Dec 08

BLONDIE – “The Tide Is High”

FT + Popular50 comments • 4,295 views

#469, 15th November 1980

Horns pitched to sound like strings; strings played low and swinging like horns; a pot-pourri of roughly Caribbean percussion – instrumentally, “The Tide Is High” is delightful escapism. Even so it’s a little bit of a let-down. Debbie Harry gives a gentle, intimate performance, but gentle intimacy isn’t really what you go to Debbie Harry for. Once she savaged her rivals and dismissed her lovers, now she’s playing a long game – with supreme and justified confidence, of course, but the woozy, flippant Blondie on show here lack the flash and fire of previous encounters. “Tide” is a postcard from a band on holiday, something to cheer up a dreary Autumn: the holiday just ended up a little longer than anyone thought at the time.



  1. 1
    Tom on 2 Dec 2008 #

    This is the first record I can definitely remember seeing on Top Of The Pops at No.1 (as a video I think). I remember thinking that the swell of horns at the end of the chorus was very like the To The Manor Born theme tune.

    I have in the past liked this a lot more than I do now: it’s an example of a slight record that ought to be the kind of thing that puts a smile on your face when it shows up on a greatest hits – oh, I’d forgotten they did this one! But instead it’s up there with Heart Of Glass as one of the most-played Blondie tracks, and the weight of exposure doesn’t help it at all.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 2 Dec 2008 #

    It’s hard to dislike this, but its a bit minor – the type of exercise that would be best discovered as a B-side, rather than the trailblazer for a major new album.

    That said, there was a surprising clip on the BBC’s Blondie documentary a few years ago of them performing this on a late night New York amateur cable station, with – I think – squeaky toys and toy drums for instrumentation. Played by an underground art project to a coitery audience, this made a lot more sense than as a glossy pop project.

  3. 3
    Mark G on 2 Dec 2008 #

    This sounds like a ‘guide’ vocal, the mugging on the ending seems to show it. And is terribly irritating…

    TOTP showed a small bit of the proper video when it hit the top 10, but made their own montage version (with flying “number one”) when it hit the top. I don’t know why.

  4. 4
    chap on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Blondie’s most boring single (until the reunion, at least).

  5. 5
    Tom on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I don’t mind the mugging – it adds to the relaxed ambience innit.

    A shame this got to #1 and Rapture didn’t, from a something-to-write-about point of view anyway.

  6. 6
    Conrad on 2 Dec 2008 #

    One of two consecutive number ones to refer to being “number one” in the lyric – 13 year old me saw this as significant. I’m not sure how intentional it was from either act, particularly as this was a cover.

    I remember John Peel digging out the John Holt original, performed by the Paragons, and implying that Blondie were somehow less than virtuous by covering an old reggae tune (but I may be doing JP a disservice here, it’s a long time ago. It’s not a stance that would have made much sense given plenty of UK acts played by Peel covered reggae themselves, notably The Clash. Then again, Peel was never one to champion acts once they became commercially sucessful, with one or two well know exceptions).

    Anyway, as a huge Blondie fan I had been looking forward to this record for sometime and therefore I willed myself into liking it, even though it all felt a bit underwhelming.

    The 7″ version does acutally fade before most of Debbie’s ad libs and the howling laughter that accompanies the LP version (which from memory tacks on a wholly unnecessary percussion intro)

    I rushed out and bought this on day of release – the pic sleeve was not the one shown above, but an extract of the forthcoming “Autoamerican” sleeve – a painting of Debbie in mini-skirt leaning against a wall.

    The album was savaged by the press. I got it as a Christmas present – hated bits of it, and loved others (“Rapture” was the obvious highlight).

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 2 Dec 2008 #

    The only thing that I really like on Autoamerican is ‘Here’s Looking At You’, an enjoyably louche forties swing pastiche, a kind of spiritual sister to Lou Reed’s ‘Goodnight Ladies’

    Incidentally, my eight-year old self quite liked this, but thought that it wasn’t as exciting as ‘Atomic’. It was a very popular hit in the Brooklands playground with primary school girls at the time, though, possibly due to it being a much easier song to sing en masse and acapella than ‘Atomic’ or ‘Call Me’

  8. 8
    SteveM on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I’ve come to love the Paragons version that this feels almost redundant.

