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Nov 08

BLONDIE – “Call Me”

FT + Popular55 comments • 3,376 views

#456, 26th April 1980

After a sequence of poised hits in which Debbie Harry defined glamour for a generation, it’s almost a relief to hear Blondie sound so dishevelled here. “Call Me” is a romp, a gloriously chaotic collision of twenty different ideas – multilingual bridges, boogie riffs, glam shout-out backing vocals and more. The pile-up might have been expected given the nature of the song – a collaboration between a band on a trajectory out of new wave and into everywhere, and a producer who’d made his name in disco but had a clear and enduring fascination with the trashy end of rock.

Not all the ideas are good – that horrible synth-guitar solo certainly isn’t – and the clutter initially threatens to overwhelm the song, but everyone sounds like they’re happily throwing decorum to the wind, and the record’s energy is thoroughly infectious. By the end, with Harry’s wicked glee over “your lover’s lover’s alibis”, you’re sad the party has to stop.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Matthew H on 5 Nov 2008 #

    In my head, this segues into ‘Voulez-Vous’. Just thought I’d mention it.

    Always struck my as a bit throwaway – possibly in appealingly reckless dashed-off style – but I agree Diana Vickers’ take brought it out of itself. Maybe you had to be there with Blondie’s performance too. I remember it (aged nearly eight at the time) but don’t recall seeing it “live”.

    Debbie Harry was rolling around in sheets when I met her (he added, for the thousandth time).

  2. 27
    David Belbin on 5 Nov 2008 #

    Great statistics, Mike. Rosie, if you think that Playback is the dregs of Chandler you ought to check out the unfinished one that Robert B. Parker completed – the one where Marlowe gets married, Poodle Springs. Bad doesn’t begin to describe it….

  3. 28
    Malice Cooper on 5 Nov 2008 #

    I either liked or disliked Blondie’s singles and never appreciated this much. Had this been an Abba single, it would have been their worst. The tune resembles a nursery rhyme and this does sound like nasty, euro-disco, which Giorgio Moroder always did best. He had already released an instrumental version of this as “Night Drive” a few weeks before this hit the charts.

  4. 29
    rosie on 5 Nov 2008 #

    David Belbin @ 28: apropos Poodle Springs

    Read it. Agree with you. I blame Robert B Parker – I haven’t thought a great deal of the other RBP books I’ve read, either.

    The Long Goodbye should have been exactly that. Marlowe gets the girl at last and looks forward to a quiet retirement.

    Swerving onto another track entirely, I don’t think I’ve mentioned passing an evening drinking in the Stan Laurel in Ulverston, where we were treated in the way of background to a veritable bunnyfest of every UK number one in sequence (I heard it from a lassie bemoaning the loss of her oriental youth to a laddie bemoaning the tennis champion with the paternity suit). Jeez, there’s some wince-inducing stuff in there!

  5. 30
    SteveIson on 5 Nov 2008 #

    As has been mentioned this totally lacks the grace,class and effortless transcendence of Atomic or Heart Of Glass..The musically predictable chorus is incredibly catchy admitedly-but y’know so is Agadoo or Achey Breakey Heart….I don’t see this as a continuation from their first album-That had great TUNES.This is just ordinary pop/rock with a big production.There’s no way it would’ve even got on their first 3 albums-yet here it is-Number 1…Whatever..A sure sign of the steep decline in songwriting creativity they’d never recover from imo..4

  6. 31
    Billy Smart on 5 Nov 2008 #

    Seven year old Billy liked this because he had decided (rightly) that he liked Blondie by then. However I think that only the immediacy of the ‘Call me!’ plea and perhaps the propulsion of the main riff really registered with me at the time.

    Tom’s description of this as being a chaotic collision leads me to reconsider it – Of course! It’s *packed* with things going on. My usual reaction of slight disappointment with this whenever I’ve heard it in my adult life has been because I was expecting the Moroder of ‘I Feel Love’ or ‘From Here To Eternity’ when he’s more like a disco/ new wave Roy Wood in this instance.

  7. 32
    Tom on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Do you think it’s fair to say, also, that most ‘name’ producers do their best work with relatively unknown acts they can shape? Once a producer’s famous enough to get involved in much-heralded team ups with big stars it tends to result in sub-par material, whether because of a clash of egos or because one or other is coasting…. Spector/Lennon, Moroder/Blondie, SAW/Cliff Richard, Timbaland/Madonna ect ect – exceptions? (without baiting the bunny please)

  8. 33
    Vinylscot on 6 Nov 2008 #

    #32, I’d agree in general, but sometimes the “name” producer can rescue an act who have lost their way a little.

