Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 2]

L-R:

L-R: Destri, Infante, Stein, Harry, Burke, Harrison

blondie - unioncityblueUK7A[…continued from previous post]

It’s hard to imagine now, but while the US got served “The Hardest Part” as a single, the rest of the world, basically, got the finest song on the entire album on a silver platter. I won’t mince words; I consider “Union City Blue” a masterpiece. First of all, there are the drums. The drums of god, and not for the first time on this album. The twangy, Duane Eddy guitar chords in the intro pull me deep into the, no other word here – magnificent drum buildup by Clem Burke. I get goosebumps every time I listen to this and it’s been difficult in the last decade or so not to play the intro and after 30 seconds or so, hit the “back” button several times before putting the song on a loop for at least an hour. And I’ve been listening to this one for 37 years now.

Nigel Harrison wrote the music and showed that the group was much more than Stein/Harry with the first of five songs where Chris Stein ceded the writer’s pen to bandmates. Then the album has the chutzpah to follow this up with a number that’s almost as emotionally powerful while sounding completely different. “Shayla” was a full bore Chris Stein song [lyrics included] and he pulled out all of the stops with this tender ballad that approached country music with the weepy guitar solo he proffered here. Of course, both numbers would all fall apart without the heart-rendering vocals of Deborah Harry. Her wordless expression singing on the “chorus” of “Shayla” packs quite the wallop.

The next song proved it was time for a jolt from left field. The lurching, jittery title track by [again] Harry and Harrison couldn’t be further from the widescreen splendor of “Union City Blue.” Instead, this frantic thrash-pop bolts from the starting gate at full speed. The music does little but jerk to and fro for 2:35 with the exception of the middle eight where the band indulge in some high energy harmonica from guest Randy Hennes. Ms. Harry’s character fairly bursts from the high energy track like a shower of roman candles. I don’t think I’ve ever heard singing like this anywhere else.

The steady pulse of drums and percussion that propels “Accidents Never Happen” begin with a flurry of rim hits, and then cymbal hits at breakneck speed and precision from Clem Burke before his full kit cycles in, only for the cymbals and hi-hats to cycle back to prominence. “Die Young Stay Pretty” was a brief dip into the waters of cod-reggae with plenty of fills and rolls from Burke who dances all around the song on his kit, no doubt reveling in the radical change of pace as Blondie began to really show us just how eclectic they could be on this album. Of course, future albums would make the stylistic shifts here look like a cakewalk, but we didn’t know that back then! The sardonic lyrics showed the Blondie penchant for irony had not withered completely under the platinum sales that were now their stock-in-trade.

Next: …Shadow Morton goes to the disco [with Commies]

 

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8 Responses to Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 2]

  1. Clem Burke is probably my favourite drummer ever, and he continues to perform with that same zeal each and every time I see him. He even managed to lift Dramarama into the stratosphere with his energy, and its no surprise they didn’t register on anyone’s radar before or after his tenure. As for the title track, Harry’s vocal reminds me a bit of Poly Styrene’s on “Oh Bondage,” but of course Harry has more range. I love this album to pieces: a strong memory was finally being able to listen to the entire work on headphones thanks to a plane trip. I have no recollection of where I was going (probably NYC as that would be so appropriate) but what had been for me an collection of go-to singles coalesced into a complete album of great work.

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  2. Taffy says:

    Jeez, it just gets better and better. Union City Blue is indeed a flipping masterpiece. I’ll forever believe that Shayla caught the mothership back to wherever she was destined to spend eternity. Eat To The Beat never fails to make me giggle, it’s the silliest punk song about food and wanking. Yeah, I’m gonna drool over every track (except maybe Victor).

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    • Echorich says:

      I don’t know, Taffy, Victor is one of the greatest freak out songs ever for me. Cinematic histrionics that are at once about a woman throwing out her lover for the last time and berating him for leaving her. The mystery in the song is the coda where “Victor” seems to be letting his love know soon he will be free and with her again. What is he, a spy, a drug dealer, a hustler, a prisoner? It’s always kept me wondering. Played at full volume coming from my convertible at a stop sign in suburban Tampa, it always turns a head or two! And man, does Debbie sound like she was having fun!

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – Brother, you said a mouthful! Poor Taffy doesn’t know gold when it’s sitting in his safe! “Victor” is the final bravura turn on this album for my ears, though why Infante used a “c” instead of a “k” for the name escapes me.

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        • Taffy says:

          I meant poor Victor no ill-will…I was simply trying to think of my least-loved song on the album, and out it popped. Coulda been Sound-A-Sleep. Believe you me, I love every note on this album, sorry it sounded like I was dissing any of these beauties.

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  3. Echorich says:

    Union City Blues is the beautiful culmination of all those 60s Girl Group songs that so influenced Blondie. But this is Girl Group Post Modern. Stein and Chapman with the help of just an amazing song from Harrison and Harry revived and revised the Girl Group Wall of Sound into something that sounded new and fresh and not ashamed of widescreen emotions. A MASTERPIECE no doubt, Monk.
    Shayla is my favorite Blondie song of all time. It’s a road song – about escape and searching for something that’s missing. Harry sings with a rawness and vulnerability of someone still not ready to be embraced by anything or anyone other than the emotions she’s feeling. It’s sung as a narration, but you get the feeling the narrator is the protagonist. Shayla is such a rich piece of music, crisp and clean drums, liquid guitar and a bass sound that’s like the sound of inner thunder, yearning to escape.
    Eat To The Beat is PUNK! It’s all attitude and joyous abandon. Punk in New York City was always grounded in rebellion, not political statements, social commentary. It was about dancing this mess called life around (thanks B52’s for the perfect line).
    Accidents Never Happen is another of those tracks that’s from start to finish all about Clem Burke. You can break out into a sweat just focusing on the drums on this track. He takes his craft everywhere and back again. Those gatling gun fills are simply brilliant.

    I could wait until the end of this look back at Eat To The Beat to bring this up, but I want to plant the seed. As much as Chris Stein and Mike Chapman deserve every bit of the credit they get for producing this masterpiece, my hats go off to the gifts bestowed on the production by engineers David Tickle and Pete Coleman who would go on to become accomplished producers in their own right. Both worked with Chapman on many productions but made their own mark as well. I especially listen to Coleman’s production with The Icicle Works in the 80s and hear echoes of the sound created On Eat To The Beat and Parallel Lines.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You jumped the gun on me regarding David Tickle. I immediately noticed his name and within months he had crafted the Split Enz album that brought them to our attention. Then came the masterpiece, “Waiata” in the following year. For these three records alone, Tickle was a master to me. I used to have a Blondie interview from the radio on tape, done at the time of this album where Chris Stein hilariously impersonated Mike Chapman as a nervy Jersey Boy saying things like “Tickle… What (do) I pay you for?!”

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