Ian Dury and the Blockheads' 'Reasons to Be Cheerful'

6 Conversations

Ian Dury and the Blockheads released the song Reasons to be Cheerful in 1979. Here is a brief look at the things he said in the song made him cheerful and trying to determine why they would make anyone cheerful.

The opening

Why don't you get back into bed

Why don't you get back into bed

Why don't you get back into bed

Why don't you get back into bed

Unfortunately if you take this advice you will only really be able to sample a few of the reasons that Ian sang about to be cheerful, but very cheerful you would be in experiencing some of them.

The Bridge

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

One Two Three

Various people have searched for Parts One and Two. If you can find them please let us know. However the majority of the song is a list of the reasons to be cheerful.

Some of Buddy Holly

A surprising start to the list for such an iconic star of Punk. Buddy Holly (1936-1959) was a leading light in the early days of Rock and Roll in the 1950's and as far removed from Punk as possible. But we will never know which of Buddy's stuff Ian truly liked and made him happy.

The working folly

Quite possibly a reference to the state of the UK economy at the time. Many manual workers were on a three day week at the time as financially things were tough. To actually be working at all was also a god send as the levels of unemployment were incredibly high so to be in work was a reason to be joyful indeed.

Good Golly Miss Molly

A song by Robert Blackwell and John Marascalco which Little Richard sang and is one of the iconic early Rock and Roll numbers. This was as much a kick to liven up Music in the 50s as punk was in the 70s.


The end of each verse was a single word. The first verse ended and boats. Certainly being on a boat with just the wind is a very relaxing experience. Some people even enjoy being on any boat going anywhere a gondola in Venice, a barge on the Thames or a Cruise liner. Many reasons to be cheerful.

Hammersmith Palais

One of the major concert venues of the time and immortalised in song by The Clash in the song (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais. It was the main reggae and dub dancehall in London, which is reflected in listening to Rico later on. Renamed the Po Na Na in the late 1990s it now hosts School Disco nights. Plenty of happy memories for a performer and music lover no doubt.

The Bolshoi ballet

Another strange choice in the context of the style of the song, buy Dury was far more appreciative of arts than his working class gruffness conveyed. However a ballet especially one performed by the best ballet company in the world is an occasion to savour, the skill and excitement involved.

Jump back in the alley

This is from the lyric of Tutti Frutti by Little Richard. Assumedly it also refers to some impromptu sexual activity. No need to say why this would be cheerful.

Nanny goats

Goats especially nanny goats can on occasions be vicious especially if they have young kids. However they do produce a really nice milk which can be turned into all sorts of cheeses which would be a reason to be cheerful. However it also refers, and quite possibly more importantly, to Bo Diddley the song by the artist of the same name.

Another interesting coincidence with nanny goats is a local place name near areas with which Dury was assosiated. He attended Walthamstow Art College and 2 years after Reason's to be Cheerful the band released their first record on Polydor, having left Stiff Records, which was called Lord Upminister. Between these two locations lies Becontree Heath and an area of the heath is called Nanny Goat Common. The houses surrounding the heath were built in the post war years as 'homes for heroes'. But maybe the Essex boy's memories of this part of the heath led to his wanting to include an obscure reference to Nanny Goats in his reasons to be cheerful.

18 wheeler Scammels

Scammel were established in 1919. Along with Leyland they were at the forefront of British lorry manufacture. Many, including Mr Dury considered them to be the epitome of articulated style. Sadly Scammel suffered the same fate as most of the British motor industry and went bust in the 1980s.

Thumbing out the Candles

There is some debate about what this lyric actually is some people think it is Dominca Camels or even Dominate the Camels. There appears to be no references to camels in Dominca unless this is where tobacco came from to make that brand of cigarette. However to be able to dominate a camel, not the most condusive of beasts of burden would be enough to make any rider of a camel smile.

However in the context of the lyric Thumbing out the Candles makes a lot of sense. Candles lead to romance and by thumbing them out rather than searching for and using a snuffer Ian is obviously in a hurry to get on with an enjoyable roll under the covers.

All other mammals

After all Dogs and Cats are man's best friends, or so they say. However being confronted by a cheetah after some lunch might be a different prospect but I think we know what he means.

Equal votes

Stemming out of the Women's Lib movement of the late 60s and early 70s the women already had the vote but were then looking for equality in a number of different ways, a struggle which they are still trying to reach total equality.

