As a celebration for reaching 500 (!!) #1s, I’m going to spend the rest of the week treating you to some cover versions of #1s. First up, some 2020s takes on a couple of disco classics…
The Dee Gees – ‘Tragedy’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for The Bee Gees)
There are some people for whom Steps did the definitive cover of ‘Tragedy’. (They do exist…) Luckily for them, that version will feature at #1 in its own right. So, stepping up to the plate with their own cover… The Dee Gees. Ok, ok… Foo Fighters! For their most recent album, the band devoted half of the run-time to covers of late-seventies Bee Gees hits. ‘Night Fever’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’… But I’ve gone for this one. It’s a pretty faithful cover – I do wish they’d gone a little more ‘rawk’ – though Dave Grohl’s falsetto is a majestic thing to behold. There was a time when rock bands wouldn’t have touched disco with the end of a smashed-up guitar. Those days are gone, hurrah! And isn’t ‘Hail Satin’ just the perfect album name for a hard rock band’s disco covers?
Miley Cyrus – ‘Heart of Glass’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for Blondie)
In the past twenty years, it’s become the thing for current chart acts to do live sets for radio stations and streaming services. Radio 1 kicked it off, in the UK at least, with their ‘Live Lounge’ series. Here then, is Miley Cyrus belting her way through ‘Heart of Glass, from the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2020. It’s not the subtlest take on the song, and it’s a pretty faithful cover like The Dee Gees, but there’s something compelling in the way she just goes for it. Folks agreed, because this made #38 in the UK charts (quite unusual for a live cover version).
The last few number ones to feature in this countdown have given me the feeling that the eighties are off and running. Those songs, from Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and Adam & The Ants, may not be among the very best that this decade has to offer, but they are unmistakably of a time and place. You might think ‘Going Underground’, or ‘Call Me’ were #1s from the 1970s, but you wouldn’t make that error with ‘Stand and Deliver!’
Before the eighties got started, we had to pay our respects to the seventies, and even the sixties. John Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment in early-December 1980, sparking several months of mourning at the top of the UK charts. Three of his records went to number one. Two of which probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t died (‘Starting Over’ and ‘Woman’) and one of which surely had to top the charts at some point: ‘Imagine’. We can just thank our lucky stars it was the original that belatedly did it, rather than a cover by the ‘Cast of X Factor’, or something. It’s tempting to think that the need for something lighter then prompted the success of Shakey and Adam Ant, and the mini-glam revival that they brought with them, though I’m not sure how true that would really be.
And before all that sadness, we made our way through one of the great years for chart-topping singles: 1980. The variety was huge: country yarns from Kenny Rogers, old rereleases (the theme from ‘M*A*S*H’), and reggae covers from Blondie. And then there were the all-time classics sprinkled in amongst it all: ‘Atomic’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘The Winner Takes It All‘, ‘Ashes to Ashes’… This recap barely covers a year and a third, so quick was the turnover at the top of the charts – two weeks being the norm – and that aided the mix.
Things probably weren’t as cutting-edge as last time however. The spiky creativity of new-wave had, in the large part, given way to pop from some seventies leftovers: Bowie, Blondie, ABBA with their final pair of chart-toppers, and ELO finally getting their turn at the top in collaboration with Olivia Newton-John. Even the Bee Gees made an appearance, though as songwriters for Barbra Streisand rather than under their own steam. But it wasn’t all ‘oldies’: The Jam staked their claim as the biggest band in the country with a couple of #1s, and Dexys Midnight Runners hit top-spot with a genre-bending tribute to a soul legend.
And before I dish out my awards, it’s worth checking in on old Father Disco. Update: he’s still not dead, despite what they’d have you believe. Although the genre’s peak passed several recaps ago, various recent #1s still have that unmistakeable beat, and those swirling strings: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’, TheDetroit Spinners, and Kelly Marie (who upped the tempo even more to give us a glimpse into the future of ‘80s dance-pop), right through to our most recent chart-topper from Smokey Robinson.
To the awards, then. In fact, this time the four winners have fallen into place very easily. There’s not been much deliberation needed at all. First up, The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. This one required the most thinking – I could have swayed to Fern Kinney, to ‘Crying’, to Smokey, even to ‘Woman’ – but in truth Johnny Logan’s Eurovision snooze-fest was always out in front. ‘What’s Another Year’ takes the crown this time around.