    Giorgio Moroder – Sparks
    Rick Rubin – Johnny Cash

  9. 34
    Erithian on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Matthew H #26 “when I met her” – care to share? (You know you want to…)

  10. 35
    Tom on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Was it in a restaurant? Could she see you were no debutante?

  11. 36
    Matthew H on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Erithian – it’s more exciting in the hinting. The sheets bit, anyway. I interviewed her last year while she was doing sketchy promo for her Necessary Evil album; was shown into a room at St Martin’s Hotel where our Deb was rolling around on the bed, inviting me to perch at the foot. My mind raced.

  12. 37
    Conrad on 6 Nov 2008 #

    I bought this on pink vinyl – same colour pink as the sleeve. Was a bit underwhelmed by it though. It’s the only Blondie hit from their peak period that wasn’t on an album, and I really can’t see it fitting on one.

    Re 30 – we’ll get a chance to come back to it, but “AutoAmerican” although a complete mess contains some of their best work, including “Rapture”.

    My favourite record in this particular Top 40 though was “Food For Thought/King”. Which I think deserves at least a passing mention, although not strictly a No 2 (or even 3) watch…

  13. 38
    Conrad on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Re 36 – Did you perch? How was she “In the Flesh” so to speak?

    Do tell!

  14. 39
    Conrad on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Re 33/32 Trevor Horn rescuing “Instinction” springs to mind, although as remixer rather than strictly producer. Although he did re-record a lot, including Foghorn* Hadley’s vocals I believe.

    *copyright Smash Hits

  15. 40
    Billy Smart on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Trevor Horn must also share the blame for one of the worst star producer/ name band team-ups when we get to 1989, though!

    U2 and Brian Eno seem to bring out the best in each other, I’d argue.

  16. 41
    Will on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Re 32: The Diana Ross/ Chic link up that occurs later this year must be an exception.

  17. 42
    lonepilgrim on 7 Nov 2008 #

    re 32 there’s probably some truth in this idea although Spector’s production on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album is pretty unobtrusive

    re 41 the Diana Ross/ Chic songs are another honorable exception but Nile Rogers seemed to lose the plot a bit with his work with Davis Bowie and others.

    Can anyone vouch for KooKoo, the Debbie Harry solo album NR produced? It seemed to die a death at the time.

  18. 43
    Conrad on 7 Nov 2008 #

    KooKoo stank the place out.

  19. 44
    Matthew H on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Re 38 I did perch and she was lovely. Very small with mad hair (at the time). My tape recorder packed up about two minutes in and she tried to help me fix it, bless her, then made the PR give me an extra five mins at the end to make up.

    As I travelled down in the lift afterwards, I discovered the tape was totally unlistenable. Had to dash into a cafe and write the whole thing out from memory before it drifted away.

  20. 45
    Erithian on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Legend has it John Lennon once gave an entire interview with his finger on the pause button of the tape recorder, unnoticed by the journalist. He had his dark side, did Lennon…

  21. 46
    Billy Smart on 7 Nov 2008 #

    SIMON REYNOLDS (flustered, appologetic): I’ve had some bad experiences with tape recorders –

    MORRISSEY: Oh, you’re very fortunate. I’ve had some bad experiences with people.

    (Melody Maker, 1988)

  22. 47
    mike on 7 Nov 2008 #

    …and I had a moment of sheer sweaty-palmed terror this morning, when it looked as if my Boy George interview had failed to save.

    Thankfully, this remains a disaster still waiting to strike. Matthew, I feel your pain.

  23. 48
    lonepilgrim on 7 Nov 2008 #

    I’m impressed at how small the degrees of seperation are between the Popular crew and the stars.
    Did I mention I once talked to Anita Ward?

    ….oh..er..yes..I did.
    I’ll get me coat.

  24. 49
    Malice Cooper on 8 Nov 2008 #

    lonepilgrim were you one of those leather bound men camply shrieking “Boom” to each boom ?

