Yesterday we considered a band once compared to Moroder and Blondie. Today it’s the real thing, but with a twist. In 1980 the biggest song of the year in America was “Call Me,” the collaboration between Giorgio Moroder, then making his name as a soundtrack king in addition to his pop/disco success, and Blondie who were one of the biggest pop groups in the world. The title song to the Paul Schrader film “American Gigolo” was number one for weeks in the United States. It ranked at or near the top at over a dozen nations worldwide. It was as close to a universal hit as possible in that simpler era.
I had once bought the Chrysalis US 7″ single with the 3:30 single edit and instrumental B-side. It may still be in my 7″ collection, but I seem to recall no longer having a copy of that. Interestingly enough, there was no US 12″ single version of the inescapably popular song. The only way to get “Call Me” on US 12″ was with the extended Spanish language translation which, in a “I still can’t figure out how that happened” way was licensed from Polydor, who had issued the “American Gigolo” OST to the US specialty Salsoul label that catered to the Latin community. But in all honesty, I didn’t even know about his in 1980. I only found out about this alternate version of the single when I chanced upon the UK 12″, which was also of the extended Spanish version [“Llama Me”] when browsing the bins at Rock + Roll Heaven in 1993. I bought a trio of UK Blondie 12″ers that day; all priced at $8.00 [see sticker].
MORODER WEEK Day 5 – Blondie: Call Me [extended Spanish version] UK 12″
I think that the key to the genius of “Call Me” as a pop song was the factor that gave Moroder so many headaches when recording the song. I saw him give a talk at Moogfest 2014, and he cited locking horns with drummer Clem Burke over how often to place fills in the song. Lord of the Fills® Burke was gunning for every four bars, while Moroder was a 16 bar kind of guy. He said they compromised at every eight. Moroder should be thankful. There’s not much to the song except for its driving urgency. The energy of the song was rock disco of its era with rock dominating at about 75/25%. The disco component of the tune was simply down to the classic Moroder sequenced bassline, doubled as ever, through an analog delay.
The key to the relentless urgency of the song was in how Burke’s fills expertly echoed the rhythm of the bass sequence. The intro let us know that right up front as it pulled us into the song immediately. Then we were caught in a driving groove that wouldn’t quit. With Burke’s drums adding a circular fill every few bars to make of the song a perpetual motion machine. And crafty Clem also used hi-hat fills to keep the momentum moving ever onward, even when the drums were playing it cool. This song had the energy of ouroboros; the snake eating its own tail in an endless cycle.
This extended mix was 6:16. Longer than the 3:30 7″ mix by far, but still shorter than the 8:00 version on the “American Gigolo” OST, which I’ve never heard. The format of this “extended” version was to build a second movement at 3:45 with the guitars dropping out to leave the sequencer, bass, and drums dropping down to “cruising speed” for a minute while Debbie Harry vamped expression vocals with the title [still in English] for a meandering vocal solo that even went out of key at one point! At first I was shocked by the loose qualities of her vocal. Surely if Moroder had been on site during the re-recording of her vocal [I suspect not] he would have put her to task to tighten up her performance. But now I have come to see it as an endearing quirk to the otherwise highly professional song.
After Debbie got to solo, it was Chris Stein’s turn when at the 4:45 point he then got a minute to solo on guitar as heralded by a pick scrape. It was also a little ramshackle, so I’m guessing that Debbie and Chris masterminded the notion of recording a Spanish language version of the song on their own and did this session quickly and cheaply. That the OST album was on Polydor US while the single from it was on Chrysalis, was probably down to inter-company negotiations of some complexity. I can only imagine what the lawyers of Polydor and Chrysalis thought when Blondie ended up recording a Spanish version of the song and then licensed it to Salsoul in America, but making it did ensure that many Spanish speaking countries got a 12″ single of the hottest song of the year for their markets. Given disco’s emergence from the black/latin/gay communities, Blondie probably saw this as giving something back to the crowd they drew inspiration from.
It is interesting hearing the song in Spanish, but the backing vocals where the men and Debbie sing “Call Me” remained on the master untouched. And she still sang the bridge and phrases elsewhere in the song in French and Italian as on the English version. It’s incredible, but the fact is that every worldwide commercial 12″ single of “Call Me” is of this 6:18 Spanish language version. I guess if you wanted an even longer version in English, you bought the soundtrack. Moroder got another huge hit worldwide with this and as he co-wrote and produced the song, it undoubtedly added much to his bottom line while giving him rock credibility to widen the scope of his work going forward. Was there nothing this guy couldn’t do if he put his mind to it?
