Song of the Day – Blondie: “Fan Mail”

Blondie are, to my mind, one of the more underrated of the internationally successful groups of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Certainly, everyone knows “Heart of Glass” or “Call Me” or “Atomic” or “The Tide is High,” but I have often felt that the full extent of their experimentation, innovation, and originality has never been truly appreciated on a wider scale. A listen to any of their earlier records yields often surprising rewards. A favourite of mine is “Fan Mail,” the opener of 1977’s Plastic Letters, a spiky pop song with strange synth flourishes, stop-start rhythms, and of course Clem Burke’s crazy drumming.

For your pleasure, here’s a live version recorded for German TV


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Unsung Classics Pt. III: Blondie’s “Autoamerican”

What a strange little album this is.

After the New Wave-meets-girl group pop of 1978’s Parallel Lines sent Blondie into the stratosphere (following it with the harder-edged Eat to the Beat the following year), they were, for a time, among the world’s most successful bands along with ABBA and Fleetwood Mac.

With 1980’s Autoamerican, the New York six-piece threw the rulebook out of the window and crafted a loose concept album that is stylistically by far their most wildly diverse and unusual. It opens with a weird Berlin/Eno-era Bowie-esque instrumental, “Europa,” all clanging guitars and orchestral strings, before taking a tour through cod-Tin Pan Alley vocal jazz (“Here’s Looking At You”), reggae pop (the cover of The Paragons’ ska hit “The Tide is High”), more familiar New Wave pop (“Angels on the Balcony”), country (“Go Through It”), funk (“Do the Dark”), and blues pastiche (“Faces”). And of course, let’s not forget the legendary R&B/funk/pop/hip-hop/rap crossover anthem that was, and still is, the sublime “Rapture.”

You’d think such a diverse record could never hope to stand on its own two feet, but Autoamerican is actually pretty coherent and makes for an enjoyable, if odd, listen. Along with 1982’s maligned The Hunter, it’s definitely one of Blondie’s more under-appreciated records. Take Tom Caron’s one-star review in Rolling Stone from February 1981: “Blondie’s Autoamerican is a terrible album, but it’s bad in such an arcane, high-toned way that listening to it is perversely fascinating” was his opening gambit. I get where he’s coming from, but I would never say it was a terrible album by any means. Or else why would I put it as one of my Unsung Classics?

It’s definitely Blondie’s weirdest, and most indulgent, but also one of their most interesting.

Here’s the aforementioned “Rapture” for your delectation.

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