Nov 08

BLONDIE – “Call Me”

FT + Popular57 comments • 4,662 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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  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)

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    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!!

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    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.

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    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

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