Next: …There’s Nothing Like A Dame
The 8 minute soundtrack version of “Call Me” is a bonus track on the 2001 CD edition of Autoamerican.
diskojoe – Thanks for the reminder. I’ve had that on my want list since I had the 1986 original US CD of that title since it came out. The 10:00 rapture 12″ mix also on that DLX RM was also pretty amazing. Too bad they couldn’t fit the “Live It Up” disco mix on there too. I would also not look askance at having the 7″ mix of “Call Me” somewhere other than a best of.
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I was wondering where this one would land…it’s very Friday night/Saturday morning, which is when I am getting to my comment.
So…story time. Back in 1981, in a bar near Electric Lady Studios in NYC, I can’t remember the name of the bar for the life of me, I was at a small get together which included an NYC Power Pop band called The Colors who had recently finished laying down the tracks for their first album. The lead singer Tommy Cookman was a friend of mine and Aussie Robert Vickers, soon to split from the band and head back to Oz to join The Go-Betweens, was the primary songwriter and bass player. Clem Burke had seen the band at CBGB’s in early 1980 and agreed to produce first their debut single and then their album. Clem was in great form that night and with a few bourbons in both of us, I was asking him about recording Call Me, proposing that it was the ultimate New Wave Disco song. Well Clem kinda lost it in a funny over the top way. He just went on about how much of a pain in the ass it was working with Moroder. I am sure the (German referenced) N word was used in describing how it was getting the song recorded. But he definitely took credit for the way the song sounded. I remember being smart enough to agree with him and in 40 years of hindsight, yeah Clem was pretty damn on point.
Echorich – So then Clem Burke succeeded in moving the Overton Window Of Drum Fills® in the right direction! The song might have been better with even more fills, but it’s to its benefit that it had as many as it did, thanks to Clem taking a stand.
This is my definitive go-to version of Call Me.
Yes, I know it’s a mashup but it is such a damn good earworm.
Re: the extended versions… When I was working with Mike Chapman on a Material Issue record back in the 1990s, he brought the 24-track master tapes for a few Blondie tunes into the studio with him. I had a chance to listen to them one night, and was interested to find that several of their big hits were all originally recorded by the band in long jams of eight minutes or so. Then they were tightened up during mixing and editing to the shorter album/single versions that we know. Seemed that Blondie had their own M.O. (modus operandi) that I have not often or seen before. Almost as if they wanted to give later re-mixers more to work with. Almost an inversion of Duran Duran’s early Night Versions, in which they re-recorded the songs later rather than relying on editing to extend them, but in Blondie’s case they did the “night version” *first*. I have no trouble at all imagining Moroder working this way too. So if is possible that the stuff you discuss in that long version of Call Me may well be the complete unedited studio performance. Very unusual to work this way, but I have first hand-knowledge of Blondie doing this on other songs like Atomic and Rapture.
JT – I’ve heard of this on Blondie DLX RM liner notes and from you in the past. It’s not an entirely obscure paradigm for some acts to cut long takes that get edited down to sharpen focus. The DVD-A in 5.1 of Simple Minds’ “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” is packed with full length takes [and a few alternate versions] that makes even the album played in high-res 2.0 a new listening experience. The title track was a 8-9 minute opus that was edited down for 12″/UK LP/and US LP versions.
hi mr monk,
i have gone down the black hole of versions with ‘call me’.
yes, i got the spanish version on the US promo.
but i found there was a strange argentinian release too,
with an exclusive version.
the b-side had a mini mix, with the vocal version, then adding the
instrumental after it. not that different, but if you want to be complete,
well there it is.
and yes, i will have to get the OST for the full version on vinyl.
but i had the cd singles boxset from awhile ago which has it on cd.
thats worth getting, and is not that expensive.
most of those should be on the new boxset out, but i haven’t gotten that
yet. i did mention in that thread there are still missing mixes. the
9 min heart of glass mix (italian) seems to be official too.
negative1ne – I might like the Blondie rarity box but it’s not really a priority. The 2004 singles box didn’t have enough non-LP material that I didn’t already have elsewhere on other CDs.