Laughter’s recording was a tense experience for a number of the participants, including The Blockheads: this would be their only album with Dury in the Eighties. Dury was drinking heavily and he became noticeably more argumentative and uncooperative as the sessions for the album progressed; he later said he gave the album the title he did to cheer himself up. It was also his final album for Stiff records; Sueperman’s Big Sister (the spelling was intentional to avoid any objections from DC Comics, whose Superman character was trademarked) had the honour of being the label’s 100th single but in 1981, Dury moved to major Polydor. The reception the music press gave Laughter was a disappointing end to his previously unblemished critical record at Stiff and sales were affected too. Previous album New Boots And Panties!! was rarely out of the charts for the rest of the Seventies following its release in 1977, and although follow-up Do It Yourself had a shorter run, it made #2; Laughter struggled to make #48. But it wasn’t all bad news: a tour at the time of the album’s release was a sell-out success.
His first single for Polydor, Spasticus Autisticus, was banned by the BBC and only just made the Top 100; Lord Upminster, its parent album, sold modestly. There was then a long wait for any new material, cause by a dispute over one of the tracks proposed for inclusion on next album 4,000 Weeks’ Holiday. (4,000 weeks is the average human life span.) The song, Noddy Harris contained some very adult themes and language but also mentioned a variety of characters from children’s literature; concerned about the legal consequences of the subject matter and the name-checking, Polydor refused to include it on the album but Dury insisted it remain. Polydor won in the end, but 4,000 Weeks’ Holiday was very late hitting the shops, finally appearing in January 1984. The single chosen to accompany the album, Really Glad You Came, had a B-side with a similar tune but different lyrics called (You’re My) Inspiration, jointly credited to Dury and his new informal backing group The Music Students. They were also credited on the album’s other single, Very Personal. Noddy Harris meanwhile – now known by the alternative name Fuck Off Noddy – was eventually made available in September 1985 as an unofficial white label 7” through an independent retailer.
The same year saw some much-needed favourable press. A reminder of the peak of his popularity came with a re-issue of his biggest hit, the 1979 #1 Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, albeit in a pointless “re-mix” that added nothing to the original. Then in September, ITV began the first series of the hit show ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾’, for which he performed the theme tune Profoundly In Love With Pandora. Released as a single, it narrowly fell short of returning him to the Top 40. But for Dury, the decade ended after a long gap between releases with the opening his stage show Apples (also the name of a single and an album); it received few favourable notices and closed after ten weeks.
(The 1985 re-mix of ‘Rhythm Stick’, by the way, was by Paul Hardcastle, a multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer who had a five-week #1 of his own with the single 19 in the same year. He had a couple of other hits in the Eighties but is probably best known for his theme tunes for two BBC television programmes: his track The Wizard was used on ‘Top Of The Pops’ from 1986, and the instrumental Voyager opened the travel show ‘Holiday’ from 1988.)
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 13
ALTERED IMAGES Bring Me Closer (Epic EPCA3398)
Matt FRETTON It’s So High (Chrysalis MATT1)
JAPAN Canton (Live) (Virgin VS581)
JOBOXERS Just Got Lucky (RCA BOXX2)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) Hand In Glove (Rough Trade RT131)
CHINA CRISIS King In A Catholic Style (Virgin VS765)
Ian DURY Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (Remix) (Stiff BUY214)
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK So In Love (Virgin VS766)