15
Sep 08

BLONDIE – “Sunday Girl”

FT + Popular42 comments • 2,882 views

#437, 26th May 1979

I prefer Blondie when they’re poking their noses where they didn’t seem to belong, applying their touch of devastating cool to disco or rap or reggae and getting clean away with it. “Sunday Girl”, delightfully frilly though it is, doesn’t floor me in the same way. In a way its weirdly reminiscent of the Grease singles, a pastiche of something I can’t quite put my finger one – except this doesn’t come alive for me until the last twenty seconds or so, when Debbie Harry suddenly gets some snarl in her voice and the handclaps and guitars start to surge… and then it’s over. Pretty, thoroughly pleasant, beautifully crafted, but too pert to excite.

6

Comments

  1. 1
    rosie on 16 Sep 2008 #

    The big plus to this at the time was that it grabbed you instantly and wriggled around in your head. The minus is that that’s all there is.

    It’s the weakest track on the Parallel Lines album as far as I’m concerned, and certainly the weakest of Blondie’s number ones, but it’s a marketing man’s dream, something tempting to hook the punter – all kinds of punters, including my mum who had little time for most pop.

    A big stick of candyfloss of a pop song – big and pink and tempting but ultimately insubstantial leaving nothing behind but sweet tackiness.

    Happy fifth birthday, Popular!

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 16 Sep 2008 #

    It’s not surprising that this is many people’s favourite Blondie track (though this demographic may not stretch to Popular); its resources of crisply-cut staccato organ and skinny tie handclaps helped form one of the central aesthetic templates for the whole Belle and Sebastian/Camera Obscura school of agreeably chirpy but spiked indie pop. But of their number ones, it’s the one which I scarcely, if ever, revisit; the new wave jerkiness redolent throughout Parallel Lines is intact, but Mike Chapman’s clean, linear production is a little too pristine for its own good; despite Debbie Harry’s typically inventive vocal acting, the mechanical approach which worked so brilliantly on “Heart Of Glass” tends to filter out any evidence of humanity (where’s the blood? The thrashing?) such that it ends up sounding not dissimilar to the cheery is-it-still-1974 capers of Racey, Chinn and Chapman’s other major product of the period (“Some Girls,” “Lay Your Love On Me”).

    The song itself is, as you’d expect, not as charming as it pretends to be – the key line is “Cold as ice cream but stil as sweet” – and seems to be about a mistress who only ever gains access to her “guy” at the weekend (“Hey, I saw your guy with a different girl/Looks like he’s in another world”) and otherwise flounders in a fairly desperate emotional limbo; hear Debbie’s anguished howl of “BABY, I would like to go out tonight,” and her repeated half-teasing, half-suicidal groans of “I got the blues” – in the fadeout, the latter sounds as though she’s surfing along the serrated edge of the razorblade, and her pleas to “hurry up” turn into a 999 (or 911) call, before it’s too late. And even when she gets to be with him, expectations are usually dashed – “I stay away all week and still I wait.”

    The dual conflict enacted between music and lyrics here is mildly interesting, but finally I have to fall on the side of the fence which believes that sinister lyrics need at least an element of disturbance about their musical settings to work, emotionally and aesthetically. This isn’t to say that “Sunday Girl” is a bad record because it’s a clearly astute and well-realised piece of work – although the mock-coquette French version, almost as popular as the original, doesn’t go in tandem with the song’s emotions – but there’s the general air throughout that Blondie are keeping themselves, or are being kept, in check, as though to ward off the imminent threat of the Knack.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 16 Sep 2008 #

    I like the analysis of the lyrics Marcello – to tell the truth I’d never really thought about them, since the record works so brilliantly as a piece of frothy quality pop, the kind of thing George Michael might have been imbibing down in Bushey along with his soft soul. Blondie were never further away from punk than this, surely, even when they were doing rap.

    The memory this conjures up for me is another one of our occasional house-sitting weeks for my Considerably Richer Than Yow uncle. We were in harder circumstances since my dad’s first heart attack, and house-sat for my uncle when he was off on holiday. I don’t know if money changed hands for it, never got to ask Dad what he thought of it before his second heart attack, but part of him must have found it galling. In early summer ’79 we were house-plus-daughter sitting as they left my teenage cousin at home, and I had to endure a party where her Cheshire-set friends came over. All those braying boys and confident girls, of whom the ones who weren’t unpleasant were unattainable. Three or four of them did the patent “Sunday Girl” high-kicking formation dance, and they looked great, but my overall impression was of a social milieu I was excuded from and didn’t particularly feel I wanted to join.

