Record Review: Blondie + Freddy – Yuletide Throwdown

Flexipop #16

I remember hearing “Rappers Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. I was in high school and it was the first example of rapping I’d heard, and truthfully, I was non-plussed. I honestly felt that it was destined to be a brief fad at best and it didn’t offer me much to chew on. I was listening to far more interesting music at the time: freaky, arty New Wave and guys reciting over old disco hits meant less than nothing to me.

Blondie were the first group of arty New Wavers to give this new thing a shot, and in all honesty, I was less than enamored at their crack at hip hop. Not everyone else, though, as “Rapture” went to number one and sold bucketloads. Though not as many as Sugarhill Gang, who probably sold four times as many records without it getting high in the charts. I only heard the “short” 6:30 version of “Rapper’s Delight” on Orlando’s WOKB-AM, “Tiger Radio.” No radio station would have played the full 15:00 monty.

By Christmas, 1981, two years after “Rapper’s Delight” and a year after “Rapture,” the cheeky UK music ‘zine Fexipop has a flexidisc on the cover where turnabout became fair play.  Early rapper Fab Five Freddy had recorded a song based on Blondie’s “Rapture” and had symmetrically reclaimed the single back from New Wave to hip hop. Debbie Harry guested with him on backing vocals and it was called “Yuletide Throwdown.”

Flexipop | UK | flexi | 1981 | 016

Freddy + Blondie: Yuletide Throwdown UK flexidisc [1981]

  1. Yuletide Throwdown

Though I always bought a copy of Flexipop when it had a disc I wanted to hear at the time, I skipped over this one in the import racks at the time. I didn’t really need to hear Blondie and a rapper, even though I was a Blondie fan. Honestly, their current “Autoamerican” album had been rough going for me. Fast forward 15 years and I had bought the UK 12″ of “Rapture” at Rock & Roll Heaven, since it had extended remixes I hadn’t heard. Fast forward 15 more years, and I was finally playing the “Rapture” 12″ when to what to my wond’ring eyes should appear… but a green Flexipop flexidisc tucked neatly away within the 12″ sleeve as a surprise bonus that probably both the original owner and the store were unaware of. So what the hell, I gave it a spin.

The long-for-a-flexidisc track [5+ minutes] sounds like neither Blondie backing tracks nor turntablism. It sounds like someone remixed some backing tapes crudely and Freddy rapped over it, with Debbie Harry interjecting randomly. Now that I look it up, turntablism didn’t really surface until “Grandmaster Flash and the Wheels of Steel” dropped also in 1981 and it’s unlikely that too many others were scratching and cutting records at this time. I remember that the early rap records were all group based, with the Sugar Hill mafia playing on the records in the old fashioned band sense. “Yuletide Throwdown” sounds like they were trying to get that sound via tape editing/mixing in the studio rather than DJing, as it would come to be known.

Freddy’s wordplay isn’t too nimble, in spite of his iconic status. Still, I would bet that this is probably the first attempt at a Christmas “Rapping” single ever as Debbie refutes Freddy’s claim to Santa-hood. References to Cap’n Crunch [early hip hop often had food references for some reason] sit cheek by jowl with “snow” and the whole vibe seems as random as Debbie Harry’s backing vocals, which seem to have been recorded in another universe from Freddy. This is one weird recording that’s neither fish nor fowl. It is a slightly amusing artifact, but having heard it after 30 years, I’m glad I didn’t plunk down the coin for that $2.95 issue of Flexipop at the time. The resulting flexidisc is the red-headed stepchild of Blondie’s career.

– 30 –

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16 Responses to Record Review: Blondie + Freddy – Yuletide Throwdown

  1. Tim says:

    This sounds like a real rarity. I’ve never heard it but it sounds like something that would show up on one of DJ Riko’s Christmas mixes

    http://djriko.com/mixmases.htm

    Some skilled mixing may be found there, a bit frenetic for my taste, though. I sometimes get food for thought from these for my own annual Xmas mix but those are in a different vein entirely.
    I’ll be posting a greatest hits of those from years earlier this November as well as the 2011 edition.

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  2. ronkanefiles says:

    Flexipop didn’t always go for top drawer material, IMHO. Out-takes and stuff had quickly / cheaply seemed to be their forte.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      ronkanefiles – Flexipop was all about cheap! That mag was as if the degenerate editors of Creem had been given the brief to produce a magazine for Britain’s pre-teen population! In its heyday, I only bought the occasional issue for a flexi of note, but in later years, I would buy any issues that I saw for sale, just for the wallowing zeitgeist of it all! I mean, when Zodiac Mindwarp is your art director, things could be amusing.

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  3. Echorich says:

    How naive and harmless early rap seems now in our world of gangsta rap, self absorbed ‘hood rappers and bling’d out hip hop – I live in Tampa and boy is it full of ‘up and coming’ and wannabe Lil Wayne’s and Soulja Boy’s. Most rap lacks a political consciousnes that it grew to embrace in those early years…blame it on a cash in or record companies meddling in the same way they blanded punk and new wave to make a buck in Middle America. But then early rap was kind of celebratory and sometimes defiant – i.e. The Message by Grandmaster Flash or The Breaks by Kurtis Blow, and sometimes silly i.e. Fat Boys.