On to The ‘WTAF’ Award, dished out to those number ones that you just don’t quite get but at least they’re interesting. Again it’s an easy decision – the only other possibility being ‘Suicide Is Painless’ for its ten-year overdue success. But no. Step forward Joe Dolce and his Music Theatre for puncturing the Great John Lennon Mourning Period with his slice of Italian nonsense. No, you ‘Shaddap You Face’!
And speaking of easy decisions. It’s not often that a record as ear-achingly bad as ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ comes along. I haven’t even considered what I would’ve named The Very Worst Chart-Topper if the boys and girls of St. Winifred’s School Choir hadn’t nabbed a Christmas number one. Because, let’s be honest, there can be no discussion. Looking down my ‘very worst’ list, there are some ‘bad’ chart-toppers that can count themselves unlucky to be sharing such hideous company…
And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. The sixteenth time it has been awarded and, to be honest, I’ve been planning this one for a while. I try to not plan my awards too far ahead, but since starting this blog, and these recaps, I’ve know that this record would be winning this award. And it helps that it’s only real competition – ‘Atomic’ – is ineligible thanks to my one award per artist rule. ‘Heart of Glass’ won last time out, and so the coast is clear for ‘The Winner Takes It All’ to reign supreme. ‘Waterloo’ finished third, ‘Dancing Queen’ finished second… ABBA’s best single finally wins it.
To recap the recaps:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers:
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
In a couple of days we’ll continue on through the early 1980s. And up next: things get even more eighties, as the decade’s biggest star scores his first solo #1.
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…
In which Blondie return after only six weeks away – that’s a very short time between chart-toppers, really – with another disco-rock stomper.
Call Me, by Blondie (their 4th of six #1s)
1 week, 20th – 27th April 1980
About a year ago, when records like ‘Tragedy’ and ‘I Will Survive’ were monopolising the chart’s top-spot, I killed disco off. It had peaked, I said. New-wave, post-punk, electronica were about to take over. But it’s not been that simple… Acts keep sticking a disco beat on their songs and scoring hits: Pink Floyd, Fern Kinney, Dr. Hook… And the masters of it, Blondie.
As with ‘Atomic’, there’s another whip-snapping intro, a drum-roll, and a beat that grabs you along for the ride. And what a ride. Colour me your colour baby, Colour me your car… Not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but this isn’t the sort of song where you stop to think about the lyrics.
Again, as she did in the band’s previous #1, Debbie Harry is letting loose compared to the ‘Parallel Lines’ hits. Call me! she hollers at the top of her voice… On the line, Call me call me any anytime… It’s pretty clear what kind of call she’s talking about (think Donna Summer in ‘Hot Stuff’…) Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any day, any way…
‘Call Me’ didn’t feature on any Blondie album – it was recorded for the soundtrack of ‘American Gigolo’, starring Richard Gere, which perhaps explains the unrepentant lyrics and why it followed so hot on ‘Atomic’s heels. The soundtrack version is a full eight minutes long, with beefier synths, and a verse about being taken out and shown off, as all the best gigolos want to be. The producer behind the soundtrack was none other than Giorgio Moroder, which means he’s now been involved in three UK chart-toppers with three different acts, and this won’t be his last…
Few bands have the sort of golden runs that Blondie were having in 1979-80. In just over a year they have had four chart-toppers, all of which I’d say were at least eights out of ten. (If you insist: ‘Heart of Glass’ 9.5, ‘Sunday Girl’ 8, ‘Atomic’ 9, ‘Call Me 8.5) Their one release that didn’t top the charts in amongst all this was ‘Dreaming’, a #2 and another stone-cold classic, much more post-punk than disco (and another 8.5, since you ask.)
Sadly, they have but one chart-topper to come, and – without wanting to give too much away – one that isn’t quite in the same league. And of course they’ll have a huge comeback almost twenty years later, but as great as that #1 is I would count it as something separate. Anyway. Let’s leave Blondie here, at the peak of their powers, and their chart success. A band that sound great anywhere, anytime, any day…
Getting us back on track after (yet another) country detour… Though you could argue that there’s a country twang to the main riff on this one… sort of… Anyway, where were we? Oh yes! Blondie go atomic!