Seeing Piccadilly

Right in the heart of London's West End, Piccadilly runs from Piccadilly Circus to Hyde Park Corner. Lillywhites the world famous sports store at one end to the Ritz Hotel almost at the other. It has it all the hustle and bustle of the West End, the serenity of Green Park and Hyde Park beyond. A Wren Church. The statue of Eros the Greek god of love. The neon signs, theatre and Cinema. Now the Hard Rock Cafe also adds to its appeal.

Fanny smith and willy

As these are nicknames for the male and female genitalia therefore another reference to sex as mentioning them can only mean they come together.

Being rather silly

Provided being a clown is not a defence mechanism against depression being so is most definitely a reason to be cheerful. Anyone who ever saw Ian perform can ascertain that this is the case.

Porridge oats

Subject to personal taste you either love or hate porridge oats but you may like the oats if formed into a variety of biscuits. However as a bowl of porridge can set you up for a miserable winters day it cheers you up inside and out.

A bit of grin and bear it

If you are having to grin it bear it surely you are not having a good time. Fortunately a bit of grin and bear it is also a anacronym for sexual intercourse as in before caring about the woman's need for orgasm she would grin and bear it.

A bit of come and share it

Generosity is always a reason to celebrate and be cheerful.

You're welcome

Politeness, as with generosity above, always brings a smile to your face.

We can spare it

Generosity again. See above.

Yellow socks

Ian loved to stand out and often worn weird colours of sock against his black trousers and shoes. Yellow would definitely bring sunshine to the world around.

Too short to be haughty

Working class through and through and a reference to the Frost Report sketches starring John Cleese, Ronnie Baker and Ronnie Corbett, where they used their difference in height to convey the ridiculous nature of the English class system, Cleese at well over six feet played the haughty upper class who looked down on the other two especially Corbett.

Too nutty to be naughty

There is a long line of British comics who played the cheeky chappy. They were absolute nutters and were never considered to be naughty it always appeared to be accidental. Therefore if you can achieve that sense of nuttiness even the victim of your japes will laugh with you.

Going on forty

They say that is where live begins. Also if you have lead a debauched live as a rock star to reach forty was a landmark not to be sneered at. Ian having suffered Polio as a child had other reasons to be happy reaching this landmark age.

No electric shocks

Electric shock therapy had been used as medication for all sort of ailments even in the earliest part of this century. Ian's Polio would undoubtedly have meant loads of electric shocks if he had have been born earlier.

The juice of a carrot

Very healthy and healthy people tend to be happy people. They don't get out of breathe they can concentrate longer on things and tend to fight off illnesses quicker.

The smile of a parrot

A rare sighting would be a parrot smiling as the beak doesn't allow a change of expression. However you can tell how a parrot is happy. If it is a talking bird it will say all sorts of things at the most inappropriate minutes and you'll burst out laughing, if not at the time at least later when you regale in the story.

A little drop of claret

A good claret is something to savour and it doesn't need much. If you are drinking claret you are generally drinking to enjoy the wine and not to get blind drunk. Therefore you are quite possibly in a social event with close friends and enjoying a whole evening of finery.

Anything that rocks

As a rock musician no doubt the entire genre made him happy. Already mentioned have been Buddy Holly, Little Richard and the Hammersmith Palais. Also warranting a mention is Elvis.

Elvis and Scotty

Interesting combination in this line unless you believe the Daily Sport's that Elvis is living on the moon. Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-77) is of course the undisputed King of Rock and Roll and sang a wide variety of songs and is still topping the charts 25 years after his death. Plenty of reasons to be cheerful, sad or romantic, depending on the song.

Lieutenent Montgomery Scott is the Chief Engineer on James Kirk's Enterprise on Star Trek: The Original Series. Scotty's main attribute was no matter how difficult the situation he always dealt with the disaster facing the ship with good old Scottish humour.

However dispite the most famous Scotty being Kirk's engineer it is more likely this line refers to Scotty Moore, who on guitar along with Bill Black on bass was added by Sam Phillips at Sun Records to the King's early recordings.

The days when I ain't spotty

Acne can be embarrassingly painful as a teenager and can sometimes continue into adulthood. Any day when you are not have to face a spot in the mirror is therefore a day to rejoice.

Sitting on a potty

The potty is the shortened version of chamber pot which used to reside under beds for night time toiletry requirements, instead of walking through the dark and freezing house. It is also the vernacular term for the main use of the smallest room in the house. Some of the great thinkers and writers say their best ideas sometimes come when enjoying the privacy of the bathroom. Spike Milligan claimed the toilet helped inspire him, Douglas Adams partook in long baths. Inspiration may have struck Ian whilst sitting there performing natures necessities.