    Still Blondie’s does have possibly the most WTF video of the entire decade.

    Covered by many, including Billie Piper no?

  9. 9
    LondonLee on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I don’t know the ‘Auto-American’ album at all so does this fit in with some overall theme on it? It seemed such an odd choice for them at the time, after futuristic disco and new wave pop to do an old reggae chestnut.

    I do like the slightly warped sound of the horns (to my ears anyway) which gives it the dusty feel of a wobbly old 45 without actually sounding consciously “retro”

    Not essential Blondie by any means but I like it’s sunny nonchalance. Reggae was made to seem so earnest and heavy at this point (The Clash, UB40 etc.) it was nice to be reminded it was also tropical island music.

  10. 10
    Conrad on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Lee, “AutoAmerican” is a real mixed-bag of styles so in that sense “Tide Is High” fits in nicely!

    Take your pick from – electro instrumental (“Europa”), 40s style jazz standard (“Here’s Looking At You”), rap (“Rapture”), a Lerner & Loewe cover (“Follow Me”), classic Blondie disco (“Live It Up”) and the Oriental sounding funk of “Do The Dark”.

    It’s ambitious – some works, some doesn’t. I actually can’t abide “Here’s Looking At You” but hearing Debbie intone

    “Based on the desire for total mobility and the serious physical pursuit of religious freedom, the auto drove mankind further than the wheel and,
    in remote areas even today,
    is forbidden as a device too suspect for human conveyance”

    over sinister synthesizer chords works for me…

    The 1982 comeback single “Island of Lost Souls” was very much in the same vein as TTIH – an upbeat, gentle reggae lilt.

  11. 11
    pjb on 2 Dec 2008 #

    The wheels rather came off the Blondie bandwagon with this one, for me at least. Not commercially obviously and I do remember this as one of those inescapable, huge hits. But, my God, its weak. Almost everything that made Blondie’s greatest great has been removed – no bite, no transcendent pop rapture, no energy.

    Their decline from here on in was rather rapid and rather complete. Slated album, with Rapture standing alone and awkward as a memory of something with character and innovation, followed by the almost farcically terrible ‘Island of Lost Souls’ and parent LP. And Rapture itself, which as Tom has said would merit a more interesting discussion than this one does, underperformed chartwise at the time (#6 or something?) and, even at the time, sounded more like a piece of pop theory than a real hit.

  12. 12
    Erithian on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Every track on a Blondie greatest hits puts a smile on my face – especially the duet with Iggy Pop on “Well Did You Evah!” This one’s no exception, and shows that they can do slinky and exotic too. She looked as hot as ever in the video, although that cover pic is a bit ropey. And that’s it for Blondie number ones for close on two decades.

    Steve M – are you thinking of the Atomic Kitten cover rather than Billie?

  13. 13
    Steve Ison on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Well put #11..I dunno how great bands lose their inspiration and magic so fast and easily,but here go Blondie into mediocrity..This is really bland n lazy..

  14. 14
    Taylor on 2 Dec 2008 #

    #7 – my eight-year old self quite liked this, but thought that it wasn’t as exciting as ‘Atomic’.

    “I quite liked the morning after, but it wasn’t as exciting as the Lord Mayor’s Show.”

    There are some half-decent things happening in “The Tide Is High”, rhythmically at least, but it’s a very limp single, isn’t it? Aside from being fiendishly catchy, it doesn’t do much that an A-side should. Just sort of sits there scratching itself in front of you, then wanders off smirking at the knowledge that it’ll be in your head for the rest of the day. And this is not enough: I remember an old letter to Melody Maker from a bloke who’d been working near Camden station, saying that the all-day cry of “lighters, three for a pound” had stuck in his head all week, but this didn’t mean it had improved his life in any way, neither was he on his way home to listen to a recording of it.

    It’s a shame, bearing in mind what came before. This is the cut-off point for Blondie and me, really, as it was for many – I like the texture of “Rapture”, but as I’ve never been in love with Debbie Harry, I really can’t bear her “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle”-style rap. Like most of the hits of this period which don’t mean much to me, what I mostly associate with “The Tide Is High” are obscene playground variations, none of which bear repeating here, but all of which were, ultimately, far more entertaining.

