Night Music: Ian Dury & the Blockheads (with Mick Jones): “Sweet Gene Vincent”

220px-Gene_VincentAll this Wreckless Eric brouhaha is wonderful.

I so loved the punk movement. I was 25, and actually in London the week of the Stiffs Live. I remember getting on the Underground to go back to my Grandmother’s in Finchley and the punks who had been at the shows that featured Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Larry Wallis, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads were on the same train.

Blue Mohawks-crap, any Mohawk on a white kid in the fall of 1977–and pierced tongues and such were still a little outrageous in the states where ELO and ABBA ruled. In fact Roxy Music, 801, The Tubes, and Queen were about as far as I could push the envelope before that fateful trip to London to visit my Granny and cousins for the first time on their turf.

What a great time I had! I remember sleeping on a boat hostile in Amsterdam with a bunch of other kids, and getting up in the morning to eat some yogurt and fruit and cheese (remember, I am in Holland) with Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” blasting in the dining area.

As previously noted, that was the first time I heard the Sex Pistols:  in the tub in my Granny’s home, listening to my Aunt Hedda’s tinny transistor radio, tuned to John Peel and Top of the Pops. “Anarchy in the UK” blasted out and life would never be the same for me.

I came home hungry, riding the new wave as it broke here, a pierced (yep, did my ear the first time right after I got back), tattooed (long story, but that was actually a couple of years earlier) ever the long-hair who still fit right into his Berkeley community.

I saw as many of the English and New York bands as they arrived as I could, and being near San Francisco, that was pretty easy to do, and it was cheap, too. $3.50 or $4.00 to see three bands at a great venue.

Anyway, Gene commenting on (I’d go the) Whole Wide World, that “punk opened things up” suggesting Eric would not have happened in 1972 is so dead on. But, with the Pistols and Malcolm McLaren and the Clash, all bets were off.

Never prior to John Lydon did any band ever seem to consider that there was the radical difference between singing harmoniously and being an effective vocalist had suddenly fallen away. In fact, I remember arguing similarly with my life-long friend Karen Clayton at the time about Elvis Costello. Karen called Elvis a lousy vocalist, and I noted that maybe he was a lousy elocutionist, but he was a great lyricist and voclalist.

Enter Ian Dury, and Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll, a really wonderful song: funny, self deprecating, and yet brutally honest.

But, because Sex and Drugs… seemed more like a gimmick song, it was hard to take much else by the Blockheads seriously. In fact it was hard to take Sex and Drugs… seriously.

Too bad, because they were a pretty tight band, and if you know the song Sweet Gene Vincent, you know this to be true. Not just a great song that links the same attitude of Little Richard and Chuck Berry to that of the punks, the song moves to that place using Vincent–Mr. Be-Bop-A-Lula and maybe THE original punk–as a vehicle.

This version of the song is from the The Concert for Kampuchia, and joining in the Blockheads is the Clash’s Mick Jones, by the way. And, let me tell you, we are far from done with the subject.

 

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