Curing smallpox

One of the major achievements of the 20th century was eliminating this deadly disease in its natural form. However we are now threatened by the possibility that this may be used in biological warfare, at least we still have the vaccine.

Health service glasses

A feature of a by-gone age where the glasses that were provided by the National Health Service in the UK. These were what you could get free under the NHS and were thick plastic rimmed glasses as modeled by Sir Michael Caine in his early movies or a wire rimmed variety made popular by John Lennon. They showed the owner was poor and looked ridiculous on any face shape they just never looked right. If you had perfect eyesight it was a source of much amusement, as are the photos of people who used to have them now.

Gigolos and brasses

Gigolos and brasses in rhyming slang for rent boys and prostitutes, from the girls asses1. I suppose if you have the inclination to pay for sex this may make you cheerful at least for a short time.

Round or skinny bottoms

Not fussy then but obviously a guy who liked a woman's bottom. Which follows on nicely from the slang term for prostitutes above.

Take your mum to Paris

Taking you Mum to Paris may not seem the most logical reason for good cheer. But if you mother had never been abroad and seen Paris in all the movies of her youth for you to be able to take her there, using a passport for the first time would bring a glow to you heart.

Lighting up a chalice

Judging by the rest of this song it is doubtful that Ian is referring to attending a high church service. What is more likely is that he is referring to smoking marijuana. As a victim of Polio this may have helped to relieve his pain, this is one of the main reasons politicians at the moment are considering decriminalising the use of it.

Wee Willie Harris

William Harris was a vertically challenged and very close personal freind of Ian Dury. As all of us know close personal friends are exceedingly good reasons to be cheerful. So in this rather personal verse which also mentions his dear old mum he also name-checks his mate. He was also a 1950s rocker and entertainer who still performs Rock N' Roll, Blues, Skiffle, Country as well as novelty cabaret songs today.

Banto Steven Biko

Steve Biko was a black South African whose story came to prominence by the writing of Donald Woods. Steve died while in police custody but his life story and Donald campaigning helped spur the international anti-apartheid movement, which gave a lot of people a sense of purpose and achievement and personal involvement in a world where individuals were feeling helpless2.

Listening to Rico

Rico Rodriguez is a Jamacian jazz trombonist, who learnt trombone instead of the more popular Saxaphone in the 1940s when he was learning. He was inspired by the music of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, and started to perform professionally in the late 1950s. His jazz started as mainly the Latin or Cuban style but learnt new styles through the 1960s before joining Undivided from 1970 - 1975 who provided backing for the Reggae bands that toured his new British home from Jamacia during that period.

In 1975 Rico got his first recording contract and in 1978 the year before Dury wrote this song he was supporting Bob Marley and the Wailers on tour. Since then he has continued to record and perform including with the Specials, the Police, Ian Drury and the Blockheads, and Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

Harpo Groucho Chico

The Marx Brothers Leonard (Chico) [1891-1961], Adolph, later Arthur (Harpo) [1893-1964], Julius Henry (Groucho) 1895-1977, Milton (Gummo) 1897-1977, Herbert (Zeppo) 1900-1979 started out as vaudeville and Broadway stars before transferring to the silver screen from the 1930s to 50s. They followed Laurel and Hardy and the Stooges in a long line of physical comedy.

Cheddar cheese and pickle

A traditional English sandwich filling also very essential ingredients in a Ploughman's Lunch at and English Pub. Traditional British complimentary ingredients that go surprisingly well together.

La Vincent motorcycle

Vincent Motorcycles are a line of classic motorbikes founded by Phillip Vincent in the 1920s.

Slap and tickle

Once again a reference to sex. Although slap and tickle refers to heavy petting rather than the actual act.

Woody Allen

How can watching the king of Neurotic films make you smile? Because Woody writes, directs and stars in them to highlight the comedic elements of his own neuroses. It is aimed to be funny and the laughs are usually at Woody's expense.


Salvador Dali (1904-1989) the Spanish impressionist painter. Although he had a major falling out with his contemporary surrealist and founded the Dali School of surrealist art with his pupils. Be surrealism there are often little things that peak your interest in any of his paintings, and the juxtoposition of subjects on the canvas often were homourous as well as thought provoking.