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 2 Dec 2008 #

    The bells alone on Rapture would have me hooked without the sensual, honeycombed, proto-David Lynch vocal. It’s very New York for me, as much as the 5 Satins’ In The Still Of The Night, the Drifters’ On Broadway, and Odyssey’s hit which received much Popular luv a few posts back.

    Was it just the UK radio edit which cut out the embarrassing “eats cars/eats bars” bit of the rap? I love the “Flash is fast, Flash is cool” section, which knocks the Clash’s appropriation (see the sad old men dancing in Clash On Broadway and lose any respect you may have had) of South Bronx culture for six.

    As for The Tide Is High, I agree with almost everyone – fun at the time, has worn badly and, once you’ve heard the Paragons’ version, it’s as limp and half-hearted (vocally at least) as the Detroit Spinners’ no.1 cover from the start of the year. Not as bad as Don McLean’s, mind.

    Mugging on the end raises a smile.

  16. 16
    SteveM on 2 Dec 2008 #

    “are you thinking of the Atomic Kitten cover rather than Billie?”

    no! i was deliberately not mentioning the AK…

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I always think of this as the end as far as Blondie are concerned – even though Rapture and various reunions followed. It’s all a bit listless for my taste – which is not a quality I’d associate with them. Taylor nails the “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle”-style rap of Rapture as a source of irritation for me.
    I’m interested to read about Autoamerican which is another album I used to see in a lot of 2nd hand and charity shops and confirms the dodgy image it had developed in my mind

  18. 18
    Taylor on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Was it just the UK radio edit which cut out the embarrassing “eats cars/eats bars” bit of the rap?

    I have something here which claims to be the “original radio version” of “Rapture”, which is in fact a minute longer than the other version, and features the rap in all its glory. I don’t have any background on this – not really a Blondie historian – maybe someone else will?

    Does any song nosedive quite as badly as “Rapture”? The first two minutes are luscious: the groove is immaculate, THE BELLS, the entry of the vocals, like stepping into a moonbeam… and very few lyrics of its type are quite as good as “face to face / sadly, solitude / and it’s finger-popping / twenty-four hour shopping in rapture”. And then suddenly, the dish runs away with the spoon. Is she freestyling for most of that rap? I could swear she is (not just because the rhymes are so trite, but because of that weird, hesitant delivery).

    Anyway, I object to the second half of “Rapture”, because it’s such a desperate let-down, but also because I hate records that make me want to go off and listen to other records while they’re still playing, in this case “Sun Eye” by T Rex (“Lithon The Black, the rider of stars / Tyrannosaurus Rex, the eater of cars” – now that’s a lyric).

  19. 19
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Dec 2008 #

    i’ve always really liked the rap — it’s throwaway goofy (and unworried about it) in a way that pop surprisingly rarely dares to be (like something you’d freestyle to amuse a five-year-old)

  20. 20
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Dec 2008 #

    i think rapture is actually my favourite blondie song — i’m not unfond of tide either, the tone others are (not unreasonably) calling listlessness i always heard as a kind of lazy unbothered ease (which is there in a lot of her earlier songs, as a kind of inflection she hinted at but didn’t indulge)

  21. 21
    LondonLee on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I like rap too, Debbie is putting her own silly b-movie/pulp/pop art spin on the genre and not trying desperately hard to be “street”. A reminder of the days when hip-hop was fun.

  22. 22
    Lex on 2 Dec 2008 #

    Hip-hop is still fun.

    As is D Harry’s rapping on ‘Rapture’ – there are only a few select examples of a non-rapper rapping and getting away with it, but sadly I think she has to take some of the blame for the all the non-rappers who followed in her footsteps to disastrous effect.

    As for ‘The Tide Is High’, I thought it was OK in a blehhhh 6/10 way until I heard the original – it’s not, like, particularly great, but it’s amazing how much lightness and life Blondie sucked out of it (and surprising, as that’s not really something you could fault them with on their own material).

  23. 23
    peter goodlaws on 3 Dec 2008 #

    If Debs had not been the lead singer of this lot, they would never have made it. This song is wretched and annoying when she starts squeaking and giggling at the end. She only gets away with such because all blokes who are not funny want to give her a portion. Boring song as someone said earlier and the backing music winds me up as well. Safely say I don’t like this but Id still happily take Debbie to go.