  25. 50
    lonepilgrim on 9 Nov 2008 #

    re #49 Sadly no. To be honest it doesn’t sound much fun – but each to his own

  26. 51
    Billy Smart on 8 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch: 5th April 1980. Perhaps surprisingly amusing dismissal from Tony Parsons:

    “(…) fully-fledged flatulent wallyhood for the wet man’s Babara Windsor (…) it’ll take more than an apologetic synthesiser and a verse in Francoise Mind Your Language Pascal French to pull the sleeveless denim jacket over my eyes. (…) ‘Call Me’ has a deaf aid firmly pressed to the floor: The transformation of strobe sister Debbie circa the American number one ‘Heart of Glass’ to the hairy chested Harry (…)”

    No single of the week this issue. Also reviewed;

    The Ramones – Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?
    Elvis Costello – High Fidelity

  27. 52
    intothefireuk on 26 Mar 2009 #

    This always seemed more like a Debbie Harry solo single than a Blondie effort with Moroder’s mechanical rhythms forming a less than subtle backdrop. The video too just featured Debbie rolling around on a beach being lapped by waves with no sign of Stein and the boys. Still a decent blast of pop but the slide had begun.

  28. 53
    punctum on 21 Oct 2009 #

    One of the major legacies of Saturday Night Fever was to inaugurate the trend – which has yet to show any evidence of decline – of big-name acts recording songs specifically for films, always standing slightly apart from their main body of work. Of course the tradition can be traced back to the Beatles, Cliff and Elvis, and not in that order, but “A Hard Day’s Night,” “The Young Ones” and “Jailhouse Rock” are all integral parts of their respective oeuvres rather than Film Themes. Other than very singular exceptions such as the James Bond themes, the phenomenon is recognisably one of the eighties and beyond.

    “Call Me” is the fastest-paced of all Blondie singles, but its Moroder-assisted electro-new wave schaffel pounding only works fully in the context of American Gigolo, where it provides a pulse sufficiently loud to drown out the notion that Richard Gere is trying to do as little as possible to convey the concept of a man without interiors, a man built only to glide across immaculate surfaces. First choice Travolta would have brought far too much undue, awkward humanity to the role; but few do blank better than Gere, whose lack of external emotions, or reactions of any meaningful kind, remains constant despite falling in love, or being framed for murder. The film depicts L.A. as a place too noisily empty even for camp to make itself useful, let alone tears or real sex.

    In that atmosphere, “Call Me” comes across as a little too frantic and emotional, but also greatly uncomfortable. Stein’s guitar riffing is furious but Moroder’s glacially bending synths dominate the sonic picture. Debbie does her damnedest to care – the bending down to wink when she murmurs “day or night” or “share the wine,” the genuine expressionism of her yelled (drowning rather than waving?) choruses, the slight nudge of irony as she breathes deeply in sighing “Roll me in designer sheets” – but the general picture is one of Blondie shifting their aesthetic to fit, square peg-like, into an airless environment designed by another. They sound as though they are being forced to record it – and Blondie were always very far from great when trying to force miracles to occur. The record is seamless but also bloodless; its dynamic is only surface…and as with the film, it helped to usher in some of the more disagreeable aspects of art as it was known and bought throughout that decade.

  29. 54
    Brooksie on 14 Feb 2010 #

    Love it. The irresistible riffs, the synth guitar break, Debbie’s lines in French. This song had # 1 written all over it, which is exactly where it got. In the US this was even bigger (Blondie’s biggest actually) sitting at the top for a titan 6 weeks, and (I think) winding up the years biggest hit over there.

    Worth pointing out that the song – from the film ‘American Gigolo’ – follows the movie’s plot about a high-class whore. Debbie’s “airless” (above) performance, and the whole slightly manufactured plastic-ness of the song actually works in its favor when the subject matter is taken into account. She *doesn’t* care, she just pretends that she does; she’s artful but cold; sensual but aloof; she’s singing dirty rock, but her heart is under lock-and-key. She wants you money and she’ll give you a good time. We got exactly what we paid for; cold clinical producer-lead rock, and she got what she wanted – a # 1 hit. Everybody won.

    Love it.

  30. 55
    hectorthebat on 23 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Beats Per Minute (USA) – The Top 100 Tracks of the 1980s (2011) 94
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 265
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 10
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 283
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 289
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 3
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 44
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 429
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 30
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 33
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 346
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – Singles of the Year
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 3

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