Dimitri and Pasquale

The must likely combination of the two names in this line occur in the field of Opera and classical music, the two being Dimitri Schostakowitsch and the Opera Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti.

Schostakowitsch (1906-1975) had only recently died and had fallen out of favour with the Soiet regime in 1936. However with 3 Operas including Lady MacBeth of Mzensk, 3 ballets, 15 symphonies, 6 concertos and other works including film scores he has a impressive catalogue and range of pieces which might have appealed to Drury's diverse musical tastes already evident in this song.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) wrote the opera Don Pasquale in 1842 having ealier in 1826 written Olive and Pasquale. In it Don Pasquale forbids his nephew Ernesto from marry a poor girl Norina. The Don is distraught at the lack of respect from his nephew and heir and decides instead to take a new wife to bear him heirs. He turns to a frienda wise choice. However once married Sofronia now with her name on the Don's deeds starts to cause all kinds of trouble for the elderly Don including having a secret rendevous in the garden with a younger lover. He demands she departs but she insists on staying to see the marriage on Ernesto to Norina, the reason being she unveils herself as Norina. There is now no objection to her on grounds on wealth so after his initial anger Pasquale consents to the marriage of the heir to his, for a brief period, wife.

ba la ba la ba la and Volare

Ba la ba la ba la is quite possibly the start of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. And very relaxing and inspirational piece of popular classical music.

Volare is a song also known as Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu. It is Italian and was written by Domenico Modugno and Francesco Migliacci. Pavarotti started singing this recently. Randy Newman sings a quote out of it in his album Little Criminals in the Song Kathleen.

Something nice to study

ONe wonders in the context of other things mentioned in this song which context this could possibly mean, it could be referring to top shelf magazines. However, as we have covered the topic of sex enough in this article we'll assume it is the other context.

Studying something especially outside the learning context of school or University when it is not for examination is a fulfilling experience. Usually you spend time studying something you have an interest in look at the researchers around here especially those who have left university they still study things to get their entries right.

Phoning up a buddy

As Bob Hoskins used to say in the old British Telecom adverts it's good to talk, especially now that so many of us have mobile telephones and can do this anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

Being in my nuddy

Referring to just lounging around in the nude (therefore nuddy) feeling the fresh air and even sunshine on your bare skin can be quite a sensually uplifting experience.

Saying okey dokey

This is a far more cheery way of saying Okay. If someone is saying okey dokey to you it will more invariably bring a smile to your face as they more certainly mean it than the mechanical ok.

Singalong a Smokie

Smokie were a 70's rock band whose most famous contribution was their 1976 hit 'Living Next Door to Alice'. A Dutch band Gompie amended it to include the F word and created a lot of audience participation

Alternatively it may may refer to soul great William 'Smokey' Robinson, immortalised in another song ABC's When Smokey Sings. He wrote and sang such greats as 'My Girl', 'The Tracks of my Tears' and 'Tears of a Clown' along with the Miracles his backing group. But even these classics are added reasons to be cheerful.

Coming out a chokey

Chokey is a name for prison referring to the restrictive nature of many prisons still in use today. To escape to freedom would be a great day of rejoicing for any former prison inmate.

John Coltrane's soprano

John Coltrane was famous for playing the saxophone. He is best known for the Tenor version, but he also played Soprano Sax.

Adi Celentano

Adrian Celentano is a Italian singer/songwriter and film actor who started out as Italy's answer to Elvis Presley in the 1950's. His career has carried on ever since and he is still popular in Italy today. Anyone singing Elvis songs in Italian is bound to bring a smile to your face.

Bonar Colleano

Bonar was a minor film star in the 1940s and 50s. He had roles in The Way to the Stars, Johnny in the Clouds, A matter of life and death, Stairway to Heaven, Once a Jolly Swagman and The Sea Shall Not Have Them.

The Ending

Yes, yes

Dear, dear

Perhaps next year

Maybe even never

After this colossal list of reasons to be cheerful the song finishes with a little hint of regret that maybe he'll maybe never get to do them all.

Does it work?

Are these really reasons to be cheerful, well one man attempted to find out. His name is Dave Gorman. Yes the same guy how set about a namesake for every card in a deck of cards, including jokers. Yes the same guy who followed his horoscope religiously for 40 days to see if it worked. Before he did either of these he set out to prove this song at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1998, more details can be found on this website.

1Deriere, bottom etc.2It was many years until the result of this publicity came to a satisfactory result, so the cheerfulness at the time was in the chase and not the result.

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