In 1979 popular music was in transition. The aftermath of the Sex
Pistols and the New York punk scene could be felt everywhere. Disco
was huge. There were plenty of long-haired rock bands, but their
cultural currency was sagging badly; critics liked Springsteen and
Elvis Costello a lot, but were otherwise cranky, and were convinced
that prefabrication lurked around every corner. As I remember it,
they were fairly savage toward Blondie.
This month Capitol Records is reissuing the entire Blondie catalog,
six albums in all. Anybody who doesn't know that Blondie's
self-titled debut is an utter masterpiece of new wave should stop
reading right now and just go buy the damned thing, since every song
on it is great. Parallel Lines, their third album and the one
that broke them worldwide (it's got "Heart of Glass" on it; we should
all hope to age so gracefully), is also terrific, fairly crackling
But the big surprise here, to me at least, is Eat to the Beat,
the follow-up to Parallel Lines, which yielded only one U.S.
top-40 single, the lushly magnificent "Dreaming." Eat to the
Beat was pretty well erased from the public memory by the mammoth
success of Autoamerican, the album that followed it a year
later, which contained both "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High," but
it's better than its signpost-between-two-huge-albums status suggests.
Besides "Dreaming," there's "Die Young, Stay Pretty," which handily
pickpocketed Jimmy Cliff a year before "The Tide Is High" would go
directly to the source by covering a legitimate reggae number, and
there's "The Hardest Part," practically a case study in how to make a
radio-friendly new wave song its popping synths still sound
futuristic 20 years later, and its guitars are remarkably clever.
During one eight-bar solo, they sound like Robert Fripp guesting at
gunpoint on an Eagles track where the whole band had been fed
amphetamines and told to act cool or it's curtains for the longhair.
Atop it all there's Debbie Harry, a wonderful singer (especially on
the ballads "Sound-A-Sleep" being a particularly nice
surprise) whose iconic presence has always overshadowed her
There aren't too many things that can make 1979 seem like a nice
place to visit. Eat to the Beat does that while chewing gum
and doing a handstand at the same time. Cool.