  24. 24
    Izzy on 3 Dec 2008 #

    I agree, nothing to see here.

    Interesting discussion on Rapture though. I had written it off until I saw it used in ‘We Own The Night’ and was amazed at just how beautiful it is. Listening to the full version again, I’d be amazed if it doesn’t exist as a massively curtailed edit, maybe pruning the rap down to six lines or so (‘Go out to the parking lot … Get up!’). Is there such a thing? I’d make it myself if I knew how.

  25. 25
    Mark G on 3 Dec 2008 #

    not funny?

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Does anybody else like ‘War Child’ off ‘The Hunter’, the last hit from the original run of Blondie? I haven’t got it to hand to refer to, but the 12″, where Clem Burke’s drumming is fully indulged and Harry barks “I’m a WAR CHILD! I’m a WARRIOR!” is quite exciting…

  27. 27

    flyby as i’m superbusy, but i think rapture achieves a whole bunch of quite unusual things (for successfully chart-pop)– it starts in hyper-erotic yet grown-up territory, luxuriating in the absolute confidence of adult sexuality, where the bulk of pop is centred round teenage boasting and insecurity (admittedly a more fruitful territory listener-wise), and then just flips into this funny, easy, unbothered tot-pop epic

    how annoyed by this flip you are is probably a matter of personal turn-on-taste rather than anything more Socially Important or Artistically Medal-worthy (personally i’d say polymorphous perverse wahey but i consider myself pretty much the popular posterboy for what peter g is calling “people who are funny”) (ie people who aren’t especially bothered that their turns-ons aren’t “normal”)

  28. 28
    abaffledrepublic on 3 Dec 2008 #

    Although this hit version of the song is sung by a woman, the lyrics give it away as a man’s song, just like ‘Take A Chance On Me’.

  29. 29
    AndyPandy on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Agree with No23 if theyd not had every teenage boys fantasy figure as lead singer (and despite the “Blondie is a group” campaign back in the 70s to most people Blondie was Debbie Harry)as far as chart music goes we’d have never had heard of them. Admittedly some of the later stuff ‘Heart Of Glass’, ‘Atomic’ was ok but without the pin-up angle I dont think the very average pop-rock that preceded those singles would have put them in the position to make the later better stuff.

  30. 30
    Lex on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Coincidentally the terrific Heatwave blog has just posted the latest incarnation of this song, and it’s much much better than Blondie’s – Kardinal Offishall and Keri Hilson have a fantastic new single, all booming drums and crunching synths, which interpolates the ‘Tide Is High’ hook – Hilson’s sweet take on it, esp when juxtaposed with the arrangement and Kardinal’s surprisingly ruffneck MCing, is definitely preferable to the perfunctory Blondie version.

    Sadly that post also reminded me that Atomic Kitten also covered ‘The Tide Is High’ once – I had managed to excise that horror from my brain :(

  31. 31
    Tom on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Discussion of the Atomic Kitan version is prohibited by the Atomic Bunny.

    I think it’s interesting that this song – which as people have said even in its original version isn’t THAT amazing – keeps getting revived and versioned. There must be something about the sentiment and central hook that people reach for.

  32. 32
    Mark G on 4 Dec 2008 #

    It’s easy, it’s familiar, that’s it.

  33. 33
    LondonLee on 4 Dec 2008 #

    I think it’s the Blondie version that keeps getting revived and versioned isn’t it? Musically referencing hip and iconic 80s sounds means a lot more to a contemporary audience than The Paragons do. It’s not the song, it’s Blondie.

    I could be wrong, never having heard any of these newer versions.

  34. 34
    Lex on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Uhhh I think it is slightly more likely that dancehall/reggae-affiliated artists like Kardinal Offishall would be using The Paragons as their reference point rather than Blondie!

  35. 35
    lonepilgrim on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Thanks for that link Lex – it’s refreshing to hear it’s soothing qualities used as a counterpoint to the energy of the shouty man.

  36. 36
    LondonLee on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Well I said I could be wrong. I’m old, cut me some slack. I’ve never even heard Atomic Kitten’s version.

