Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9: Blondie, "Call Me"

Artist: Blondie
Song: "Call Me"
Album: American Gigolo Soundtrack
Year: 1980

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Though time has proven that there is no single recipe for musical success, there is perhaps no more strange or more difficult a beast to tame than that of the movie soundtrack. Amazingly unpredictable, it is often times a place where bands place songs that were simply not good enough or did not have the right feel for one of their own albums. However, in a handful of cases, movie soundtracks have spawned surprise success, including some of the biggest selling songs in music history. Though many may see this as a more recent phenomena, it has been happening for decades, yet in many of the earlier cases, the film itself has been largely forgotten, yet the song remains in regular radio rotation. There is perhaps no finer or more clear an example of this occurrence then when one looks at the 1980 film, American Gigolo, which featured the international mega-hit, "Call Me" by Blondie. There are a number of reasons why the song was a strange success, yet its impact is undeniable, as it topped the charts in more than half a dozen countries, and remains one of Blondie's most famous songs ever. Strangely enough, the song was originally intended to be recorded by Stevie Nicks, yet due to contractual problems, she was unable to work on the soundtrack. A rough instrumental track was then given to Debbie Harry, and she quickly composed the lyrics and melody, and in the process created one of the most beloved songs in music history.

The release of "Call Me" is in many ways as strange as its success, as it was actually released by three different record labels, and there are a number of different versions of the song. The song was released in both 7" and 12" format by Chrysalis (Blondie's label), the soundtrack version on Polydor, and then there was a Spanish version which was released by Salsoul Records. Within these different releases, there are a number of edits of the song as well. While the most well-known version clocks in at just over three and a half minutes, the full version of the song actually runs over eight minutes, with the Spanish version running about six and a half minutes. There are a handful of other scattered edits, furthering the oddity of the song, yet regardless of which version you listen to, the one constant is the amazing guitar hook and perfectly paced drums. In many ways, "Call Me" perfectly captured everything that made Blondie so amazing musically, as the band was constantly able to find the middle ground between disco, punk, and the emerging "new wave" sound. The riff from guitarist Chris Stein, and the keyboards from Jimmy Destri remain just as fresh and exciting today as they were three decades ago, and the winding, almost hypnotic bassline of Nigel Harrison perfectly finishes off the sound on the record. It is this danceable, bright sound with more attitude than one expects from the style that makes "Call Me" as well as a majority of the Blondie catalog so fantastic.

However, as distinctive as Blondie's sound is musically, it is impossible to think of the band without the alluring and groundbreaking vocals of Debbie Harry. Standing today as one of the most influential vocalists in history, she possesses one of the most instantly recognizable and powerful voices in history, and she sounds as good as ever on "Call Me." From her mesmerizing sound on the verses to her unrivaled, soaring vocals on the bridge and chorus, throughout the song, Debbie Harry reinforces her place at the top of the greatest female vocalists in history, and it is almost impossible to see any female singer after her who did not in some way draw from her style. "Call Me" is also instantly recognizable for its simple, yet fantastic lyrics, as Harry perfectly captured the idea behind the movie without becoming cliché. Dropping bits of French and Italian into the song, the sense of lust and passion ring strong, and the song is able to present a classy, sensual mood in a way in which no other song in history was able to achieve. Taking all of this into account, it is little surprise that the song remains within the public conscious to this day, and over the years, it has been covered by artists ranging from Garbage to The Dandy Warhols to Franz Ferdinand, as well as receiving one of the strangest tributes, when only a few months after the original release, the animated icons, The Chipmunks, released their own take on the song. Yet even with a large number of diverse remakes of the song, it is the original, powered by Debbie Harry's stunning performance that remains the finest version of the song.

As the 1970's turned into the 1980's, countless genres began to compete for mainstream success, as the general public grew tired of the disco sound, and the incorporation of synthesizers began to overtake a majority of music. Very few bands were able to navigate this transition, and among those that did, there were few that did so with the attitude and approach of Blondie. Bringing the creativity and spirit of the New York underground scene, yet retaining an unquestionable pop sensibility, Blondie constantly redefined what was possible musically, fusing together disco, punk, "new age," and even early hip-hop at various times in their career. This ability to so brilliantly mix together so many different genres is one of the key reasons why more than thirty years after their first recordings, the group still remains in regular radio rotation, as well as standing as one of the most important and influential bands in history. Their perfection when it came to fusing together so many different sounds was perhaps no better presented then when they were asked to compose the theme to the 1980 film, American Gigolo, and the resulting song, "Call Me," remains one of the most iconic songs in history. From the unmistakable musical progressions to the absolutely stunning vocal performance from Debbie Harry, the song perfectly captures not only the groups' unique musical approach, but also the fluctuating state of music at the time. Renaming one of their most beloved songs, as well as representing a pivotal moment in music history, there are few songs that compare to the impact and overall sound that one finds on Blondie's 1980 hit, "Call Me."

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