Wednesday, 21 January 2009

1980 Blondie: The Tide Is High

Blondie were never averse to releasing cover versions as singles ('Denis', 'Hanging On The Telephone') and their third number one of the year was a straight ahead version of this John Holt rocksteady tune originally recorded in 1967 by The Paragons. There are essentially two problems with this. 

Firstly, the original song was written from a male point of view; "Every man wants you to be his girl, but I'll wait, my dear, 'till it's my turn" - Blondie necessarily swap the gender, but would the Debbie Harry we all knew and loved show such vulnerability by passively waiting in line for the man of her dreams? Or would she, red in temper and nailpolish, pounce and dispatch the competition by any means necessary? And what competition could she possible have? From day one, Harry came across as feisty and independent with a 'look but don't touch' aura that was defiantly not girl next door so to see her neutered like this is a bit of a disappointment.

Secondly, and as noted above, 'The Tide Is High' was originally a John Holt rocksteady track, and there is something rather incongruous about five white New York blokes in skinny ties playing rocksteady behind a blonde white woman singing it. Admittedly, the strings and horns add a certain je ne sais quoi to the mix, but they are not enough to hide the fact that this version simply doesn't groove; in the hands of The Paragons, the slow backbeat and holes in the bassline were there to be filled with the rhythmic body motion on the dancefloor which itself became part of the music. Here, the flow is jerky, showing it's 'new wave' origins and the overall impression is of something created and dubbed note by note in a studio, something that was never once played through as a single piece of music by a band together in the same room.
Blondie would again venture into black culture with their next (and far more interesting) single 'Rapture', but from three in a year it would be nigh on twenty more until their next number one. In 1980 'The Tide Is High' was the sound of a friendly beach party though the briefest of glimpses below the surface showed that rather than walking confidently on the water, the band were furiously treading it.

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