    Freddy was a street artist hangin in two worlds – the tagger streets and the nightclub VIP rooms – in those days. Made total sense to me for Blondie to name check him and then for him to have Debbie put her stamp on his rap. The NYC music scene will always be an incestuous one.

    I have to agree with you on Autoamerican, it actually made me sad when I heard it for the first time and I created a bubble around the first few Blondie albums after that and the band kind of ceased to be important to me. By the time The Hunter came out and Debbie release KooKoo, I had left them kinda far behind. That said, working in the NYC entertainment industry in those days, I couldn’t help but be in the same place as Debbie or Debbie and Chris a lot and I always found that kinda cool. Blondie will always be a foundation band to my musical experience. She has always been kind of iconic for me – whether it’s as a musc diva or her acting the Diva in public. She has a way of eliciting strong and sometimes extreme reactions in how she is perceived.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – It’s funny you mention “harmless,” as I was thinking the same thing listening to this 30 years later. There’s something so naive and charming now about early hip hop records, given the kind of change that lay ahead for it. The first rappers I liked were Run-DMC. I’d heard “Rock Box” and thought that by combining rap and heavy metal they would annoy a lot of people, and therefore, I liked what they were doing. Shows what I know. The next thing you know they’re resuscitating freaking Aerosmith and that record was the end for them wasn’t it? Stephen Tyler sucked away all of their life force and that was that. What progress! It had been so nice not having Aerosmith for about 5-6 years there!

      I had never seen Blondie previously. I think they hit Tampa on the “Hunter” tour with Duran Duran in tow, but I had no way of getting to Tampa back then. At that time, I would have gone for Duran alone, really. I was fortunate enough to have seen Deborah Harry on tour in ’89 for her wonderful “Def, Dumb, And Blonde” album; which is the one post ’79 project of hers that for me is full-out classic Blondie quality.

      Unfortunately, I also saw Deborah Harry in 1993-4 [?] do a shockingly pathetic track date at The Edge in Orlando. The show had sold out and I had “lucked out” a friend decided he didn’t want to go and sold me his ticket [I think] and I waited and waited until they finally opened the club. Once inside, I didn’t see any instruments onstage and waited for a crew to set anything up. We waited for over an hour. Eventually, Deborah Harry stumbled onstage in the same Stephen Sprouse disco-ball dress that Divine had worn in his video for “I’m So Beautiful.” She was tottering around on ridiculous platform pumps and she looked far less dignified than Divine did in the aforementioned video. And she was doing a track date! What a comedown for someone of her stature! What’s worse, she looked bloated and overweight and seemed to be having a real problem managing to sing. After about 40 minutes I thought “I’ve really got to get out of here” only to have the horrorshow come to an abrupt halt.

      It’s my all time worst concert experience – or at least a tie with the last time I saw Adrian Belew, where we did manage to leave after 40 minutes. Therefore, I have studiously avoided any Blondie reformation artifacts. When they played in Asheville several years back, I just couldn’t go there.

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  4. Taffy says:

    Debbie Harry is my pop icon, my idol; Blondie was my first favorite band. I can’t even pretend to be impartial, so I won’t. With that disclaimer stated, I view Yuletide Throwdown is an artifact, hardly a historical treasure but certainly of interest to fans (such as myself) who desire hearing (if not owning) every recorded work of their idols. It’s about as good as most Flexipop offerings got, as I recall.
    As for the AutoAmerican album, I love it to pieces. Nobody did the 60’s nodding girl-group power-pop thing like Blondie – that’s what the first four albums did peerlessly. AutoAmerican’s genre-hopping might be dizzying (or wearisome) to those demanding another Parallel Lines, but I was wowed by the risk-taking. Opening with a quasi science fiction soundtrack instruments seguing into a Donna Summer soundalike was batty. Again, loved it. Track after track, reggae to tin pan alley, jazzy balladry to hip hop, it dazzled. And puzzled.
    Alas the follow-up (The Hunter) was a limp attempt to replicate AutoAmerica, but this time the tunes were lacking. Sigh.
    Regarding track dates – they are fine for dance divas shilling their latest club single, and indeed pathetic for rock royalty. Not Debbie’s finest hour, but a girl’s gotta eat. And no, that wasn’t a snarky comment on her weight.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Oh how sad it is when bands limply try to replicate a successful album. Spandau Ballet’s “Parade” was one such album. A faded copy of “True” minus the good stuff [all cuts except for “True”] and full of wimpy “True” clones without the panache even that song had. Only “Highly Strung” was good enough to have been on “True.” The “Glide Mix” of “I’ll Fly For You” was killer, though! They “rocked out” on “Through The Barricades” and then came “Heart Like A Sky, which was a faded copy of “Parade!” Ouch!

      I did see one other track date and that was not pathetic: Pete Burns in 1993. I have to say that was deeply entertaining.

