5
Sep 08

BLONDIE – “Heart Of Glass”

FT + Popular101 comments • 4,074 views

#433, 3rd February 1979

Most of the great records we’ve encountered on Popular find modern-day imitators – but often these imitators aren’t bands I choose to listen to. If a thrusting young beat combo wants to make their own version of “Hot Love” then they have excellent taste, and I wish them every joy of it, but I’ll just sit that one out, ta. “Heart Of Glass”, though – and the rest of Blondie’s hits – are a blueprint for a lot of the pop records I’ve enjoyed most this decade: Ellis-Bextor, Annie, Richard X, Girls Aloud would all murder to have this in their back catalogue (by some kind of marrying-your-grandmother time paradox).

It was ever thus: when I started reading the music press, Melody Maker’s Chris Roberts was in a great lather over his pet “blonde” movement, and the figleaf of a dropped “i” spared nobody’s blushes. Debbie Harry’s distanced “oo-ooh-aa-aah” post-chorus hook ancestors shoegaze vocal tics as much as her unblinking hauteur births modern robopop. Blondie, in other words, have never not been cool – well, almost never.

This has an odd effect on “Heart Of Glass” itself, in that its status as a pop Rosetta Stone rubs uneasily against its sublime diffidence. Debbie Harry’s coos and sighs aren’t especially regretful, and she mumbles most of the words: fine, I’ll sing about this guy, but seriously, he wasn’t a big deal. “Pain in the ass” gets it right. As the video suggests, the record is a knowing trifle – new wavers go disco with more than half an eyebrow raised – which happened to hit a mood so perfectly that it became immortal. That isn’t entirely Harry’s doing – just listen to that gorgeously restrained pop-and-click intro for how well-made “Heart Of Glass” is – but she’s what makes this track so iconic. The fleeting anomie of the pleasure-seeking clubhound, as captured by Bryan Ferry earlier in the 70s, but discofied, feminised, futurised – and near thirty years later still cryptic and still resonant.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    DJ Punctum on 9 Sep 2008 #

    If Elbow win, will the last person to leave pop music please remember to turn out the lights?

  2. 77
    mike on 9 Sep 2008 #

    #76 – DNFTT!

    I’m rooting for Rachel Unthank, though. If ever there was a year for Token Folk to win it, this would be the year.

  3. 78
    DJ Punctum on 9 Sep 2008 #

    :-p

    Yes, I’d be very happy if The Bairns won.

  4. 79
    Mark G on 9 Sep 2008 #

    Me too. In order:

    1. Rachel Unthank
    2. Everyone else xcpept..
    3. Rubber Plant.

  5. 80
    Lena on 9 Sep 2008 #

    I would love it if either Rachel or Estelle won, but my hopes are not that high.

  6. 81
    pink champale on 9 Sep 2008 #

    made up charts with songs by your cat? you lot is nutters.

    anyway, HOG would be my third, or maybe fourth, ten and i think it has the best (and yep, most modern) sound of any of the number ones up to now. as soon as it starts you’re enveloped in something that’s impossibly shimmering and glamorous while still feeling warm and human. and then on top of that you’ve got the extraordinary vocals. lovely new york hipster diffidence, whole lines done more as a single sound than a set of words (i still can’t decipher half the lyrics)* and then the glorious moments where it snaps into focus foor the punchlines – “pain in the ass” indeed. all this and pop’s best ever haircut.

    *”mucho mistrust” who’d have thought?

  7. 82
    DJ Punctum on 9 Sep 2008 #

    If Estelle wins, cue Maconie rant in next week’s Radio Times/on Radio 2 tomorrow evening re. Mercury judges being prejudiced against white men with guitars eh eh.

    (go girl go!)

  8. 83
    Tom on 9 Sep 2008 #

    pink champale: excellent point about the lyrics shifting in and out of focus! That’s something I really like about it – it’s like a half-overheard conversation where you suddenly pick up on intriguing snippets.

  9. 84
    wichita lineman on 9 Sep 2008 #

    The Caravelles (Brit girl duo with candyfloss vocal technique) were once described as “appearing to sing in French”, which fits Heart Of Glass quite snugly too.

    I was amazed at how many of my friends had worked out “mucho mistrust” until they told me Parallel Lines came with a lyric sheet.

    Estelle! Got to be! But I’m worried the M People factor means that nothing so pop has a chance…

  10. 85
    Mark G on 9 Sep 2008 #

    I always thought it was “Mucho Mistrust” but that’s more thanks to NME’s Lone Groover cartoon…

  11. 86
    lonepilgrim on 9 Sep 2008 #

    #76
    are you gonna hit the light switch then DJP?

    burial woz robbed

    #85 lone groover – now there’s a memory – I’m off to scour the interweb

  12. 87
    Mark G on 10 Sep 2008 #

    “Mucho Mucho Mucho Marvey
    I’ve got a chick from the Yugoslavey”

  13. 88
    DJ Punctum on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Burial couldn’t be arsed to turn up morelike (infallible Mercury rule: the prize goes to whoever can be bothered to show up).

    It was sickening watching 6Music presenter Lauren Laverne and Radio 2 presenter Charles Hazelwood slavering over victorious 6Music presenter Guy Garvey in that hideously quasi-Masonic way that only the BBC can do. Fix fix FIX.

    To paraphrase a future Popular artist: for God’s sake burn it down.

  14. 89
    Mark G on 10 Sep 2008 #

    I fear his popularity is behind him, alas…

  15. 90
    DJ Punctum on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Still, well done to Sue Perkins on Maestro who definitely did Beethoven’s Fifth better service than Goldie and thank fuck Jane Asher didn’t win.

