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]