Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Rapture" by Blondie - January 30th 80's Quest Song/Band of the Day



Today's band is one of my all time favorite bands, and their lead singer, Deborah Harry, was my absolute childhood idol.  Last week Pat Benatar was the artist of the day, and I mentioned that she was an idol of mine, but Deborah Harry was THE idol for me in my younger years. 

I remember Blondie coming on the scene in the 70's with a style that was a mix of new wave/punk/and some danceable songs.  Their music sounded like something “new” in the air.  Deborah Harry was the coolest.  She was beautiful, wore fashionable streetwise clothes, and let her dark roots show through her platinum blonde hair. She had this cool, seductive, disaffected, kind of spaced out demeanor.  I used to get all jazzed up when the band was on television to perform or do an interview.  I used to say, “Look, look!! Blondie’s on!” to which my mother would reply in disgust, "It looks like she's on drugs!".  The fact that Deborah Harry incensed my parents made her even better!  I had my own thing that my parents just couldn't understand, and it was great!   When I was a college radio DJ, they had a weekly show on Friday nights called the Friday Night Filigree on which the DJ would pick a favorite band or artist and devote the entire show to showcasing their songs.  When I did my Friday Night Filigree show, I chose Blondie/Deborah Harry.

I remember going to the Mall, and there were the coolest Blondie and Deborah Harry posters in the record stores.  I would listen to their albums in my room and hear them singing of this place where they lived called The Lower East Side, and wonder about what this cool place must be like.  In interviews it was often noted that the band was from New York City.  I think something got stuck in that little head of mine way back then, that NYC might be a cool place to be.  And now I live there!.  And guess when Deborah Harry is in New York, guess where her apartment is located?  11 blocks away from mine!  I don’t know why, but somehow that is still cool to me as an adult that we are virtually in the same neighborhood now.  I have never run into her yet, but if I do, it will be an exciting day for me. 

After I first moved to New York, she played a show blocks away from me at The Rubin Museum of Art with Jim Carroll and others.  I remember I was struck by how great it was to be in New York and just be able to walk down the street a little ways and be able to see my idol.  She mentioned that she had picked up a slice of pizza across the street before coming to the show, so you never know...maybe one of these days our paths shall cross.

Deborah Harry was born in Miami, and was adopted by Catherine Harry and Richard Smith who were gift shop proprietors in Hawthorne, New Jersey.  Debbie got her associates degree from Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ and then moved to New York City in the late 60’s.  She worked as a secretary, a waitress at famed musician hangout Max’s Kansas City, and was a bunny at the Playboy Club.  She joined a folk rock group called Wind in the Willows and in 1974 joined another band called The Stilettos and met guitarist, Chris Stein. Stein left The Stilettos  and started a new band called Angel and the Snake with Tish and Snooky Bellomo (now famous for their Manic Panic line of hair dyes and alternative cosmetics).  In 1975 Harry and Stein (who were also involved romantically) formed Blondie with drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and Gary Valentine on bass.  The band took its name from the catcalls that Harry used to receive from truck drivers who yelled out the window to her, “Hey, Blondie!”.  Blondie became one of the pioneering bands in the American new wave/punk scene in New York during the 1970’s playing all the important venues of the time such as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s.

Their debut album, “Blondie” was released in December 1976 by small label Private Stock.  In 1977 Blondie bought back their contract and signed with Chrysalis records.  Their first success came in Australia when a television program called “Countdown” mistakenly played “In the Flesh” which was the b-side to the single they had released, “X-Offender”.  Turns out, “In the Flesh” hit a chord with listeners and reached the Australian Top 5.

In 1978 Blondie released their second album, “Plastic Letters”  The first single released was “Denis” a cover of a 1963 Randy and the Rainbows song.  It reached #2 on the U.K. charts and the next single, “(I Am Always Touched by Your) Presence Dear” reached the U.K. top ten.  They were one of the first American new wave bands to achieve mainstream success in the U.K.

Their next album, 1978’s “Parallel Lines” finally achieved mainstream in America charting at #6.  It was the bands most successful album worldwide.  The first two singles were “Picture This” and “Hanging on the Telephone”.  The third release “Heart of Glass “topped the charts in 1979.  It had been a rock and reggae song in the bands repertoire that had been updated with disco elements.  “Heart of Glass” was played extensively on radio stations all over the world and the bands underground status was now mainstream.  The next single released in the U.S. was “One Way or Another”, while “Sunday Girl” was the next single released in England.

Blondie’s fourth album, “Eat to the Beat” came out in 1979.  Singles from that album “Atomic”, “Dreaming” and “Union City Blue” charted, but did not reach the same success as the songs from the “Parallel Lines” album.

