Heart of Glass

blondie“Everyone was like, ‘Blondie’s gone disco!’” drummer Clem Burke recalled of the group’s first number one hit.

It was spring 1979, when the rallying cry among rockers everywhere was “Disco Sucks!” New wave and punk bands joined the growing united front against what they heard as mechanized, soulless music, spitting out now-forgotten rants like “Kill The Bee Gees” and “Disco Zombies.” In one infamous incident, thousands of hard-line rock and punk fans burned piles of dance records at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in a “Disco Demolition Night.”

So for Blondie, whose previous hits had been mod-flavored rockers like “Hanging On The Telephone,” to suddenly be in league with the Brothers Gibb, if only in spirit, was seen as high treason.

But then, the New York quintet was never fully embraced by the doctrinaire crowd at CBGB’s, ground zero for America’s punk movement. Too poppy and too pretty by far, they carved out their own niche, mashing Carnaby Street, Phil Spector, burlesque and art school cool into a sexy package.

“Heart Of Glass,” originally entitled “Once I Had A Love (The Disco Song),” had been lurking in the band’s set for years. “We’d had it kicking around for a while,” said Debbie Harry, “and used to play it in bars as far back as ’74 or ‘75.”

And the band’s affection for disco music was no big secret. Burke said, “We all used to hang out at Club 82 in New York, which was essentially a gay disco. And in the early days, we used to cover songs like ‘Lady Marmalade’ and ‘I Feel Love.’”

Bent on establishing a rougher-edged identity on their first two albums, Blondie kept “The Disco Song” in reserve for a future session. In early 1978, as they entered the Record Plant in New York for album number three, the time was right.

“Everyone has a different theory about ‘Heart Of Glass,’” Burke said. “If you talk to our producer, Mike Chapman, he’ll say he revamped the song. I know two of the big influences behind revamping the song were Kraftwerk and for me, ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ To this day, that is one of my favorite songs, as unpunk as that sounds. I think it’s a great record. I was trying to get that groove that J.R. Robinson did for the Bee Gees.”

Burke shared the drumming duties with a newfangled machine called the Roland Compu-Rhythm CR-78. “It was one of the early drum machines, and it took forever to program it,” Harry said. “We had to practically record each beat by hand.”

Still, a little punk attitude seeped through to subvert the straight dance rhythm. “The instrumental bridge skips a beat,” said Burke. “That’s the anti-disco part. To screw people up when they’re on the dance floor.” In the fadeout, Burke also pounded out some decidedly un-disco fills that paid tribute to his idol, Keith Moon.

Though the band thought “Heart Of Glass” was catchy (“We only did it as a novelty to put more diversity into the album,” Chris Stein said), Mike Chapman convinced them to place it deep in the running order of their album, Parallel Lines. “We buried the song in the middle of side two,” Chapman said. “I didn’t want their fans to hear it too early on the record and think, ‘Oh, Jesus, they’ve become a disco band.’”

Chrysalis Records hated “Heart Of Glass,” along with all of Parallel Lines, delivering the old death blow line: “We don’t hear a single.” There turned out to be three Top 40 hits, including “One Way Or Another” and “Dreaming.”

Though MTV was still two years away, the video for “Heart Of Glass,” with its jump-cut editing and enraptured close-ups of Harry’s kewpie-doll face (oh, those lips), helped propel the song up the charts.

When it went number one in March 1979, Andy Warhol threw a party for the band at the posh disco club Studio 54. There was a Blondie backlash in the music press, and from some of their former CBGB compadres, begrudging them their success. Even Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison sheepishly called the song “a compromise with commerciality.”

But Burke saw it differently. “Disco had room for everybody. It was an integrated scene, whereas the punk scene had tunnel vision.”

“‘Heart of Glass’ wasn’t really a disco song anyway,” Harry said. “It had disco elements, and I think that was repulsive to a lot of people. But we always wanted to experiment and try different things.”

The band went their separate ways in 1982. Harry had an uneven solo career. Stein fought off a long illness that sidelined him for much of the decade. Burke played with Iggy Pop, Eurythmics and the Romantics. Blondie reunited in 1998, and have released two albums since then.

As for “Heart Of Glass,” Burke said, “We’ve stripped it down, and taken the synths out. On our last tour of England, we were doing a version that kind of sounded like the Darkness, believe it or not. But it’s the one song that is always in our set list, no matter what.”

Maybe disco didn’t suck after all.