Atomic, by Blondie (their 3rd of six #1s)
2 weeks, 24th February – 9th March 1980
Add this one to the list of great intros: a sort of beautiful cacophony, a remix of the way church bells go wild after a wedding, or on Christmas morning… Ding! Dang! Dong! Apparently its based upon the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ of all things! And then it clicks into that riff. (This intro was, for some reason, cut from the single edit… but let’s just pretend that version doesn’t exist.)
Oh-ho, Make it magnificent, Tonight… Is there a better song to listen before a night out than ‘Atomic’? Back when I was young and going to nightclubs, this was often playing as I picked out a shirt, did my hair, and prayed that the bouncer would ignore the fact that I still looked about thirteen… Oh, your hair is beautiful… Debbie Harry would sing, as if she could see me in the mirror. Oh tonight… Atomic! It’s a fine, fine song. But is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…?
In some ways they’re very similar. Both rock with a disco beat (or disco with guitars…) and both with a synth breakdown in the middle – of the album versions, anyway. Here, actually, it’s time to quickly resurrect the single-edit that I killed off earlier, as that shortens the breakdown, cuts the bass guitar solo, and repeats the iconic, deep-voiced Atomic! line. It works better as a pop song, which I suppose was the point. ‘Heart of Glass’ was chopped up into various different mixes, too…
The biggest difference between last year’s Blondie and this year’s Blondie is Harry’s voice. On ‘Heart of Glass’ she was restrained, and sarcastic. On ‘Sunday Girl’ she was quite cute. She belts this one out, though, full-throated. A huge echo effect is put on her closing Oh-oh Atomics… adding to this record’s epic feel.
I’d go as far as describing ‘Atomic’ as life-affirming. A song that will psyche you up, pick you up, cheer you up… A song that does everything pop music should. Which is funny, because there’s a school of thought (in so far as pop songs have ‘schools of thought’…) that interprets this song as apocalyptic i.e. it’s the song you’d play just before the bomb goes off. That’s not something I subscribe to, though.
Anyway, I still have a question to answer though: is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…? Actually, who cares? They’re both brilliant songs. Blondie were brilliant, on top of their game at this point, and will be along again soon with another classic hit. And another one that’s totally atomic!
We have finally reached the end of the seventies! And so, to celebrate, here are the ten records that I – in my recaps – named as the very best of the decade. Note that this is not me retrospectively ranking my faves. I am beholden to decisions made several months, if not a year ago, for better or worse, and it has left us with an interesting rundown….
I spent the 1960s respectfully choosing the classics: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’. You can check out my sixties Top 10 here (and while you’re at it why not have a glance at my ’50s Top 10 too.) For the seventies, though, it seems I went a little rogue… Those of you expecting to find ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I’m Not In Love’, or ‘Wuthering Heights’ will have to look elsewhere…
I am limiting myself to one song per artist, regardless of how I ranked them at the time. Interestingly the only act that would have had two songs qualify was… Wizzard! As it is they are left with just one. And I was surprised that one of my favourite bands of the decade, Slade, came nowhere near to placing any songs in this list. Anyway, here we go:
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1970
This first song was runner-up in my late-sixties/early-seventies recap. It is a classic, a sweeping hymn, a modern standard. Every time I think I’m bored of it, that it is a little too proper to be a pop song – it is one of the few songs recorded post-1955 that my gran liked, for example – then I listen to it… The Oh, If you need a friend… line gives me shivers, every time. But I was feeling rebellious, and I awarded first place to…
‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry – #1 for 2 weeks in February/March 1971
One of the grimiest, seediest, downright strangest number ones of the decade, if not of all time. The complete opposite to Mungo Jerry’s huge feel-good hit from the year before. In my original post, I described ‘In the Summertime’ as the soundtrack to a sunny afternoon’s BBQ, while ‘Baby Jump’ was the soundtrack as the party still raged on past 4am. Bodies strewn across the lawn, couples humping in the bushes, someone throwing up under a tree… That kind of thing.
‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1972
‘Best song’ in my 2nd seventies recap. T. Rex’s final UK #1 is everything that made them great condensed and distilled into a perfect pop song: power chords, beefy drums, nonsensical lyrics… From the opening woah-oh-oh-oh it is an extended, non-stop chorus of a tune, and a true classic.
‘See My Baby Jive’, by Wizzard – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1973
The height of ridiculous, over-indulgent, glam… And all the better for it. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any song beginning with anti-aircraft guns will be great. Roy Wood threw the kitchen sink at this, Wizzard’s first of two #1s, and everything stuck. I named it runner-up to ‘Metal Guru’, and then named the follow-up, the equally OTT and equally wonderful ‘Angel Fingers’ as runner-up to the song below…
‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1974
Winner in my 3rd seventies recap, you could argue that tracks like this marked the beginning of the end for glam rock. From 1974 onwards the genre was swamped with rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts: Alvin Stardust, The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy, whose hits were catchy but, let’s be honest, dumb. Except, sometimes dumb and catchy is what you need, and when moments like that come along then you can do no better than turn to ‘Tiger Feet.’ Relish the video above… The riff, the repetitive chorus, a man in a dress, backing dancers that look like they’ve just come from the away end at Highbury… Fun fact: There has never been a ‘Best Of the 70s’ compilation that didn’t include ‘Tiger Feet.’
‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, by The Stylistics – #1 for 3 weeks in August 1975
Here’s the outlier… I was genuinely surprised to find that this one qualified. I named it as runner-up in my 4th recap apparently, ahead of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘I’m Not in Love’, which were punished for their ubiquity. But this is a great tune, and it feels right that a slice of soul should feature in this Top 10, as it was one of the sounds of the mid-seventies.
‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1975
One of the seventies’ Top 10 #1 singles is a re-release of a sixties hit? A mere technicality… We needed some Bowie, and this was his only chart-topper of the decade. I named it as best song in my 4th recap. An epic in every sense of the word.
‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA – #1 for 6 weeks between August and October 1976
Friday night and the lights are low… Frida and Agnetha are looking out for a place to go. You know the rest. Everyone on planet earth knows the rest. The ultimate pop song? The famous glissando intro is instantly recognisable, and is referenced in ABBA’s comeback hit ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. But. I only named it as runner-up in my 5th recap, because, well, Donna Summer went and did this:
‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer – #1 for 4 weeks in July/August 1977
The future arrived in the summer of ’77, beamed in on a spaceship piloted by one Donna Summer, with Giorgio Moroder as engineer. I rated it above ‘Dancing Queen’ precisely because it isn’t the ultimate pop song – it’s harsh, uncompromising and aggressively modern. You have to be in the mood for ‘I Feel Love’, which is why it hasn’t been overplayed to death, but when you are in the mood then woah. And it still sounds aggressively modern almost forty-five years on.
‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1979
Winner in my final ’70s recap, just two days ago. Blondie brought us a new-wave classic: a little disco, a little punk, a little classic rock, but beholden to none of what went before. Debbie Harry gave an impossibly cool lesson in how to be a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, too. 1979 – probably the best year of the decade in terms of chart-topping quality – was a-go go go. I know I love the glam years, but line these last three songs up – ABBA, Donna Summer and Blondie – and a better 10 minutes of popular music you’ll struggle to find.
So, there ends the 1970s. Next up, I’ll be cracking on with the eighties…
Blondie’s second number one sees them sounding much more Blondie. Gone are the synths and disco drums from ‘Heart of Glass’; back come tight, bouncy guitars and a zipalong power pop riff.
Sunday Girl, by Blondie (their 2nd of six #1s)
3 weeks, from 20th May – 10th June 1979
I know a girl from a lonely street, Cold as ice cream but still as sweet… I’d say that this is their forgotten number one, sandwiched as it is between ‘Heart of Glass’ and their three 1980 chart-toppers. It wasn’t even a single in their homeland. Most big bands with a solid run of #1s have one (ABBA recently had ‘The Name of the Game’, there’s Slade ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, Rod has ‘You Wear It Well’…) But that’s not to say it’s their worst – ‘forgotten #1s’ rarely are.
