True story: At the tail end of the ’80s, a musician pal of mine shared not only management but a hotel with Debbie Harry. Different rooms, just to be clear, although I suspect that’s what you were thinking anyway. Weren’t she and Chris Stein an item at that time? I digress…
“D’you want to meet her?” asked the manager.
“Damn right I do,” said the musician.
Calls were made, diaries were checked, his people talked to her people and, in the lobby of one of New York’s more salubrious hotels, my pal was introduced to Debbie Harry, all chiseled cheekbones and Cupid’s bow red lips, grown-out bottle blonde bob and a dazzling mile-wide smile; classic Harry, in other words.
“Very pleased to meet you!” he said aloud.
“(I used to masturbate to you!)”, he thought internally, “(…and with this very hand!)”, his palm finally coming into contact with the object of his decade-long lust.
“He-eeeyyy! Great t’meet yoooouuu toooooo!” drawled Debbie with effortless ennui, shaking his hand loosely, the vowels trailing off like verbal ellipses into the night, quickly followed by her gaze as she scanned the room for someone, something more interesting. She’d carried out this sort of shit for longer than she cared to remember. Over and done with in less time than it takes to mouth “Atomic!“, with a flick of the bob and turn of the designer heel, she was gone.
“I licked my hand after, but!” he offered as a way of winding his story up. “I could still taste her an hour later.” One day he’ll maybe ask me to ghost write his life story. There are plenty stories, he assures me, just like this one.
Union City Blue is Blondie on steroids, in widescreen.
Blondie – Union City Blue
The airy spaces between those twanging electrified notes that play its signature riff are just as crucial to the feel of the record as the notes themselves; tension and release in an intro that’s become immediately recognisable – “I’ll name that tune in one!” – as Clem Burke’s Moonisms on the drum kit propel the whole thing forward.
The story goes that when Blondie recorded Heart Of Glass, producer Mike Chapman forced Burke to play to a click track as a way of ensuring he kept to its strict and rigid disco beat. Burke, being a Brit Beat-obsessed mod, hated the controlled regimentation of it. But on Union City Blue, he’s allowed to cut loose, and as a result, the whole tune from the intro forward is carried along on a wave of flailing arms and splashing cymbals, Chelsea-booted kick and rifle-sharp rattling snare. He loves his drums, but he hates his drums, knocking seven shades of shit from the skins like there’s no tomorrow; the reason it’s his favourite Blondie song to play live. Young Clem is almost the star of the show…until Debbie makes herself known.
‘Oh oh, oh oh, what are we gonna do?‘
The juxtaposition between the melancholic melodrama in her voice and the controlled riot of the band behind her is what makes it. And that’s before we get to the key change.
‘Tunnel to the other side, it becomes daylight, I say he’s mine.’
Debbie’s voice is loud and central, the incontestable star of the show. You could fall in love with her just for her opening couplets on this song alone. Such is their power and engrained Proustian effect, I am immediately transported back by her breathy romantic yearning to a game of Subbuteo in my bedroom with Graham Crichton, my newly-bought copy of The Best of Blondie rotating continually (as he flicked to kick and I didn’t know).
It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are a load of nonsensical rubbish, it’s the sound of it that matters…the joy and freedom and soar as it reaches for the stratosphere and shoots far beyond. There are reign-ins (‘Power! Passion!‘), rock outs (‘Arrive! Climb up four flights...”) and drop outs; that little rev of bass at the 2 minutes and 3 seconds mark… it never fails to hit the spot.
Beyond their punk roots, beyond the jerky new waveisms of Parallel Lines, far beyond any of their peers at the time, Union City Blue is possibly Blondie’s finest moment. The video, a windswept Debbie in mirrored helicopter shades and orange jumpsuit, the band behind playing it straight and giving the lion’s share of the lens to the singer, only serves to enhance it.