The Blockheads – What a Waste – SSF 2016
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English rock n’ roll at its finest!
Originally fronted by vocalist Ian Dury as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the band have continued to perform since Dury’s death in 2000.
They are best known for their hit singles, “What a Waste”, “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”, “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”. Dury’s lyrics were a distinctive combination of lyrical poetry, word play, observation of British everyday (working-class) life, acute character sketches, and vivid, earthy sexual humour. The Blockheads’ sound drew from its members’ diverse musical influences, which included jazz, rock and roll, funk, and reggae, and Dury’s love of music hall.
The band had their 35th anniversary in 2013 which was the same year that the band released the studio album Same Horse Different Jockey, thirty-five years to the day from when the band’s number one single “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” was released.
“What a Waste” is a song and single by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, originally released in 1978 on the Stiff Records single BUY 27 “What a Waste” / “Wake Up and Make Love with Me”. The song has remained in The Blockheads’ set following Dury’s death.
Essentially a song about being in a job that makes you happy, Dury claimed in a 1984 interview with Penthouse that while not condemning 9-to-5 jobs, he had written the song to make people question their lives, echoing the sentiments of his earlier single “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll”. The song’s verses list a number of things the song’s narrator could have been, from a driver, poet, teacher or soldier to an inmate in a long-term institution and the ticket man at Fulham Broadway station before the chorus reveals that instead he chose to ‘play the fool in a six-piece band’ highlighting some of the pitfalls of this (loneliness specifically), before deciding that ‘rock and roll don’t mind’.
The song was written following the break-up of Kilburn and the Highroads in a lull between the formation of Ian Dury & the Kilburns and was written with Rod Melvin in mid-1975, two years before it was released. Originally a third writing credit was given to Chaz Jankel (Dury’s long-term songwriting companion): this third writing credit has gradually been phased out and the 2004 Edsel Records re-issue of Do it Yourself credits the song to Dury/Melvin solely. However, in Ian Dury & The Blockheads: Song By Song, John Turnbull (guitarist with the Blockheads) claims that the middle instrumental section was brought over from one of the songs four of the The Blockheads had written while they were in their previous band, Loving Awareness.
Dury’s first hit, “What A Waste / Wake Up And Make Love With Me” was released in April 1978 just before the start of a headlining tour, entering the Top 75 on 29 April and spent 12 weeks there. It peaked at number 9 in the UK Singles Chart, becoming Stiff Records’ biggest selling single to date. A very limited 12″ pressing was also released.
The single has most likely contributed to the confusion over exactly what Ian Dury songs are by ‘Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ including as it did “Wake Up and Make Love with Me” on its B-side: this is not a new version of the song re-recorded by the band but the version from New Boots and Panties!! which is not a Blockheads album (although some of the band do play on it). “What a Waste”, however, is a Blockheads track.
On their eponymous album from 1998, English indie rock band, theaudience quote the song in the chorus of ‘Running Out Of Space’: “It’s high time for summer and for honesty / when you’re drunk you will sing ‘What A Waste'” followed by a short phrase on keyboards based on the chorus guitar riff.