I really dig these late-era Blondie albums, particularly this one and its predecessor, Autoamerican. They don’t sound too much like classic-era Blondie – well, Debbie Harry’s vocals do – but in terms of instrumentation and songwriting, they’re much closer to the emerging trend of New Wave bands than their pop-punk past.
The highlight of this record – aside from the cover photo, where Debbie Harry is wearing the craziest wig this side of Tina Turner’s appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – is the inclusion of the ‘lost’ Bond theme, For Your Eyes Only, originally recorded for the 1981 film of the same name. As far as Blondie songs go, it isn’t the worst thing they’ve recorded, but like Alice Cooper’s version of The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s definitely not Bond-worthy. You can understand why they were turned down by the Bond producers. Blondie were then asked to record the Bill Conti composition that was ultimately recorded by Sheena Easton, but declined the offer. That, to me, sounds like a much more exciting prospect, but unfortunately I can only imagine what it would sound like.
This was the final Blondie record until 1999’s No Exit. You can hear the band coming to the end of their natural life-cycle on The Hunter. A Debbie Harry solo career was dawning, with her first record, KooKoo, appearing a year prior in 1981. But more than anything, the split of the group was caused by Chris Stein’s illness with the rare auto-immune disease, pemphigus – which he would ultimately overcome before their late-‘90s comeback.
Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.
It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.
Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.
Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?
Whenever I listen to a band’s debut album, and the material on there isn’t really representative of their later work, I always think back to an interview I heard once with John Peel. He was explaining why his musical tastes were drawn to the obscure and away from the mainstream. To paraphrase, he said that a band’s debut is essentially their most concentrated output, and that any subsequent albums are diluted attempts to rehash earlier glories, influenced greatly by record company involvement or, even worse, the fans.
In most cases, I agree with him. But you have to bring a degree of common sense to the party. Anybody who thinks that the first R.E.M. album, Murmur, is their finest achievement would be deluded. Or U2’s debut, Boy. There are many bands who just don’t get going properly until they’re a few albums into their career – R.E.M. and U2 are extreme examples I think, but the same can be said for Blondie.
This is in no way the ‘best’ or even the most interesting Blondie album. Rip Her To Shreds, or Rip Her To Shreads as it is mistakenly spelled on the album sleeve, is the only song on here that stands up to their later output.
This is an odd album, effectively showing Blondie moving with the times and changing from a 70s band into an 80s band. You can imagine rock fans turning away from Blondie in droves when this was released, but I like it. It has a charm, and the band sound very confident taking such a departure from their punk beginnings.
Okay, their punk was always very pop-oriented, but here they move away from sure ground to embrace Jamaican ska (The Tide Is High), jazz (Here’s Looking At You, Faces), disco (Do The Dark), and even funk and rap (Rapture). It’s almost as though they thought they’d switch genres but couldn’t decide on which one to switch to so they chose all of them.
When listening to a greatest hits record by Blondie, the hit singles from this album – The Tide Is High and Rapture – sound out of place, but on this record, in their original context, they make much more sense.
Seeing as this is the 50th entry in this particular blog, I thought I’d cover an album I really, really love – and one that lends its name to (half of) the blog’s title. Looking back, I regret not doing something similar for the silver posting at #25, which was taken by Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Oh dear – perhaps subconsciously I like Lionel Richie solo albums more than I give myself credit for.
Rocks is Aerosmith’s fourth studio album and the creative peak of their classic 70s period. This is the album that was heard by a young Slash and turned him onto rock music, essentially giving birth to Guns ‘N Roses. Of this album, and its predecessor Toys In The Attic, I probably prefer the earlier album as it has a little more light on it. That’s not to say Rocks is a dark album – it’s just darker than Toys… and is very no-nonsense.
Credit also has to be given to the producer, Jack Douglas – now practically a sixth member of the band. The production specifically on the opening track Back In The Saddle is fantastic, building up to a release with sound effects perfectly complimenting the lyrics to conjure up a dusty saloon in the old west.
It’s all the rage these days for bands to play their classic albums in their entirety. I guess this maybe started with Pink Floyd playing Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety on their Pulse tour. I read somewhere that back in 2009, Aerosmith played Rocks from start to finish as the centrepiece of their live show – after giving Toys… the same treatment went down well with the fans. Now normally I’d love to see the band play either of these albums in full, but I’m not really sure I want the 21st century version of Aerosmith spoiling my love of these two great albums.
I used to love Blondie, but seeing them live at Glastonbury in 1999 really turned me off them, and it took me a very long time to start appreciating them again. I have an almost religious love for the Toys… and Rocks albums and I wouldn’t want that to be destroyed. Sometimes nostalgia should be left in its box.