    Number 2 Watch – Roxy Music’s sublime “Dance Away”.

  4. 4
    IJGrieve on 16 Sep 2008 #

    What do you mean when you say a song is ‘pert’ (you described a song I really like in that way in one of the Now Polls)?

  5. 5
    mike on 16 Sep 2008 #

    The appeal of this one is difficult to nail down, as it’s not really about very much in particular – and so it can reasonably be accused of slightness and insubstantiality, especially when lined up between the mighty “Heart Of Glass” and the incomparable “Dreaming” (not only my favourite Blondie single, but probably my favourite pop single ever). But oh, that melody!. It’s light, it’s summery, it has an insouciant spring in its step – and it was somehow tailor-made for singing along, every time it came on the radio. (So much so, that I eventually started inventing harmony parts.)

    Mind you, we’re now approaching a period in pop history which makes me more nostalgic and sentimental then any other, and so I can no longer summon much in the way of objectivity.

  6. 6
    Waldo on 16 Sep 2008 #

    This just went nowhere at all, albeit in a cutesy “hurry up” manner. I shall always recall how the group around Debbie, having had quite enough of fans and jocks dismissing them as mere backing musicians to the photogenic lead vocalist, declaring rather petulantly that “Blondie is a band!” This was strictly true but the point was that songs like “Sunday Girl” and much of the remainder of the Blondie portfolio would have been completely ignored had not Debbie fronted the act. And deep down, Stein and the others knew this only fine well.

    A bit of a disgrace that this twee little piece of nonsense kept “Dance Away” off the top.

  7. 7
    DJ Punctum on 16 Sep 2008 #

    “Dance Away”? That rings a bell.

  8. 8
    Waldo on 16 Sep 2008 #

    Bunny’s coming for you, Punky. Boing…Boing…Boing…Boing…

  9. 9
    Mark G on 16 Sep 2008 #

    So, it’s not about a girl having the blues, and wanting the Sunday Girl to hurry up and come see?

    Hmm?

  10. 10
    LondonLee on 16 Sep 2008 #

    Nice but a bit too fluffy, it’s like ‘Denis’ without the thumping Spector-ish production. I did like the French version though which seemed to suit its slightness a whole lot better as if it was some cute France Gall record.

  11. 11
    Mark M on 16 Sep 2008 #

    I love this song, but have little to say about it…

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 16 Sep 2008 #

    it’s a shame that this kept ‘dance away’ off the top – perhaps roxy seemed like yesterday’s men compared to blondie who were absolutely flavour of the month – even with slightly insipid material like this. Every party I went to at this time featured ‘Parallel lines’. Good to recall ‘Pop muzik’, one of the first songs I bought as a 12 inch single. I seem to recall there was some gimmick where there were two versions of the song on one side – like the Python ‘Matching tie and handkerchief’ LP although my memory could be playing tricks on me.

    BTW there’s a roxy special coming up on bbc 4 on Friday (19th September) and on iplayer later

  13. 13
    Mark G on 16 Sep 2008 #

    “Pop Music” / “M Factor” were both on side one, however “M Factor” was about a minute shorter than the a-side, so you’d have to wait for a long time until the autochanger brought the arm back…

    The disco remix/long version was on the “C-side” or “Seaside” or whatever…

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 16 Sep 2008 #

    thanks mark – i’m glad my memory was correct

    i’m intrigued to read on wikipedia that tricky did a version of pop muzik – has anyone heard that?

  15. 15
    SteveM on 16 Sep 2008 #

    yes. it was a track on his ‘For Real’ single and not particularly much cop, weakest thing on the 3 track CD single I own in fact (after the main track and the excellent ‘Bombin B45tards’).

    mind you I liked that epic U2 Popmart version…

  16. 16
    Tom on 16 Sep 2008 #

    #4 – this is a really good question! I won’t have time to answer it until tomorrow evening or Thursday though (it will give me time to prepare a justification).

  17. 17
    mike on 16 Sep 2008 #

    John Cooper Clarke also used the twin-grooved effect on his 1979 single “Splat”/”Twat”. One sweary version, one cleaned up version, and you never knew which one you were going to get.

