4
Nov 08

BLONDIE – “Call Me”

FT + Popular55 comments • 4,207 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.

7

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Great sleeve!

  2. 2
    Tracer Hand on 4 Nov 2008 #

    The Spanish version of this is great!

  3. 3
    JimD on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Second Popular post in a row to be featured on last Saturday’s X Factor, strangely enough. Or maybe not so strangely, what with that being disco week, and this being 1980, and everything.

  4. 4
    mike on 4 Nov 2008 #

    I was all set to damn “Call Me” with faint praise, but multiple recent playings coupled with the (whisper it) actually rather good performance by Diana Vickers on Saturday’s X Factor have mellowed me towards it.

    Thing is: for the longest time, I’ve seen this as the moment when Blondie entered their Imperial Phase, rendering them as untouchable superstars, and hence making them just that little bit less interesting. Also, I’ve never been certain that Blondie + Giorgio Moroder was such a great mix. Moroder’s rock moments can sometimes have an stridently yowling quality to them, and as Tom suggests, that synth-guitar solo forms part of the case for the prosecution.

    So “Call Me” has always struck me as a bit graceless and bludgeoning… except that now, I find myself responding to it as a joyously over-stuffed sequence of giddy pop thrills. Funny, that.

    I must also mention the film from whence it came: American Gigolo, starring someone whom I considered to be the most beautiful man I had ever clapped eyes on: Richard Gere. Oh, I fancied him so much in that cinema, that it hurt. (Funny how tastes change, but that’s how it was for me in 1980.)

    A shame, then, that the film saw fit to include a scene set in a quite terrifyingly sleazy and evil-looking gay disco, populated solely by silent, staring, disconnected leather queens. That set me back a good couple of years…

  5. 5
    peter goodlaws on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Please DON’T call me, coz this was rubbish.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 4 Nov 2008 #

    You’re quite right about the kitchen sink production values, Tom. The vocal seems like a return to the strident sneer of ‘Rip her to shreds’ – whereas the music sounds like punk Blondie and disco Blondie fighting it out in some battle of the bands. 7 seems about right.

  7. 7
    rosie on 4 Nov 2008 #

    It’s a bit like Raymond Chandler’s last novel, really. If anybody else had written Playback it might have been well-regarded. As it was, it was an anti-climax: a dying man’s last pathetic gasp.

    Not that Blondie were dying in any way, there was spirit in them to come, but this I think is Blondie in overdrive; at this point they have joined the club of those who could get to the top because of who they were, not what they did.

    It’s a good, enjoyable record but it’s nothing earth-shattering.

    I agree that the sleeve is terrific though.

  8. 8
    poohugh on 4 Nov 2008 #

    This and Hanging On The Telephone deserve each other.

  9. 9
    poohugh on 4 Nov 2008 #

    This and Hanging On The Telephone deserve each other, but the sleeve is brilliant.

  10. 10
    Mark G on 4 Nov 2008 #

    “Roll me in designer sheeets I’ll never get enough”

    I think we should, um, consider that for a moment or two…

  11. 11
    Tom on 4 Nov 2008 #

    This was the biggest-selling single of the year in the US, by the way.

    The guitar-synth noise was also used a great deal by Ultravox on their first two post-John Foxx albums (I used to be a huge fan), so obviously one of that band was impressed!

  12. 12
    Erithian on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Mark G kind of hits the nail on the head there – considering, for a moment or two, rolling Debbie in designer sheets. That and the “my finest hour… watching you shower” line, and the “your hair is beautiful” – in song after song you’re getting just a hint of what it’s like to be up close and personal with Debs, and for a significant part of the target audience that’s going to run right up their, er, flagpole. A bit more subtle than calling your film “In Bed With Madonna” too!

    With just six weeks separating this from “Atomic”, it must be one of the swiftest returns to number one ever by a follow-up single other than those acts that have replaced themselves at the top (Tubeway Army/Gary Numan took eight weeks, Travolta/Newton-John six). Another thoroughly exciting outing, and (according to Kutner and Leigh) Debbie Harry becomes the first woman ever to get a writing credit on three UK number one singles.

  13. 13
    LondonLee on 4 Nov 2008 #

    This is like every Blondie record so far mashed into one. It helps that the song is so damn catchy but it takes a band at the height of confidence to hold it together, there’s a real brash feeling of nothing can stop us now about it.

    I always thought the sleek sexiness of ‘Heart of Glass’ or ‘Atomic’ would have fitted better with the cool surfaces of American Gigolo, this is too ragged and shouty by far. The scene where Gere lays out all his lovely Armani clobber while singing ‘The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage’ is one of the best music/movie moments ever I think.