Next Blondie collaborated with famed Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder to record “Call Me” which was featured on the soundtrack of the movie “American Gigolo” starring Richard Gere.  It was a #1 hit in the United States and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

 Moving in the 1980’s, Blondie released their 5th album, the more experimental “Autoamerican” which produced two more U.S. #1’s:  “The Tide is High” and “Rapture”.  “Rapture” was released in 1981, and the video for the song has the distinction of being the first rap video every played on MTV.  Being a downtown NYC group, Blondie was very in-tune with the trends and people in the downtown music and art scene.  The video features some downtown biggies such as hip hop pioneer (and later host of the show “Yo! MTV Raps) and graffiti artist  Fab Five Freddy who is mentioned by name in this song, “Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly, DJ spinning, I said, “My My”…” (and seen at 2:21 into this video spray painting the word “Rap” on the wall), famed NYC graffiti artist, Lee Quinones (seen at 2:14 into this video. He is spray painting his name “Lee” on the wall), and artist Jean Michel Basquiat (seen at 1:56 into this video.  He is the DJ). You will also hear the lyric, “Flash is fast, Flash is cool…” which refers to pioneer rap DJ  Grandmaster Flash (who with his fellow MC’s The Furious 5 recorded the hit, “White Lines”).

 In 1981 Chrysalis Records released a greatest hits compilation called “Best of Blondie”.  That same year Blondie took a break, and Deborah Harry and Jimmy Destri both released solo albums.  Blondie was commissioned to write the theme song for the 1981 James Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only”, but their submission was rejected and the song was eventually done by Sheena Easton 

Blondie reconvened and released another album “The Hunter” in 1982.  They included their song “For Your Eyes Only”.  The album did very poorly, did not sell well, and only had two slight hits, “Island of Lost Souls” and “War Child”.  They launched a world tour that was cancelled due to low ticket sales.

The band was experiencing many problems.  Tensions were high due to internal struggles, some bandmates’ drug use, the band’s commercial decline, resulting financial pressures, and also due to the fact that Deborah Harry had become so associated with the band’s name that many believed “Blondie” was her name, rather than the band’s name.  The added focus on Harry, annoyed others in the band.  In 1981 Harry released a press release to explain that her name was not Blondie but Deborah Harry.  The band even launched a campaign with buttons that read, “Blondie is a Group”.  On top of all this, Chris Stein came down with a painful and rare autoimmune disease called pemphigus which causes the skin to blister, slough off, and turn into sores.  The band broke up and announced their split in November 1982.

 Harry and Stein retreated from the public and concentrated on attending to Stein’s condition and to clean up their drug use.  Harry did released some solo projects in the late 80’s.  Eventually the couple broke up, but are still friends and work together.

The band reformed in the 90’s and released a new album “No Exit” in 1999 and experienced another hit with the song “Maria”.  In March 2006 Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the band still tours today.

Lyrics:

Toe to toe
Dancing very close
Barely breathing
Almost comatose
Wall to wall
People hypnotized
And they're stepping lightly
Hang each night in Rapture

Back to back
Sacroiliac
Spineless movement
And a wild attack

Face to face
Sadly solitude
And it's finger popping
Twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture

Fab Five Freddie told me everybody's high
DJ's spinnin' are savin' my mind
Flash is fast, Flash is cool
Francois sez fas, Flashe' no do
And you don't stop, sure shot
Go out to the parking lot
And you get in your car and you drive real far
And you drive all night and then you see a light
And it comes right down and lands on the ground
And out comes a man from Mars
And you try to run but he's got a gun
And he shoots you dead and he eats your head
And then you're in the man from Mars
You go out at night, eatin' cars
You eat Cadillacs, Lincolns too
Mercurys and Subarus
And you don't stop, you keep on eatin' cars
Then, when there's no more cars
You go out at night and eat up bars where the people meet
Face to face, dance cheek to cheek
One to one, man to man
Dance toe to toe
Don't move to slow, 'cause the man from Mars
Is through with cars, he's eatin' bars
Yeah, wall to wall, door to door, hall to hall
He's gonna eat 'em all
Rapture, be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer
Don't strain your brain, paint a train
You'll be singin' in the rain
I said don't stop, to punk rock

Well now you see what you wanna be
Just have your party on TV
'Cause the man from Mars won't eat up bars when the TV's on
And now he's gone back up to space
Where he won't have a hassle with the human race
And you hip-hop, and you don't stop
Just blast off, sure shot
'Cause the man from Mars stopped eatin' cars and eatin' bars
And now he only eats guitars, get up!

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