Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 3]

blondie---eattothebeatposter<…continued from previous post>

While “Union City Blue” alluded to Shadow Morton’s roots in the band’s world view, that song was certainly more of its time than a straight pastiche. Not so much for the fully retro “Slow Motion” with its bouncy James Jamerson bass lines and tambourine hits. Liza Minnelli’s half-sister, Lorna Luft, doubled here with Debbie on the strictly period backing vocals that simply sparkled. If it was good enough for Blue Angel [the following year], surely the NYC band that started it all can work that girl group action like the pros they were?

blondie - atomicUS7AThe last single in the program was the rock-disco hybrid “Atomic,” which topped the UK charts but only managed to muster a scant scrape into the US Top 40 at a lowly #39! The pressure packed Clem Burke drumming was served here by some of the most prominent bass on the album and incongruous on the surface of it, twangy guitar chords. Since keyboardist Destri wrote the music here, he finally got to cut loose with the synths on this track the most on this album. His Moroderesque envelope on the synth hook [possibly pulse gating and not a sequencer] was a clear harbinger of the band’s next move, “Call Me” written and produced with the disco master. The breakdown in the middle eight gave bassist Harrison a chance to steal the spotlight for a couple of bars. It was a dynamic rock disco hybrid, held back only by the [I’m guessing] deliberately banal and sketchy lyrics that were there only to have a Debbie presence on the instrumentally-driven song.

The album took a breather on the gentle ballad “Sound-A-Sleep” which certainly functioned as a lullaby on this normally energetic to a fault album. All the better t=for the ultimate in contrasts when the bombastic and furious “Victor” followed. The song was like nothing else in the Blondie canon. The Frank Infante written number was structured like a hysterical dialogue between Anastasia and her paramour, Victor, who had left her for practical reasons, delivered in a letter to her as the song’s third verse, pledging to return when the conditions [war? revolution?] permitted.

The track simply explodes out of the already kinetic framework of the album. This time Burke has some real competition for the spotlight with Infante’s curiously Fripp-like tightly coiled guitar riffs circling throughout the song. While the breakneck drums and guitars battle it out, the vocalists aren’t playing shrinking violet. Debbie Harry is bleeding into the red for her entire performance here! She must have been wrecked after committing this one to tape but even the stentorian Soviet Men’s Chorus vocals that Infante, Destri and producer Mike Chapman [The Jah Trio] provide here are a thing of wonder even in themselves.

Finally the album ended with another frantic burst of energy in “I’m Not Living In The Real World.” Ms. Harry once again dipped into her bag of tricks for some more unfettered energy on the screaming chorus to the thrashing punk number keyboardist Destri penned with Harry. The album had a much stronger rock vibe than any other albums in their classic canon, where pop usually won out over rock. Mike Chapman produced for the second time, but crucially, he had David Tickle as an engineer in the sessions. I quickly noticed the name since the album sounded so impossibly lush yet crisp; a sonic feast where usually one of those dishes is missing. Within a half a year, we would notice David Tickle again when he produced the “True Colours” album by Split Enz; another feast of glimmering pop sonics that managed to break that band in North America.

blondie - eattothebeatJPNLDASo, sure, this was a peak album by one of the most significant US New Wave bands, but it managed to be groundbreaking in one other fashion, beyond its energetic songs, fantastic singing and the incredible drumming of Clem Burke. “Eat To The Beat” was also the first full video album ever released to home video. I recall that Warner Home Video released four video tapes to the tiny [at the time] home market and these were Gary Numan’s “Touring Principle” live concert, Dire Straits “Making Movies,” a Fleetwood Mac live video and “Eat To The Beat.” This had to have been the first time that music videos had been made for every song on an album. I wanted it on βeta in the 80s, but by the decade’s end, I had gotten the Japanese laserdisc of the title as seen at left.

Capitol Records | US | CD + DVD | 2007 | 09463-90638-2-6

Capitol Records | US | CD + DVD | 2007 | 09463-90638-2-6

While the 1987 Laserdisc of the title is still in mono, like the original videotape, EMI has come to the rescue of fans with the 2007 reissue of the album, which sported the video album on DVD as a buyer’s premium. I can’t tell you if it’s in 1.0, 2.0, or 5.1 or not, though as I do not have a copy.