  18. 18
    Mark G on 16 Sep 2008 #

    “Splat” had lots of sound effects.

    Unfortunately, it was a crap single.

    Right, that’s two ‘double groove’ records mentioned, and I’ve got both.

    OK, how about The Sensual World, Kate Bush. That had one vocal version and one instrumental version. So, they were both the same length, so no ‘waiting for all the silent grooves to finish’ problems. And I don’t got that one.

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 17 Sep 2008 #

    I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but I think that Marcello’s right about this being Blondie’s most popular single. I think that its surface lightness and happiness particularly appeals to people who generally don’t respond to most pop. I can remember young women singing this to themselves in the early nineties – when there was no particular Blondie revival going on – and it was very popular with slightly older girls than me at primary school.

  20. 20
    Billy Smart on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Following on from Desmond Dekker at the Lewisham Peoples’ Festival 1994 and Boney M at Royal Holloway College Students’ Union 1997, Blondie (or at least Harry and Stein) are the third Popular act that I’ve seen live (at the Brixton Academy, 1990)

    The tickets were notably more expensive than other, more contemporary, acts that I’d seen in the same place – over £10! – and the audience was older and more full of tourists than at other gigs I’d been to. I would have probably enjoyed hearing Blondie singles being played in public just as much as seeing them live. The highlight was actually ‘Bright Side’ from her new album, which genuinely did seem to slow the room down and glow strangely. When they had played, some Australian women complained that they hadn’t done ‘Sunday Girl’.

  21. 21
    Will on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Wasn’t this the fourth single off the album? If not, it certainly sounds like it was.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Picture This
    Hanging On The Telephone
    Heart of Glass
    Sunday Girl

    I think ‘One Way Or Another’ was a single in the US.

  23. 23
    mike on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Yeah, “One Way Or Another” was the US follow-up to “Heart Of Glass”, in place of “Sunday Girl”. Both were released at about the same time.

  24. 24
    Les Tennant on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Interesting to see there that at this point a band could become more successful with the later singles from their album. All sorts of reasons for that I suppose but it seems a lot less likely by the end of the 80s.

    I’m used to seeing a pop sensation make #1 with their debut (going straight in with it – but in 1978 this was still unheard of and would remain so for some time, as far as distinct artists would go at least) and can’t remember the last time a pattern like that Blondie one was achieved by anyone.

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 17 Sep 2008 #

    You’d have thought that (much as I love ‘Picture This’) ‘Heart Of Glass’ would have been the obvious lead single. And the age of single release sophistry – when the first single will be a big hit because all of the fans would buy it, but the second single would be the one most likely to attract a wider public (two 1992 examples; REM release ‘Drive’ before ‘Everybody Hurts’, The Cure release ‘High’ before ‘Friday I’m In Love’) – hadn’t begun as early as 1978, surely?

  26. 26
    vinylscot on 17 Sep 2008 #

    A similar thing happened with ELO’s “Out of the Blue” when the relatively weak “Turn To Stone” was put out as the first single, before the much stronger and obvious “Mr Blue Sky”, “Wild West Hero” and “Sweet Talking Woman”, so it wasn’t unknown even back then.

    Sometimes it can backfire if the record company wait too long – e.g. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”.

    I always quite liked “Sunday Girl” – I mentioned in the HOG thread that I’d rather given up on Blondie after seeing them support Television rather poorly, but by now I was back on side. This was pleasant enough pop, and I would concur that it seemed to strike a chord with girls in particular. Myself, I’d probably rather they had put out “One Way Or Another” instead – now that was a cracking track!

  27. 27
    mike on 17 Sep 2008 #

    #24 – The most recent example I can think of is Robbie Williams’ Life Thru A Lens, whose fourth and fifth singles were “Angels” and “Let Me Entertain You”.

  28. 28
    rosie on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Surely all the fans go out and buy the album rather than the first single taken from it…

  29. 29
    SteveM on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Not if the first single is out before the album (I’m always baffled when artists/labels DON’T do this).

    #27 we shouldn’t discuss HIM but didn’t the first single from that album just miss out on the top spot itself?

  30. 30
    LondonLee on 17 Sep 2008 #

    The first single from ‘Thriller’ was ‘This Girl Is Mine’!!!