  37. 37
    Tom on 4 Dec 2008 #

    #34 I would imagine that Kardinal Offishal is i. well aware of the Paragons’ version, and ii. also well aware that the Blondie version was an absolutely enormous mega-hit. So the question isn’t ‘which is he versioning’, but “would be be doing so without the other one (whichever that it)”.

  38. 38
    Mark M on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Re: 34 – possibly, maybe even probably, but not necessarily. After all, Blondie were massive everywhere, and the Paragons – terrific as they were, not. On the other hand, there is an early (great) DJ version by U Roy, so Kardinall Offishall is far from the first to set his rasping against that tune.

  39. 39
    DV on 4 Dec 2008 #

    This is surely Blondie on the slide (I may be summarising what everyone else has posted).

  40. 40
    vinylscot on 4 Dec 2008 #

    Obviously their worst (first time round) #1, this was an odd one. Two years earlier they’d have got away with it, but Two Tone had brought a lot of ska and other reggae styles to the airwaves, so the Paragons’ infinitely superior version was familiar to many.

    I always had the opinion this was bought by Blondie fans rather than pop fans. I didn’t buy it although I had bought all four of their earlier #1s (got sick of “Call Me” pretty damn quick tho’)

    A quality control lapse, or the beginning of the end??

    Possibly both.

  41. 41
    Malice Cooper on 9 Dec 2008 #

    The live version of this showed Debbie singing one note for the entire chorus. It was the kiss of death for them and certainly the beginning of the end

  42. 42
    Brooksie on 15 Feb 2010 #

    @ Billy Smart # 26:

    I love ‘War Child’. Last gasp of the group, and the best song off ‘The Hunter’ by a mile.

    Don’t get the criticism for TiH on here. Yes, it’s lightweight reggae, yes, it doesn’t have the muscle of their previous hits. But they were trying to adapt to survive in the especially harsh environment of the rapidly changing new wave scene. On first listening you can hear that this is a guaranteed number one hit; it’s catchy, it’s fluffy, it’s exactly what it should be to go straight to the top of the charts, which is exactly what it did in both the UK and US. Ok, it’s not Blondie gold, but it is Blondie silver, which makes it better than 90% of music both then and now (cliche alert?). Sure, they were scratching around for ideas, and ‘Automerican’ proved they were crumbling creatively, but they were also looking for a way to finance their drug habits, and hits were the way to do it. TiH sits on a best of Blondie perfectly well along with all the more meaty songs. Sure it’s a bit of fluff, but at this point Blondie were easily as good as The Police… at least until the album came out. Besides, six months after this single came out Adam and the Ants were Kings and everybody else looked old-fashioned; Debbie made the piss poor album ‘Koo-Koo’, which meant two duff albums in a row; by the time ‘The Hunter’ album came out, it was strike three-you’re out. At least on a musical level it was; the group had a lot of personal issues to sort out, but if the public ever cared, they had given up by the time of The Hunter.

    My big issue with this song has more to do with the music we hear; I constantly find myself wondering just how much of it is played by the band, and how much is played by session musicians?

  43. 43
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    On Blondie singles referencing (however indirectly or obliquely) I far preferred and prefer “Island of Lost Souls”: This (and indeed, even that) is just rather too ordinary for a group that had proved themselves capable of very much better.

  44. 44
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    referencing “the sea” I meant…

  45. 45
    Auntie Beryl on 21 Feb 2013 #

    re Rapture – it occurs to me that Lana Del Rey was taking notes…

  46. 46
    Auntie Beryl on 21 Feb 2013 #

    …and American Life era Madge.

  47. 47
    hectorthebat on 30 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    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) 21
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  48. 48
    enitharmon on 20 Oct 2014 #

    And it’s goodbye John Holt of the Paragons, writer of this song. Not to be confused with John Holt, Professor of Experimental Physics at Liverpool University in the 1970s (and for some time before) who lectured on Special Relativity to first year undergrads in an alarmingly tedious manner (he lived on until 2009 though, apparently).

  49. 49
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Oct 2014 #

    # 48 – Yep, it’s clear that poor old Holty didn’t make it through the night…

    Blame Erithian for that one, the little tinker!

  50. 50
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    Tom is spot on with his review and I agree with his mark of 6/10.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page