  16. 91
    Les Tennant on 10 Sep 2008 #

    I’d concluded that the MMP wouldn’t go to an artist who hadn’t turned up – but then remembered that PJ Harvey gave her acceptance speech from Washington DC in 2001, so it wasn’t always the case even if it may be so now.

  17. 92
    pink champale on 9 Jun 2009 #

    since this thread degenerates into (justified) grumbles about the mercury music prize, i may as well tell the story of my brush with defunct telco-endorsed greatness.

    the morning after the (2007?) awards i was at westminster tube on my way to work when i noticed the klaxon with the baroque leg cast and large head. i’d seen him being notably lairy on live tv twelve hours earlier and he was now unmistakeably in that state that can be acheived only through staying up all night drinking (“in the mix”, as one of my friends has it). mr klaxon was talking animatedly to a smartly dressed elderly lady who wore an expression somewhere between benign interest and mild alarm. inevitably i veered over in their directinon to do a bit of earwigging. as i passed, mr klaxon was saying, with real feeling: “TWENTY GRAND!!”.

  18. 93
    MichaelH on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Nine years old when this went to No 1, and it scared me, because I really didn’t get pop music – we had none in the house, we listened to R4 – and I only ever heard it on ToTP.

    It’s hard to remember the moral panic around punk and new wave now in anything except the broadest terms: Bill Grundy, spitting, fighting etc … But that panic pervaded a certain part of the media. I remember reading my grandmother’s Sunday Post, and there being a long first person story about a mother who’d “lost her son” to punk. He used to be the life and soul, full of happiness, kind to old ladies, and so on. Then he started listening to punk and became sullen and silent, staying in his room, never a nice word for anyone. In the video for Heart of Glass, Debbie Harry seemed to embody that: she was so contemptuous, sneering at the camera, but amused, too – not angry. It seemed to me that she just didn’t care – and what could terrify a child more than an adult who didn’t care? Care – about the price of bread, about kids, about the state of the toilet – was what adults did. Heart of Glass seemed to be a harbinger of a terrible, cold world – far more than any of the actual punk records I’d seen on ToTP.

    30 years on, I recognise that the child in the Sunday Post hadn’t been “lost to punk”, he’d become a teenager. And I recognise that this is no more a punk record than Up the Junction. But first impressions die hard.

  19. 94
    thefatgit on 22 Feb 2010 #

    I hit puberty at just the right time for Blondie. Debbie Harry was head and shoulders above everyone for my “affections”, even Sian Adey Jones on Page 3!

  20. 95
    Brendan on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Like most of the guys here, seeing Debbie Harry for the first time was, for me, a transformative experience. Not only was she drop dead gorgeous but she was in a band who were as close to punk as I’d thus far had the opportunity to hear, which made them such an amazing breath of fresh air. And then this came along… Disco eh? Hmmmmm! I’m still not sure, I know they went on to pursue a lot of different styles on their later albums but it speaks volumes that they weren’t as well received by either the critics or the GP. Rapture was a great introduction into the mysterious world of hip-hop and its subcultures but I never really warmed to this. I think it was the high-pitched vocal more than the music itself that put me off (an identical story to ‘Wuthering Heights’ in fact). Still, it’s Blondie, which makes it far better than so much of what was polluting the charts even in this most momentous of years for pop, so I would still give it a 7, for all my doubts.

  21. 96
    punctum on 20 Oct 2012 #

    TPL on Parallel Lines.

  22. 97
    Conrad on 22 Oct 2012 #

    That’s the first LP I ever owned. So, been looking forward to your appraisal Marcello. Enjoyed it immensely, thank you

  23. 98
    swanstep on 27 Oct 2012 #

    What a fantastic record this is. Taken together with the erotic charge of its vid – which has to be up there with iconic movie scenes from Monroe, Bardot, Fonda surely – this for me is a 10 (I’d rate Atomic a bit lower). I definitely prefer the wilder drums on the single version, and there’s more space left for strange, Tomorrow-never-knows-style noises in the background in that version too, which I really like. (This mashup of Heart of Glass with Arcade Fire’s Sprawl II is worth checking out if only for the way it gives you to re-encounter imagery from the iconic vid., which at the time got buried a little by parody.)

    As others have mentioned, there were some fantastic charts around this time. The top 5 for the first of 4 weeks Heart of Glass spent at #1 in NZ went as follows:
    1 Blondie, Heart Of Glass
    2 Frank Mills, Music Box Dancer
    3 Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
    4 Bee Gees, Tragedy
    5 The Jacksons, Blame It On The Boogie

    Further down the chart there was Oliver’s Army, Take me To The River, The Logical Song, all manner of good dance stuff from EWF (September!), Chic, Sister Sledge, Cheryl Lynn….

  24. 99
    swanstep on 17 Dec 2012 #

    Metric covered Heart of Glass (OK-ly I suppose) at the VH1 Divas show. Those in the US can see the vid on vh1′s web-site. The rest of us can currently see it here (some obscure Chinese? site). Emily Haines looks the part; Harry’s voice and Burke’s drumming are harder to replace.

  25. 100
    Erithian on 12 Jul 2014 #

    This is perhaps the appropriate place to mark the sad passing of Tommy Ramone – RIP. Mawkish thought, but does this make the Ramones the first major 70s band whose members have all passed on? I think the Jimi Hendrix Experience was the first major 60s band in that position.

  26. 101
    hectorthebat on 31 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – The Greatest Songs Ever, One Song Added Every Other Month
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Consequence of Sound (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2012) 75
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 9
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1970s (2001) 101
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 48
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 217
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 255
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 259
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 1970s (2012) 10
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 42
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 104
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1970s (2008)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1970s (2012) 7
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 19
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 22
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 134
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 53
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 72
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 13
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 200
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songsof All Time (2004) 319
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 32
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 10

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