"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" is a song and single by Ian Dury. It was originally released as a Stiff Records single with "Razzle In My Pocket" as the B-side, on 26 August 1977. The song was released under the name 'Ian Dury' and only two members of the Blockheads appear on the record – the song's co-writer and guitarist Chas Jankel and saxophonist Davey Payne. The video, released in July 21, 1977.
The song was written by Ian Dury and Chas Jankel in Dury's flat in Oval Mansions, London (nicknamed "Catshit mansions" by Ian) that overlooked The Oval cricket-ground. The pattern of work adopted by the pair involved Dury presenting Jankel with his hand-typed lyric sheets. According to Chas in Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll: The Life of Ian Dury he would be repeatedly given the lyric for "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" but Jankel kept rejecting the song, only for it to be at the top of the pile again the next time, only to be rejected again. This went on until Dury sung the song's guitar riff to Chas and sang the song's title in time with Chas's riff.
Sometime later Jankel heard the Ornette Coleman tune "Ramblin", (from his album Change of The Century, which included also Charlie Haden and Don Cherry) and heard exactly the same bass riff being played by Haden. Ian Dury once apologised to Coleman for lifting the riff but, as Coleman explained, he (or possibly Haden) had lifted it himself from a Kentucky folk tune calledOld Joe Clark. An alternative version to this story exists: as Dury explained when he guested on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, he had apologised to Haden at Ronnie Scott's Club for the riff lift, who responded by saying there was no need for an apology as he had lifted it from an old cajun tune.
The single did not chart, selling only around 19,000 copies (a small amount for a single in 1977) but won critical acclaim. The original single was deleted after only two months.
Released as it was in the height of the popularity of punk rock, the song was misinterpreted (as it is often is to this day) as a song about excess as its title and chorus would suggest. Although the single was banned by the BBC, a number of Radio 1 disc jockeys, including Annie Nightingale and John Peel, continued to promote the record by playing the mildly salacious B-side "Razzle In My Pocket". Dury himself, however, maintained that the song was not a punk anthem and said he was trying to suggest that there was more to life than a 9-to-5 existence (such as in his track-by-track comments in the sleeve-notes of Repertoire Records' Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Best Of Ian Dury & The Blockheads compilation). The verses themselves are at times somewhat riddle-like, although always suggestive of an alternative lifestyle:
- Here's a little bit of advice, you're quite welcome, it is free
- Don’t do nothing that is cut-price, you'll know what they'll make you be
- They will try their tricky device, trap you with the ordinary
- Get your teeth into a small slice, the cake of liberty
The title of the song became part of the English language and was later used in many other song lyrics.
The song has become a staple on punk rock, New Wave and Ian Dury compilations but initially the song was not available in the abundance it is today. In keeping with Dury's own policy of not including his singles on his albums, the track was not officially included on his debut New Boots and Panties!!, though a 12" version of the single was released in France in November 1977, with both tracks from his next single "Sweet Gene Vincent"/"You're More Than Fair" replacing "Razzle In My Pocket" as the B-side, and again in December as a free give-a-way to guests at the NME's Christmas party that year (of which only 1,000 were pressed). This time "Razzle In My Pocket" was replaced by "England's Glory" and "Two Stiff Steep Hills", two tracks recorded live by Ian Dury & The Kilburns, the final phase of Dury's pub-rock band Kilburn & The Highroads. Five hundred more copies of the NME's version of the single was re-pressed for a competition the magazine ran but following this it was not available until Juke Box Dury, an Ian Dury singles collection released in 1981 by Stiff Records. Since then it has appeared on every Ian Dury compilation.
Stiff Records organised a joint tour for Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Larry Wallis and Elvis Costello, five of their biggest acts at the time with the intentions of having the bands alternating as the headlining act. Ian Dury and the newly formed Blockheads soon became the stars of the tour (it was surmised that Elvis Costello would be the main attraction having had chart success) and the nightly encore became "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll". A version can be heard on the Stiffs Live Stiffs LP released after the tour called "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll & Chaos", credited to Ian Dury and Stiff Stars'. It features four drummers and four keyboard players, plus vocals by Wallis, Wreckless Eric, Edmunds, Lowe, and Dury, and by the end (at 5 minutes and 22 seconds) what sounds like every musician on the tour.
Another live version can be found on the Ian Dury & the Blockheads live album Straight From The Desk, though much of it is not the song but Ian Dury introducing the band and their respective solos, with only the first half of the song and a repetition of the title at the song's climax included.
When Edsel Records re-released the New Boots and Panties!! album as part of a series of Ian Dury re-issues recording in Alvic Studios, London, the track was included on the bonus disc included with the album. It features two later Blockheads members Norman Watt-Roy and Charley Charles.
The song was sampled in the 2007 single "Sex & Drugs" by dance act Slyde. The video features footage of Dury singing the lyrics.
Variations of the phrase are often used in media:
- The book Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves by Cliff Pickover
- The book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
- Title of film Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll featuring Eric Bogosian.