The Genius and Hard Graft of Ian Dury

In 1977,  long before the Internet was at our fingertips, Ian Dury is said to have spent weeks researching the lyric to Sweet Gene Vincent by reading everything he could find about the singer. The  lyric tells the life story of early Rock n’ Roller and ex sailor Vincent,  skillfully using references from Vincent’s songs. The opening line Blue Gene Baby is a from the first line of Blue Jean Bop and the line Who, who, who slapped John?  is from Who Slapped John. Another line ‘and you lay that pistol down’ is a reference to  Pistol Packin’ Momma . A character from Vincent’s biggest hit, Be-Bop-A-Lula, ‘Uncanny Annie’ is also referenced; ‘she’s the one with the flying feet’ . Before I found out about these references I loved this song, a  pocket biography which shows the coexistence of tenderness and violence, of threat and sex, of youthful energy and jaded desperation, and vividly evokes the contrast between sharp-dressed singer’s stage persona and the sordid reality of life after the curtain had fallen and the screams had died away . The song  is an empathetic  tribute and salute from one rocker to another, (although Dury was much more besides). The  change of tempo from reflective elegy to blistering rock ‘roll  is perfectly delivered by Dury’s co-writer Chaz Jankel and the rest of the band, a group of virtuosos who could articulate Dury’s lyrical  flights.

Vincent had a damaged leg, the result of being hit by a car while riding his Triumph motorcycle. Dury was partially disabled by childhood polio, and, along with the power of Vincent’s music, I’m sure this mutual suffering must have fuelled Dury’s empathy and interest.  I’m not sure how Dury managed to put all this into a three-minute and thirty-three second record. It can only be the result of genius and hard graft.


Blue Gene baby..

Skinny white sailor, the chances were slender
The beauties were brief
Shall I mourn you decline with some thunderbird wine
and a black handkerchief?
I miss your sad Virginia whisper
I miss the voice that called my heart

Sweet Gene Vincent
Young and old and gone
Sweet Gene Vincent

Who, who, who slapped John?

White face, black shirt
White socks, black shoes
Black hair, white strat
Bled white, died black

Sweet gene Vincent
Let the blue cats roll tonight
At the sock hop ball in the union hall
Where the bop is their delight

Here come duck-tailed Danny dragging Uncanny Annie
She’s the one with the flying feet
You can break the peace daddy sickle grease
The beat is reet complete
And you jump back honey in the dungarees
Tight sweater and a pony tail
Will you guess her age when she comes back stage?
The hoodlums bite their nails

Black gloves, white frost
Black crepe, white lead
White sheet, black knight
Jet black, dead white

Sweet Gene Vincent
There’s one in every town
And the devil drives ’till the hearse arrives
And you lay that pistol down

Sweet Gene Vincent
There’s nowhere left to hide
With lazy skin and ash-tray eyes
a perforated pride

So farewell mademoiselle, Knickerbocker Hotel
Farewell to money owed
But when your leg still hurts and you need more shirts
You got to get back on the road


Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.



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