    I bought ‘Turn To Stone’ and was a bit let down by it at the time, took a while to grow on me. But it’s no ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’

    ‘Picture This’ felt a little underwhelming at the time too, it got mixed reviews (I preferred the b-side ‘Fade Away and Radiate’) and was out before ‘Parallel Lines’ (which I remember got a bad review in Record Mirror who thought they’d gone too ‘pop’)

  31. 31
    Malice Cooper on 17 Sep 2008 #

    After “Heart of glass” they were guaranteed another number one at least. I never liked this at the time and thought it was very weak and remains their worst single until “Island of lost souls”

    A huge percentage of Blondie’s fans probably couldn’t afford LPs in those days so a new single was new to them

  32. 32
    Tom on 17 Sep 2008 #

    #30 – I guess the label thought that Macca was a big enough draw to justify “The Girl Is Mine” being first. Also I guess it was priming the market in a “here be crossover” sense!

  33. 33
    Will on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Re 25: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that sounded more like a surefire Christmas Number One than Everybody Hurts. Yet for some unfathomable reason Warners waited and waited until finally releasing it as a single the following May.

  34. 34
    rosie on 18 Sep 2008 #

    LondonLee @ 30: I can’t see Fade Away And Radiate as an obvious number one single, exactly. When I first bought Parallel Lines I didn’t like it much, probably because it was different from everything else on the album in both tempo and mood. Much more album-tracky than everything else. But thirty years on, now that everything else on the album has been done to death (and survived the assault remarkably well, imho) it feels like the outstanding track.

  35. 35
    DJ Punctum on 18 Sep 2008 #

    Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” was #2 in the summer of ’81 so that was hardly a case of backfiring.

    Given the record which was at number one over Xmas ’92 I doubt that “Everybody Hurts” would have had any chance of going top at that time oh stop Bugging me Bunny…

  36. 36
    Erithian on 18 Sep 2008 #

    Mike #27: yes, you could win bets on this, “Old Before I Die” was the highest-charting single from the album, as well as being (useless information ahoy!) the last Number 2 single to date under a Conservative government. Much more on Robbie in a few years’ time.

  37. 37
    Tom on 18 Sep 2008 #

    #35 – I had a little redefining moment with that very record (not REM, the other one) last night: I hope I’ll remember it when I come to write about it eventually!

  38. 38
    vinylscot on 18 Sep 2008 #

    re Marcello #35. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” would have been a stick-on for number one if it had been released six months earlier. (You could argue that it’s late appearance as a single helped the album, as undoubtedly many thousands of people bought the album because of that song – every mobile DJ needed it, for example.)

    Motown had history with Stevie on this sort of thing. How many weeks would “Isn’t She Lovely” have spent at number one if they had released that as the first or second single from “Songs In The Key Of Life”? In this instance they totally missed the boat as David Parton’s rather awful cover would have affected sales, were they to later release the original, which is probably why they never did.

    So, if he has a mind to, Stevie can look back on his UK Chart career and see that a film song, a dodgy duet and an ensemble charity song are the only number one singles he had.

    It could have been so different.

  39. 39
    DJ Punctum on 18 Sep 2008 #

    Six months earlier would have been the time when the upper reaches of the charts were so completely dominated by two specific acts that I think the record would have struggled to get to number two even then, to be honest.

    And it was Stevie’s fault that “Isn’t She Lovely?” wasn’t released as a single since he steadfastly refused to edit it down from its album length. The payback came when his next single off Songs was kept off number one by his former backing singer.

    Also, Stevie did play harmonica on a couple more number ones (and is also heavily sampled on one of those) but that’s quite enough bunnyism for today.

  40. 40
    lonepilgrim on 10 Oct 2009 #

    and heres a link to some mp3s of Blondie live from 1977 when they still sounded spiky

    http://www.bigozine2.com/archive/ARrarities06/ARbldfrisco.html

  41. 41
    Brendan on 26 Sep 2012 #

    This is where, for me, Blondie were at their best, a perfect pure pop song from one of the all-time great pop/rock bands. I can understand why, being the only consistently commercially successful critics’ favourite since Slade/T Rex, said critics would have preferred them to have been pushing boundaries but there’s always something to be said for pop that’s done as simply and as well as it is here. And, as if it were possible, Debbie became even more sexy when she sung it in French. I give it (even in English) an 8.

  42. 42
    hectorthebat on 5 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)

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