced that Rhythm Stick was the new number one. Ian Dury was on holiday in Cannes, where he was at the beach when the hotel staff brought him a bottle of champagne and told him the news. For their appearance on Top of the Pops the whole band bought Moss Bros suits. Laurie Lewis, a friend of Ian Dury's from college, shot the promotional video for the single - while it simply showed the band playing on stage, it was an important piece of footage for Ian Dury, who for the first time appeared in public without his pink jacket or another long sleeved shirt hiding his left arm, withered by Poliomyelitis as a child.
While not a hit in the U.S, it sold 979,000 copies in the UK. In 2006, its popularity was boosted by its appearance in a British advertisement for Capital One.
The single cover was designed by Stiff's Barney Bubbles, as usual anonymously.
The B-side was "There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards", written by Dury and Russel Hardy, his co-writer from his time in the pub-rock band Kilburn & The Highroads.
An amusing song affectionately describing the achievements of Noel Coward, Vincent Van Gogh and Albert Einstein in a working class (specifically Cockney) manner and amusingly dismissing Leonardo de Vinci as an 'Italian geezer' in Van Gogh's verse.
The song has been used for numerous purposes since its release including various adverts and in numerous television programmes (including the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw). And has had its lyrics changed often, including in one instance to 'hit me with your oven chip'. This, combined with its continued popularity and original chart success has ensured that today the song is incredibly easily to find on CD, not only on all of Ian Dury's compilations but in numerous various artists compilations.
However like all of Ian Dury's stand alone singles this was not originally the case and in keeping with his then-policy of not including singles on his albums the song was omitted from Do it Yourself the next Ian Dury & The Blockheads album. It was not available again until the release Jukebox Dury years later.
Though none of the 11+ takes have been released, two live versions exist on Ian Dury's two live albums Warts 'n' Audience and Straight From The Desk both including add-libs in the song's third verse, the Warts 'n' Audience version name checking the Brixton Academy and the Straight from the Desk version name checking Dagenham Heathway. The Straight From the Desk version also includes an extended instrumental break.