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September 06, 2005

I'll Call You

Among the conversations with Lileks the other night at the MOB party - a revelation about Blondie's "Call Me":

Blondie killed New Wave. It started with “Heart of Glass,” which sounded fresh and new-wavey when it debuted, but now sounds like music to wear Halston shoes by. It wasn’t New Wave, of course, but Blondie came out of the CBGB world, so they were grouped with Television, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and other groups. I’m sure they fit the mold early on, but they went mainstream faster than any other group, culminating in the Great Sell-Out of 1980: “Call Me.” The idea that a CBGB group should make a record with Giogio Morodor, king of flaccid mechanical synth-pop, was heresy. Heresy!
Blondie always bugged me. They highlighted - badly, usually - the big difference between "Wave" and "Punk"; Punk was raw, brash and authentic; New Wave slathered on the attitude, the style and the irony.

Irony? Debbie Harry started as a Playboy bunny, then sang in "The Stilettos", a faux-cabaret act that specialized in trashy girl-group covers, a hanger-on to the whole CBGB scene. Blondie was to New Wave what Billy Idol (and before that, Generation X) were to punk, or Creed was to grunge; a face and a voice in the right place at the right time; technically the "real thing", but just a bit...too...perfect.

I actually loved "Dreaming", one of their lesser-known hits, a song where Clem Burke's Keith Moon-like drumming overshadows Debbie Harry's preening.

Lileks remembers:

I was working in a bar when that accursed song came out, and it played 10 times a night; every night, a stab in my heart! New Wave had been co-opted! No one who ever stood on the same stage as Tom Verlaine can sing “roll me in designer sheets” – somewhere, Lou Reed sat down, and yea he wept.
I was working at my first radio job in 1980 when I heard it for the first time (on the "American Top Forty" show with Casey Kasem, natch). After the glorious power-pop of Eat To The Beat, hearing that mechanical, Giorgio Moroder drone was...depressing.

But there's a revelation:

Well. The other night “American Gigolo” was on, and I watched it for the first time in (gulp) a quarter century [Heh - Ed.]. Even though it was shot in
’79, it’s very much a movie of the 80s - reasonable lapels, venetian blinds, pretty pictures set to synthetic music. The “Call Me” tune appears in 18,209 variations, but my ears perked up when I heard the Blondie version used in the credits.
Lileks links to both audio files - go check 'em out.
Straight forward guitar chords. Now here’s the movie version, again, by Blondie. Note the difference. The chords are different – augmented, I believe. Much jazzier, and somehow more elegantly corrupt. Almost makes it a better song, doesn't it? That's what radio was like in 1980: they had to dumb down "Call Me" to make it palatable.
I can almost picture a meeting at Chrysalis Records in 1980:
SLICK EXECUTIVE: "Call Me, huh? I like it..."

GIORGIO MORODER: "Great!"

EXEC: "...but..."

MORODER: (alarmed) "But?"

EXEC: "Gotta lose those funny notes..."

MORODER: "Augmented notes? Sevenths and ninths?"

EXEC: "Whatever. Yeah, those. Jazz doesn't play in Peoria"

MORODER: "It's not jazz, it's just a..."

EXEC: "Look, lose the funny notes, or you got no single!"

I'm going to put on Eat To The Beat now and forget the whole thing.

Posted by Mitch at September 6, 2005 07:20 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Actually, the real crime of "Call Me" was the blatant rip-off of the riff from "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath.

As for Blondie in general, songs like "Dreaming" and "The Tide Is High" really turn me on. Heavenly, Debbie is.

Posted by: Dave in Pgh. at September 6, 2005 07:39 AM

Mitch!

You know I have to "troll" your site whenever punk is once again given some status of musical superiority over the inauthentic pop.

Blondie made some good pop records. Period. Why do they have to be denigrating as not being "The real new wave, man" ?

If any of the critically approved bands that came out of that era had any kind of likability to the public, they would have had been successful.

They didn't and are thus religated to the ash heap of history only to be brought back by critics and others trying to be cool. "I saw Television open for the Ramones at GBGB in '77--that show changed my life." I've heard variants of this story a million times.

Enough with the punk and the new wave already.

Posted by: jb at September 8, 2005 12:36 PM

JB,

Well, you know I can't resist firing back...

"You know I have to "troll" your site whenever punk is once again given some status of musical superiority over the inauthentic pop."

I never used the word superiority - at least not in re genre vs. genre.

"Blondie made some good pop records. Period. Why do they have to be denigrating as not being "The real new wave, man" ?"

Not sure that I did. My favorite album of theirs was their poppiest.

"If any of the critically approved bands that came out of that era had any kind of likability to the public, they would have had been successful."

And as we all know, the Clash, the Pretenders, Men Without Hats, Thomas Dolby, Human League, the Cars, Ultravox, Split Enz, U2, Midnight Oil, The Skids (and on, and on) had no luck finding any commercial success.

"They didn't..."

?

" and are thus religated to the ash heap of history only to be brought back by critics and others trying to be cool. "I saw Television open for the Ramones at GBGB in '77--that show changed my life." I've heard variants of this story a million times."

And you'll hear it a million more! So why fight it? Live and let live. Let my life be changed by "Darkness On The Edge of Town", I'll let yours be altered by (guessing for comedic effect) whatever brand of Scotch is floating your boat, and we can all be happy. Right?

And the Ramones, my friend, were a pop band. They emulated nobody so much as the Beach Boys. They didn't have a dark bone in their collective body. And Jonny was a friggin' Republican, so respect the dead!

"Enough with the punk and the new wave already."

Not on this blog, bigfella.

And congratulations in advance, by the way.

Posted by: mitch at September 8, 2005 01:01 PM

Chris Stein Rules

Posted by: Phil at September 10, 2005 10:00 PM
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