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      • Echorich says:

        I’ll choose to diagree with you on SB’s Parade. I felt it was a logical step after True. When I first listened to True I was disappointed that it wasn’t as fractured and funky as Diamond, but I think my love for Diamond puts me in a minority. I really got into Parade though. It didn’t take long for me to get just how great True was and where the band was headed and Parade continues that journy which ended with Through The Barricades.

        I went to see Pete Burns at a loungy gay bar in NYC’s Chelsea in 93. The club was full of beds for seating so Pete chose to sing mostly from a stage set of some of the beds. His face wasn’t quite as mishapen as it has become now, but man was it scary anyway!

        Worst track show I have EVER seen was Bananarama, Venus/SAW era, at the Limelight in London. At one point they just stopped bothering to mime and just danced around. NO ONE CARED! Probably because no one believed they could sing anyway.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Aaaah. You are a “Diamond-head” like myself, I see. Man, I am all over the map when it comes to Spandau Ballet. I first bought “Journeys To Glory” when it came out because it was “new-ro” and on Chrysalis, who had Ultravox and Icehouse. “Journeys” didn’t exactly impress and I was down on them. Heard “Chant” and “Paint” on college radio. UK funk trend hoppers! Didn’t want to know. Chanced to hear “Lifeline” and really liked it. Bought “True” and was impressed with their Vegas soul chops. Saw “Live Over Britain” and became a big fan. Went back to “Diamond.” Bought it and discovered how insane it was; eventually buying the boxed version off of a friend who didn’t care for it. What a schizo record!! But I luff it!!! It has the guts to do whatever the hell it wants to. Fact: “Chant No. 1” is the greatest song EVER!!!! Four minute mix! Six Minute Mix! EIGHT Minute Mix!!! One day I will mix a 20 minute mix because I just can’t get enough!!!!!! Read more on the topic here.

          But “Parade” is still weak tea for me.

          Saw Pete at ATL Masquerade with Steve as “tape op.” No beds, thank the stars! Just a room full of people watching Pete give effortless diva rants between cigs and the occasional singing! I bought that tape he was selling and parlayed it to $300+ in a time of tight $$$ on e[vil]-Bay. Thanks, Pete! Fact: the winning bidder was a woman [!] in The States who didn’t even own a tape deck!!! There were a lot of disappointed European men for that auction!

          P.S. – So sorry about the Bananarama incident! As much as I loved the first two albums, I don’t think I’d ever cross the street to see ’em.

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  5. Echorich says:

    I think I need to make something clear…I DID NOT CROSS AN OCEAN TO SEE BANANARAMA. I’ll admit to doing twice in the late 80’s to see Gary Numan, but NOT Bananarama. As I worked for the Limelight in NYC at the time, when I was in London on a short vaca (gee money was more plentiful or airfare was just cheaper back then) they happened to do the track show…

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  6. Taffy says:

    I also saw Pete Burns do a trackdate, presumably the same ’93 “tour.” It was a shambles. Tape deck kept breaking down, it was basically him and a boombox. I love classic Dead or Alive, but this sad karaoke was dead on arrival.
    Conversely, I caught Bananarama on their maiden (and I think only) American tour in “89 or so. My memory is fuzzy, but it was just after Siobhan left the group and Jacquie had taken her place. Again, they were victim to faulty backing tapes, but it seemed to me that their (plain) vocals were mostly live. I do recall their klutzy dancing and charming personalities. It wasn’t exactly rock and roll, but it was loads of fun.
    One final thought – I’m in total agreement with the Monk regarding Parade. I love the first three Spandau albums (while admitting a partiality towards Journeys ponderous yet hilariously po-faced synthpop), but Parade was mostly True retreads.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Well, I was there with Chas_M, so that makes four regulars of PPM [along with you and Echorich] who managed to see the Cavalcade of Awesome® that was the 1993 Pete Burns US Tour! That’s a good third of my readership! What city was that in? We have Atlanta and NYC covered so far. Too bad you saw Bananarama after Siobahn deserted. Can’t say her timing was bad, though. If she had been really on top of things, she would have left after “True Confessions.”

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      • Taffy says:

        The Pete Burns show i saw was at Manray (and “alternative” music club) in Cambridge, MA; i neglected to write the exact date in my concert log, but it was around January 1993. In addition, it was billed as a Dead or Alive appearance, not merely Pete solo.
        The Bananarama show was 3-21-89, and from all I can gather it was their first ever American show, so I don’t think it was humanly possible to see them prior to Siobhan’s departure. Well, not without some travel!

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        • Echorich says:

          They did a “tour” in Japan in ’88, but ’89 was the actual official first tour and a World Tour at that. It still amazes me that they are STILL the Girl Group with the most Chart Hits of All Time! I will definitely admit to being a fan of the first two albums and enjoy some of True Confessions, but the writing was on the wall as far as their direction at that point.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Echorich – My mind boggles at the girl group longevity of their run. Bananarama had acres of charm at the start, but that ran out by album three. If they had been smarter, they would have avoided the excessive slickness that was their [artistic] downfall. I only found out that Keren’s been living with Andrew Ridgely for a long time just recently. For some reason, that amuses me, even though I still bear the scars of having seen the video for “Shake” on MTV… brr!

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