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