After this album dominated by late 1979 like few others, it seemed like there was no end in sight for the conquering heroes of New Wave. Little did I know that the band would never hit the heights that this album seemed to effortlessly achieve. Artistically, any way. None of the three singles released in America proved to be successful followups to “Heart Of  Glass” or even “One Way Or Another.” The album joined the Platinum Club within nine months – entirely appropriate to a classic album that somehow managed to give the single charts a miss. Though Mike Chapman would produce their next two albums, it could have almost been another band entirely by that time. The group’s POV would get stretched to the breaking point on the insanely eclectic “Autoamerican” the next year, but the group would certainly not suffer commercially for it! If this album had: power pop, widescreen ballads, funk rock, disco, New Wave, reggae, girl group pastiche, and punk rock, then the next one would cast an even wider net.

– 30 –

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11 Responses to Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 3]

  1. Echorich says:

    Sound-A-Sleep is the greatest lullaby to insomnia ever written, maybe the only one. Atomic was once called the song a million men pleasured themselves to by one of the British Music Papers. It is a very sexy, exciting slice of New Wave Disco. And it just build and builds, so I can see where that reviewer’s description comes from. Atomic also allowed Heart Of Glass from Parallel Lines to take on a bigger import because it showed that New Wave Disco wasn’t just a one off, a novelty. There isn’t much more I can say about Victor that you or I haven’t said already Monk. It is no holds barred. Finally, Living In The Real World is a perfect album end-er. It’s defiant and strong, showing Blondie had no plan of going anywhere.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Yeah, “Atomic” had exceptionally poor lyrics from the usually engaging Ms. Harry, but maybe the doggerel she offered up was exactly correct for this juggernaut of a track. She still managed to make “your hair is beautiful” sound like the most important thing this side of the world in the song’s climax. Those stacked harmonies of Debbie were colossal.

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      • Taffy says:

        I’ve always thought that the lyrics for Atomic were meant to be skeletal. The world may be ending, but tonight Debbie’s gonna seduce you with the the ultimate come-on. How are you gonna make it magnificent? Tell the object of your desires that their hair is beautiful. Works for me.

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  2. SimonH says:

    I’m shocked by the chart positions in the US… In the UK, Blondie, along with The Police, ruled the charts during 79 and 80.

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  3. JT says:

    Hey Monk, did I ever tell you that when I was assisting Mike Chapman on the third Material Issue record, he brought the master tapes for Atomic to the studio with him? After he left for the night, I put the tapes up on the ol’ Studer and did my own Blondie mixes. That bass solo in Atomic was totally spontaneous. Chapman told me that during one particular take, he pointed at the bass player, said “Solo! Now!”, and that happened to end up being the take of the song that they used for the master. After the bass solo, the band waffles for a few bars, then Clem brings things back before the rest of the lads (and Debbie) come back in to finish it off. The song is over seven minutes long on the master reel. All classic-era released versions are edited versions of the original long take; even the longer released version with the bass solo in it is a shorter version of that long take. Next time you visit me up north, remind me to play you my copy of the full version (which of course I cannot post or play publicly for legal reasons).

    Also I think that Moroder-ish thing is a Hammond organ’s “reiterate” switch in action. Maybe.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – I recall you crowing about your Blondie mix at the time, though I’ve not had the pleasure of hearing this or the full length take. I have the UK 12″ of “Atomic” and I’m surprised the Full Monty wasn’t used there but instead they put the 7″ edit [!] on the 12″ A-side. I just bought the 2001 DLX RM of “Parallel Lines” and it has cheeky Mike Chapman liner notes which mostly talk about the politics/psychology needed to successfully get the album down on tape. Chapman seems like a “character.” Pretty colorful. What was the context of him bringing the “Atomic” master in while working on the Material Issue album anyway? As an example of what he wanted to achieve? Boasting? Kicks?! “Hey kid, check this out!” Enquiring minds want to know! Also, I’ve read that ETTB was largely recorded live in the studio and that probably contributes to its vitality. Your anecdote about “solo…now” seems to clinch that notion. Harrison was certainly nimble improvising that solo on demand. I love how there a few bars afterward before Burke locks it back up with another of his famous fills. That snip of Debbie just before was an inspired touch.

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      • Echorich says:

        It’s funny what make Atomic more that just a great New Wave Disco song, but a Masterpiece, for these ears, is exactly that Bass Solo and the “Waffled” in final coda. When Clem heralds Destri, then the rest of the band and finally Debbie back in, the song just takes wings and soars! The fade out at the end is as if the band is flying away into the night skies at full wing not missing a beat….By the way, did you know that Gia, the doomed 70’s Supermodel appears in the David Mallett video of Atomic. It’s by no means a major role and you could miss her if you blink, but it’s always seemed an interesting factoid.

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      • JT says:

        It’s pretty common for people to bring past projects into a new studio just to hear how the room responds to familiar material. Helps to get a grip on the space before starting a new project.

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