  14. 14
    mike on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Re #12 – Here are those Shortest Gaps Between Number Ones in full! (Using the Everyhit.com list, as ever)

    7 weeks:
    Cliff Richard – Living Doll / Travelling Light
    Cliff Richard – The Next Time / Summer Holiday
    Gerry & the Pacemakers – How Do You Do It / I Like It
    The Police – Message In A Bottle / Walking On The Moon

    6 weeks:
    Frankie Laine – I Believe / Hey Joe
    Rosemary Clooney – This Ole House / Mambo Italiano
    Rolling Stones – Satisfaction / Get Off My Cloud
    The Beatles – Paperback Writer /Yellow Submarine
    John Travolta & Olivia Newton John – You’re The One That I Want / Summer Nights
    Blondie – Atomic / Call Me

    4 weeks:
    Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight / Wooden Heart / Surrender (yes, that’s two consecutive four-week gaps)

    1 week:
    The Beatles – Get Back / The Ballad Of John & Yoko

    0 weeks:
    The Beatles – She Loves You / I Want To Hold Your Hand

  15. 15
    Tom on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Is that “so far” Mike or is the era of short gaps now over? (Surely not)

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Did The Beatles have a time machine?

  17. 17
    mike on 4 Nov 2008 #

    #15 – Yeah, that’s “so far”.

    I didn’t delve further than “Call Me”, but (if we exclude guest appearances on charity records) four more acts would appear on this list if I included the rest of the 1980s. There’s one that spans 1980-81, another in 1984 (that’s open to mild debate, though), another in 1989 and another that spans 1989-90.

  18. 18
    pjb on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Interesting that Moroder’s input resulted in one of Blondie’s more straightforward hits, rather than one of their more innovative. Doesn’t have the rapturous, ecstatic quality of their best, but remains hard to argue with as a blast of power pop.

  19. 19
    Vinylscot on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Mike, there’s also one in 2005 who had three different #1 in 4 weeks!! Hopefully Mr Bunny isn’t paying too much attention here!!

  20. 20
    Erithian on 4 Nov 2008 #

    LondonLee #16 – by “0 weeks”, we mean the Fabs knocked themselves off number one, IWTHYH deposing SLY just before Christmas 1963. Then in 1969 “Get Back” and TBOJAY were separated by Tommy Roe’s single week at number one with “Dizzy”. It was difficult to see how anyone could do it again, but it was to be brought about by a chap who at this point in 1980 is busily reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and getting some very weird ideas.

    In the heady days of 1964 the Beatles had three consecutive US number ones with nobody else getting a look in (IWTHYH 7 weeks, SLY 2, Can’t Buy Me Love 5). This was almost emulated in 2004 when Usher was number one for 12 weeks with “Yeah”, replaced himself with “Burn” (8 weeks either side of a week for “I Believe” by Fantasia”) then replaced himself again with “Confessions” (2 weeks). Number 1 for 22 weeks out of 23 with three different singles! How credible the US singles chart was by this point is debatable though.

  21. 21

    that synth-guitar will shortly reappear all over kim wilde (who i think “call me” kind of invents)

    i think the flaw in this song is that the words of the chorus — “call me!” — are exactly the wrong words to bellow power-ballad style: the song ALWAYS loses me there, but the chugging metalgum right up until is probably my favourite bit of blondie

    i like the “oo-oo-oo” bit also

  22. 22
    mike on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Looking through the 1990s, there are only two acts to add to the list (since I’ve established an arbitrary cut-off of seven weeks).

    One act does it twice in a row in 1996 (6 weeks and 7 weeks), and another act does it at the end of 1999 (7 weeks).

    As for the 2000s, only one act pulls the trick off, in early 2005 (0 weeks and 1 week).

  23. 23
    Magic Fly on 4 Nov 2008 #

    Yes, “Roll me in designer sheets, I’ll never get enough”… Perhaps the veritable Big Bang of ’80s eroticism. Consumer culture infiltrates the boudoir.

  24. 24
    KeithW on 4 Nov 2008 #

    I love the synth solo on this… What’s not to like? Perhaps except for the fact that it wasn’t played on a Keytar.

    In seriousness, this was my favourite song of all time for a while, back then. Until the Jam nicked it anyway.

  25. 25
    The Intl on 5 Nov 2008 #

    I was a DJ in a shit bar at the time. It was a breakthrough for me because I could play a “punk” record in a “disco only” bar. Watching stupid people wonder how they should dance to it – doing half-hearted pogo or some other non-disco moves because it was Blondie – was a hoot. Aside from the Punk associations, it was just another shit track from another shit movie.

  26. 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).

  27. 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….

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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

  31. 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.

  32. 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)

  33. 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

  34. 34
    Erithian on 6 Nov 2008 #

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

  35. 35
    Tom on 6 Nov 2008 #

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

  36. 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.

  37. 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…

  38. 38
    Conrad on 6 Nov 2008 #

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

    Do tell!

  39. 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

  40. 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.

  41. 41
    Will on 6 Nov 2008 #

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

  42. 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.

  43. 43
    Conrad on 7 Nov 2008 #

    KooKoo stank the place out.

  44. 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.

  45. 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…

  46. 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)

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 49
    Malice Cooper on 8 Nov 2008 #

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

  50. 50
    lonepilgrim on 9 Nov 2008 #

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

  51. 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

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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

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

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page