Once Captain & Tennille lost their record contract and took a break from recording I had to find the next obsession. It came in the form of the smash “Heart of Glass” by Blondie from their third album Parallel Lines. Whoo, boy, did that get played to death. Their next, Eat to the Beat, is still my favorite. I even forced my parents to watch the video album that was aired on television.
So you can imagine my excitement the Christmas of 1980 knowing that the 12″ x 12″ square under the tree just HAD to be Autoamerican. “The Tide is High” was being played continually on radio when I got my first listen to their new collection. Imagine growing up in the South to a Mormon family when you flip to Side 2, get into the 2nd track and suddenly hear your favorite vocalist singing an octave higher than normal drawing out syllables nearly obliterating all enunciation. Now imagine growing up so white that you’ve basically only heard adult contemporary and any urban music was the white-washed hits of R&B artists. Suddenly, the vocalist you’ve come to admire starts speak-singing the rest of the 6-1/2-minute pop opus.
Hey, it was my favorite band, so I just went with it thinking that they were pioneers. They were doing things no one else could possibly think of doing. Yes, Blondie was my first exposure to rap. They were a New York band. Of course, they were going to pick up on the fresh styles coming out one of the urban centers of the good ole US of A including the tongue-tripping word play of this new style.
I had to learn every word.
It seemed like the kind of song that would be a great single and if I could just learn the words before it was a huge hit, maybe I would be a little more accepted at school.
There was no lyric sheet with this one, so I had to do the slow down/speed up trick of learning what the hell she was singing. (By the way, it was Debbie Harry who taught me the word ‘sacroiliac’.) And the rap part? I had to know it by heart just in case it ended up on radio. It was exciting. Fresh. It wasn’t until a few years later I’d finally hear “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang to understand Blondie’s inspiration.
My gambit paid off. It was released as a single a few weeks later and hit #1 just like “…Tide…” but my plans of being accepted at school did not come to fruition at that time. That would be the 11th grade. However, I do remember a kid on the bus telling everyone to watch me because I knew all the words…
…to “The Tide is High.” Sigh. Oh, well.
Autoamerican is probably my third or fourth favorite of theirs. It lacks the constancy of Parallel Lines, the rough grit of Eat to the Beat and even the beginning hunger of their first two. It was a sign of the band falling apart which was even more apparent by their last album of the 80’s, The Hunter. Still, love me some Blondie and can’t want for their new album next month, Panic of Girls.