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My Parents Were Awesome

tumblr_kuyfum8qds1qa2fy3o1_500How did your folks look before they were parents? Check out this fun photo blog -

My Parents Were Awesome

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White Christmas

berlinMy latest MOJO blog is all about “White Christmas” -

White Christmas

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SCTV Is On The Air . . . Again!

sctv-734261Back in the early 80s, before my parents had a VCR, I used to tape TV shows using a Norelco portable cassette recorder. Audio only. I still remember one particular 90-minute cassette labeled “SCTV Favorites” that I listened to as much as, or maybe more than, any of my favorite records by The Cars or Squeeze or Elvis Costello. I memorized sketches word for word. To this day, I can still quote Count Floyd talking about Four For Texas (“Peter Lawford, just standing there. Boy, I’d run from that guy”) or Skip Bittman doing his George C. Scott impersonation on the Sammy Maudlin Show (“Rommel, you magnificent bastard, Rommel, you magnif- , Rom-. . I had it this morning”) or Laurence Orbach on Half Wits (“I have certain goals in life, one of which is to become a circuit court judge”) and on and on.

I can’t remember the first time I saw SCTV. It seems to have always been a part of my life, a trusted friend. Back then, it was the perpetual underdog to SNL. But to comedy aficionados, much funnier and much hipper. Watching the DVDs now, twenty-five years later, it still makes me laugh out loud.

So you can imagine how I excited I was last weekend, when the lights went down on the Second City mainstage theater, the SCTV theme music kicked in, and out rolled station manager Guy Caballero in his wheelchair. There began a two-and-a-half hour blast from the past, the sketch comedy equivalent of the Beatles getting back together – an SCTV Reunion.

The show was a loose, fast-paced mix of sketches and shared memories, slapstick and favorite characters. Who was there? Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’ Hara, Harold Ramis, Martin Short and Dave Thomas. And in Melonville terms, that meant Edith Prickley, Irving Cohen, Bobby Bittman, Lola Heatherton, Sammy Maudlin, Bill Needle, Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, Dusty Towne, Sid Dithers, Ed Grimley, Pirini Scleroso, Jackie Rogers, Jr., Count Floyd and Tex & Edna Boil.

What the show lacked in polish (the cast reportedly had only four hours of rehearsal), it made up for in pure energy and a camaraderie that was still very apparent. You could really see it in the Sammy Maudlin sketch, with Levy and O’Hara, as Bittman and Heatherton, hamming their way through a funny medley of Canadian pop songs (“Sunglasses At Night” into “If You Could Read My Mind” into “You Oughta Know”). And moments later, Short and Martin, as Jackie Rogers, Jr. and his dancing partner, brought the house down with a routine that got them kicked off Dancing With The Stars. They slithered around the floor, dry humped, then ended up in a crazy pirouette, Short’s neck squeezed between Martin’s thighs as she beat bongo time on his behind. You have to be family to give yourselves so completely over to such a physical bit.

Other highlights: Irving Cohen spitting out one liners like “I’m so old, the only time I don’t have to pee is when I’m peeing;” Dusty Towne working the crowd with her ribald asides, “Did you know a Dick Withers at 83 . . .?” Pirini Scleroso mangling an English lesson – “Can you direct me to the nearest hotel?” Cheryl Kinsey’s 10 Ways to fake an orgasm, and Ed Grimley applying for a corporate job.

There were several touching moments dedicated to John Candy, especially a story that Levy told about an appearance on the mainstage, thirty years ago. During a solo sketch, a crazy woman from the audience confronted Levy. He asked what she wanted. “Shoes,” she said, climbing on stage. After Levy replied, “Well, we’re a theater. We don’t sell shoes,” Candy walked out from the wings and asked the woman her shoe size. Assuring her that there were plenty of shoes backstage, he gently guided her offstage.

When Levy later reprised that early sketch, called Ricardo and His Performing Amoeba, it was a virtuoso display of physical comedy. Humming a circus-y tune (it’s one you hear in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and I can ‘t think of the name of it), Levy mimed his way through a vaudeville-style routine with his invisible, microscopic accomplice. It was a reminder how each of these actors, beyond all the memorable characters they created, are amazingly diverse and accomplished performers.

An appreciate nod must also go out to Bev Schectman, SCTV’s original hair and make-up genius, who was on hand to help bring all the characters back to life.

I heard several audience members wondering if Rick Moranis might make a surprise appearance. He didn’t. Apparently, Moranis is serious about his retirement from show business. Which is kind of sad. It would’ve been great to have had Gerry Todd, Tom Monroe and Doug McKenzie in the mix.

I feel lucky to have been at this once-in-a-lifetime show. There were only 750 tickets available, and somehow, I got two. While we were in line to get in, my girlfriend was teasing me that it was because I’m “pure at heart.” I don’t know about pure at heart, but maybe pure in my long-lasting affection for this TV program. I’ve never stopped honoring Edith Prickley’s on-air request: “Keep watching SCTV!”

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“Are you the new butler?”

ST/DRUMMERBOYOne of the weirdest, yet most wonderful holiday collaborations ever – Bing Crosby & David Bowie:

Bing meets Bowie

And the story behind it:

Behind the scenes

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