7-by-7-1977-logo-2016

Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Stiff)

Ian Dury Sweet Gene Vincent Collage

The words ‘tribute song’ seldom fill me with great expectations while the mere mention of ‘tribute album’ brings on a feeling of downright dread. A concept beloved of small labels hoping to attract your attention to an artist you love, the typical tribute collection is packed with a bunch of completely inferior cover versions by acts you have probably never heard of and will routinely only ever listen to once.

Of course I am generalising here but as the winter of 1977 set in, the idea of a tribute song really was anathema to my punkish sensibilities with Danny Mirror’s saccahrine I Remember Elvis Presley still hovering around the British charts in the wake of the death of Elvis. (I Remember Elvis Presley? I should hope so, he was hardly in his grave when you rushed into the studio to record your cash-in single).

That November the one and only single lifted from New Boots and Panties!! was released by Stiff. Written in honour of one of Presley’s contemporaries and of one of Dury’s teenage favourites, Sweet Gene Vincent obliquely told the tale of one of the original bad boy rockers, a star who dressed in black leather and possessed a penchant for, well, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. & Guns.

In 1977 I don’t think I would have heard any Vincent song bar Be Bop A Lula and at a time when teddy boys and punks were increasingly involved in regular punch-ups on the King’s Road and elsewhere I wasn’t inclined to look favourably on any song that celebrated a teddy boy hero. And why would anyone want to look back to rock and roll anyway? That was twenty years ago, almost an eternity to the teenage me.

But then again, this was Ian Dury, a witty lyricist, unique vocalist and all round one-off.

On Sweet Gene Vincent, he divides his song in two, the first half being a poignant and poetic ballad with something of a lullaby feel looking back at the singer’s short life. ‘Shall I mourn your decline with some thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief?’ he asks before going on to confess: ‘I miss your sad Virginia whisper / I miss the voice that called my heart.’

The second half gives way to some pure rock’n’roll dynamite with Dury referencing some of Vincent’s best known tracks like Blue Jean Bop, Who Slapped John and Pistol Packin’ Mama throughout.

And, of course, while Danny Mirror had attempted to mimic Presley’s tenor and baritone vocals, here Dury as always sounded 100% Essex geezer. And he was never going to trot out rhymes as predictable as sing and King. Before the song had ended I might even have been blue jean bopping and I was definitely much less likely to knock the rock.

Is Sweet Gene Vincent the best tribute song that I have ever heard?

Very possibly.

The song was ranked at # 13 on NME‘s Tracks of the Year for 1977 and Robbie Williams provided a cover version for Brand New Boots and Panties, the tribute album issued following Ian’s death in 2000 (which you might be able to guess I have never heard). It also featured on the very fine soundtrack of Christopher Petit’s 1979 film Radio On.

Here’s a live version, featuring a guest appearance from a kinetic Wilko Johnson:


Just as tribute songs or albums hold little interest for me, the description ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’ seldom intrigues me. I doubt I’m alone in this regard which is why albums by the likes of Jakob Dylan, James McCartney and Julian Lennon, unlike their fathers, aren’t going to be appearing in any Greatest Album Ever lists any time soon. And sorry, but when Lisa Marie Presley dies I wouldn’t count on any tribute singles appearing.

That said, I have enjoyed the recently released albums by Charlotte (daughter of Serge) Gainsbourg and Baxter (son of Ian) Dury.

Famously, as a five-year-old Baxter appeared with his old man on the front cover of New Boots and Panties!! Nowadays he gets to appear on his own album covers. His latest Prince of Tears is maybe the best of these yet, a short and sometimes savage collection of tracks that occasionlly recall Ian and just as often bring to mind the aforementioned Serge Gainsbourg – mainly due to the superb orchestration and alternating male/female vocals he favours here.

Baxter has certainly inherited Ian’s potty mouth as he demonstrates on the lead single Miami:


For more on Ian, click here and for more on Baxter, click here.

 

Advertisements