469. ‘The Tide Is High’, by Blondie

I spoke of the variety that 1980 has offered us in my last post, and talking of variety… For their 3rd #1 of the year, Blondie go reggae.

The Tide Is High, by Blondie (their 5th of six #1s)

2 weeks, 9th – 23rd November 1980

It’s a huge departure from their two quick-fire, pounding, disco-rock chart toppers – ‘Atomic’ and ‘Call Me’ – from earlier in the year. I love those two hits and have to admit that, although this is catchy pop, it’s not in the same league. The tide is high, But I’m holding on… coos Debbie Harry, whose voice has lost much of the bite it had in those earlier hits… I’m gonna be your number one…

There are still good things to make a note of. The way Harry flirts with the I’m not the kinda girl, Who gives up just like that… line, for a start. And the extra snarl she gives the hi-igh in the closing lines. Plus there’s a cool drum intro on the album version. But overall, it’s quite sedate, quite pleasant. Quite nice. But I’d say it was the band’s huge fame that took this to the top of the charts, rather than any real ‘wow’ factor that this new single had.

‘The Tide Is High’ is a cover, originally recorded by Jamaican group The Paragons in 1967. Their version has a nice, homely charm to it. Blondie took it, changed the pronouns, and scored a #1 on either side of the Atlantic ahead of their new album. They also made a video for the song: a classic example of the low-budget, pre-MTV age. A flooded apartment, a rocket launch, Darth Vader… What’s not to love?

I’ve recently been listening to all of Blondie’s studio albums and, ‘Parallel Lines’ aside, they definitely come across more as a singles band. That’s not to say the rest is all filler – their first album has some great moments, for example – but the singles they released were consistently outstanding. Few bands can match Blondie’s run of hits between 1976 and 1980.

In conclusion, then… I do like this song. If it were by a lesser band, a one-hit wonder perhaps, then I might be singing its praises. But I expect a little more from Blondie. For this to be their swan-song at the top of the charts feels like a bit of a damp squib. After this came ‘Rapture’ – the first rap #1 on the Billboard charts – and one more studio album, but drugs and in-fighting meant they called it a day in 1982. Then… oh yeah. Forget that stuff about this being a swan-song. Then they reformed, nearly twenty years later, and scored a sensational middle-aged comeback #1, that you’ll be able to read all about if/when I manage to crawl my way to 1999…

13 thoughts on “469. ‘The Tide Is High’, by Blondie

  1. I like this one more than you. I first started to hear it right after Lennon was murdered. She covered a lot of ground musically…I didn’t really like rapture one but this one I did. I still think of it more as a seventies type song than 80s…the 70s were still holding on by this point.

      • Yes they are…I just automatically liked this song because it was good to hear something different. It was a really sucky time.
        I still want 5 minutes with the guy that did it…

  2. It’s definitely not an all time classic from Blondie but it’s a fun song nonetheless. Perfect song for summer vacation. I think what makes “The Tide Is High” work for a white act covering a reggae song is that they don’t try to attempt all the reggae accents and as Tom Breihan points out, Blondie views and plays the song as a straight up pop song and you can tell they’re having fun with it. In terms of American #1s, “The Tide Is High” was probably the most reggae song to get big up to that point. There were a couple #1 hits in the ‘70s that flirted with reggae like Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” and Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” though you wouldn’t really call both of them reggae especially the Clapton cover. And then there’s #1s like Elton John’s “Island Girl” that was just a clumsily halfassed attempt at reggae. In the US, reggae is one of those genres that seems to come and go in popularity with its biggest moment of crossover success coming with dancehall in the ‘90s and ‘00s. Even Bob Marley in his time on his own only had one low charting Hot 100 song in the ‘70s and from what I could tell mainly got big here thanks to the posthumous Legend greatest hits album.

    Also with “Rapture” it’s a stretch to call it the first rap #1 hit considering it’s more rap influenced than a full on rap song. We gotta wait til 1990 and Vanilla Ice for that designation.

    • I guess I should have said first number one to feature a rap (a pretty God-awful rap at that…)

      I’ve never really thought of this as ‘reggae’. It is, obviously, but maybe because it’s Blondie and they didn’t normally do this kind of music. Same with The Beatles and ‘Ob-La-Di’…

  3. Yeah that rap part sucks a lot like your lame aunt trying to be all hip with the current trends and just embarrassing herself. Though it did seem to leave a legacy for other white female artists to do the same thing since Dua Lipa said she was inspired by the “Rapture” rap part for her own rap part on “Levitating.”

    Real reggae songs from real reggae artists does seem to be in short supply in America. We seem to like our reggae as watered down as possible. So far in his Number Ones reviews, Breihan has called “Red Red Wine” as the first real reggae #1 considering UB40, despite being very mainstream and half-white, are a reggae act beholden to the genre and how reggae has been more popular in the UK thanks to the country’s West Indian population that allows the genre to gain more traction and popularity on the charts there compared to the US. And recently he talked about Maxi Preist’s “Close To You” and how despite it being more of a turn of the ‘90s club song than reggae it still reflects reggae’s slow breakthrough in the US just by Preist’s reggae background.

    • There has always been a reggae presence in the UK charts, since the late sixties… I’ve covered a few of the 70s hits – Johnny Nash, Double Barrel, Uptown Top Ranking – and then more homegrown acts like The Specials and UB40 in the 80s, Shaggy in the 90s, Sean Paul in the 00s… Bob Marley didn’t have much of a chart presence in the UK either, with most of his biggest hits coming after his death (albums were a different story). It is definitely down to the Windrush generation, and the subsequent West Indian immigrants, as it now feels like an integral part of British culture. The US just doesn’t have that cultural connection, despite being much closer geographically

      • Its a great reggae pop hit and the thing i loved about Blondie was the willingness to mix up the genres. Johnny Nash was reggae. He was an early chart pioneer in the uk and had had 3 top 10 hits 4 years before I Can See Clearly Now and also gave Bob Marley his first hit with Stir It Up. Ok he was American and not Jamaican, but that dont stop reggae being reggae. I was loving Johnny as much as I was loving Desmond Dekker Millie Small, Greyhound, Pioneers, Dave and Ansel Collins, Dandy Livingstone, John Holt, Ken Boothe snd many others not least Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley cos I grew up on reggae as a UK pop chart fixture as much as any other 60s genre. Still love it.

        Rapture is fab. To British ears Debbies rap isnt embarrassing, its cool sounding, but then I also rated Adam Ants Antrap so maybe im easily pleased as everyone seemed to hate that record. I love it. Theres a new christmas revamp featuring said Fab 5 Freddy out right now for Blondie. I bought Rappers Delight so wasnt averse to rap until much of it stopped being music based and prioritised anger and sex as one dimensional reason to exist. I still buy the more positive examples with a decent tune underpinning tho… 🙂

      • To be fair to Debbie Harry’s rap, I think most rap records from 1980 sound a bit slow and perhaps unimaginative to today’s ears. I can well imagine it sounding cool at the time. (That also doesn’t stop it sounding like your aunt after too much sherry when listening in 2021…)

        For Blondie doing reggae, part of me prefers ‘Island of Lost Souls’. It’s not as reggae, maybe, but it has a little bit more life in it.

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  5. I loved this song when it came out. I bought the 45. It has been played to death in the passing 40 years. I’m not all that fond of it, anymore. Rapture was fun for the first ten times I heard it, then, it got on my nerves. It wasn’t played as much over the years. Now, it’s kinda cute for nostalgia reasons.

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