Debbie Harry’s got some bad news for a girl called Sunday. She’s seen her guy with a different girl. Drama! Maybe he has a girl named after every day of the week… I’m not convinced of her sympathy as she sings Dry your eyes Sunday girl… Beyond that, the story doesn’t really hold together. Lyrically it feels a little throwaway, perhaps down to the fact that Chris Stein chucked it together while on tour, to cheer up Harry after her cat – Sunday Man – had run away.
Her voice isn’t as arresting as it was on ‘Heart of Glass’, but it’s still a wonderful thing. Light and breezy, fun and flirty – I love the Baby I would like to go out tonight… line – and just wait until you hear her sing it in French. ‘Sunday Girl’ works perfectly en Francais; you can just picture Harry flouncing around Montmartre in the video. Plus, this song taught me years ago that ‘depeche-toi’ means ‘hurry up’, so it’s actually quite educational.
Under the bubblegum fluff, it’s worth noting that this is our first guitar led, rock ‘n’ roll chart-topper for quite a while. It’s definitely New Wave – punk distilled into pop – and you could argue that tunes like this are what set a pop-punk template that lasts to this day (see current teenybopper du jour Olivia Rodrigo).
Towards the end things dissolve into handclaps and surf guitars, and it all sounds very early-sixties. Hurry up, hurry up and wait! growls Debbie, sounding like a feistier older sister of the Shangri-Las. This really is a great pop record, and it’s been nice to listen to it for the first time in a while today. Even better is to come for Blondie, though. They’ll be kicking off the 1980s in some style. Till then, then…
Picking up where Ian Dury and the Blockheads left off, Blondie enter the scene with another tight groove. Disco and rock are colliding here, in the early weeks of 1979, and the results are magnificent.
Heart of Glass, by Blondie (their 1st of six #1s)
4 weeks, from 28th January – 25th February 1979
When we come to monster hits like ‘Heart of Glass’, part of me is happy (it’s a great song) and part of me is frustrated (everything that needs to be said about it has been said before.) See also ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘BohemianRhapsody’, ‘Get It On’… Sometimes this job’d be easier if every #1 was rank-rotten! But we will persevere. Nobody will be sad about giving this classic yet another spin…
The melody is great, for a start. The disco beat paired up with churning, writhing synths. Our 3rd ‘New Wave’ chart-topper finally sounds like what I think New Wave should sound like. When the organs come into the mix, and then the wall-of-sound drums, you’re in finger kissing perfection territory. The breathy, husky backing vocals – dum da dum, dadadada dum da – are wonderful too.
But the real star of the show – the star of this uber cool NYC gang – is the lead singer. Many are the tales of the sexual awakenings wrought upon Britain’s teenage boys by Debbie Harry in the late-seventies (and the sexual re-awakenings of their fathers, pretending not to watch the TV). Her vocals are stunning here. High-pitched, and ice cold: Once had a love, And it was a gas… Soon found out, Had a heart of glass…
She doesn’t bother singing in full sentences, and sprinkles fun Americanisms – mucho mistrust… and we coulda made it cruisin’… around the place. Best of all, she sings about heartbreak, about her glass-hearted lover, as if the loss is all his. She knows she’s hot, and that she won’t be single for long. Half of the time you can’t understand what she’s saying – in researching the lyrics for this post I realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics for years. Riding high, I’m lost to the good life… is actually Riding high, On love’s true bluish light… for example.
I know I’ve moaned a lot about recent chart-toppers going on for too long, but when it comes to this record then the longer the better. Mainly because the 12” version has the drum-machine intro missing from the 7”, and the song’s sassiest line: Soon turned out, To be a pain in the ass… In actual fact, there are so many edits of this song that there’s a version for everyone: intro, no intro, third verse, no third verse, extended disco breakdown…
Originally, when Blondie first recorded the demos for this song, several years before it was a hit, they called it ‘The Disco Song’. And you can see why. They were already a chart force, with guitar driven post-punk hits like ‘Denis’ and ‘Hangin’ on the Telephone’ before this took them stratospheric (and caused an inevitable, ‘Disco Sucks’ backlash.) They’ll be the biggest band in the land for the next couple of years, with one of the strongest ever runs of #1 singles, starting right here. Don’t go anywhere!