OH, OH, WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?

One of my really young work colleagues, understandably, only knows of Blondie as being a relic of the past. The conversation had initially been sparked by a number of us talking about whether or not to have an office night out at a Blondie tribute act at a nearby location (in the end we decided against the idea), but the young ‘un was bemused that such a little-known band (in her eyes) was the subject of a tribute act not only performing but generating such interest among so many of us.

A few videos were fired up on You Tube to illustrate just how many hits there had been when Blondie were at their peak but they all meant next to nothing to a 19 year-old. The 50-somethings in the team on the other hand got very nostalgic.

I looked up the discography on wiki and found that between January 1979 and October 1980, Blondie released six singles in the UK, four of which went to #1 (Heart of Glass, Sunday Girl, Call Me and Atomic) while another was a #2 hit (Dreaming).

The odd one out was the second single lifted from the Eat to The Beat album:-

mp3 : Blondie – Union City Blue

This comparative flop stalled at #13 in November 1979. The fact that subsequent 45s hit the top spot would indicate that this was merely a small blip in an otherwise stellar performance chart wise as the decades of the 70s and 80s intertwined.

It’s no real surprise that Union City Blue didn’t quite gel with the record buying public as much as the others. It was more rock than pop and the mid-paced tempo was something that, up until now, had really only been found on album tracks or b-sides. My abiding memory of the song back in the day really centres round the video, and in particular the opening shot where an aerial shot (I’m guessing from a helicopter) zooms along a largely derelict and decaying waterfront before zooming in on the band performing on a dry dock. Debbie Harry looks more gorgeous and alluring than ever, wearing an orange jumpsuit with much of her face hidden behind aviator shades. Oh and she has a guitar around her neck which somehow only adds to the appeal.

Later shots from behind the band reveal that the dry dock is on the New Jersey shoreline as not far in the distance is the very distinctive New York skyline, a city at that time, as I’ve said before, was the one place more than any other that the 16-year old me wanted to visit.

Strange thing is, I’d forgotten how awful the second half of the video is after it switches it to the nightime footage…

Back in 1979, I wasn’t totally convinced of the merits of Union City Blue as I’d been so smitten by either the fast-paced new wave material or the more danceable stuff. In later years, as my tastes widened and matured I now find myself liking it much more than many other tracks from the post-Parallel Lines period. I’d even be willing to nowadays to classify it in the danceable category but I maybe alone with that.

It’s worth noting that the tune was penned by Nigel Harrison with Debbie adding the lyric in a rare(ish) departure from her working alongside Chris Stein. The b-side was written entirely by yet another member of the band, Jimmy Destri and was also the closing track on Eat to The Beat:-

mp3 : Blondie – Living In The Real World

JC

15 thoughts on “OH, OH, WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?

  1. Billy Sloan played a song on the radio the other night from their forthcoming album which actually was pretty good

  2. I loved this at the time and still do, I think that I have replaced the single about four times but have kept the original battered copy in the tattered picture bag bought from Menzies in Airdrie. I thought that this was as huge as the others from 79-80. I swither between this and Dreaming as to what is my favourite Blondie song closely followed by Heart of Glass.

  3. My most viewed post by a long way is a pretty short and uninspiring one about Debbie and Blondie – lot of love out there for her still (especially in France!)

  4. I remember my first exposure to this tune was when I bought Blondie’s Greatest Hits on vinyl. I knew virtually all the other hits but didn’t recall this one at all. (This would be late 80s, I guess.) It doesn’t have the obvious pop chops of the bigger hits, but it’s a very welcome addition to their discography and I’m glad they released it as a single rather than leaving it as an album track.

  5. In the spirit of the occasional ‘Everyone’s Your Friend in NYC’ series I’ll explain that this song is about a romance between a city girl and a working man in New Jersey. She has a “skyline passion” for Manhattan but travels through the “Tunnel to the other side” under the Hudson River to meet him. (The Union City transit stop line is coded in orange.) So, a very simple song, but it alludes to the ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ complex Echorich sometimes writes about; people living outside of the bright lights and wanting in, feeling somehow slighted by the haughty inhabitants of Gotham.

  6. When I first heard it, the very mention of ‘union’ made me think it was Blondie doing a Billy Bragg song…

  7. It’s hard to imagine my youth without Blondie. Parallel Lines and Eat To The Beat meant a great deal to me then as the still do today. But Eat To The Beat makes my (fairly massive) all time greatest (I’m trying to use “Favorite” less these days) album list. Eat To The Beat manages to really capture the sounds and chaos of my teenage years grow up in and around NYC.
    Union City Blue is the truly filmic song on the album. It has a Wall Of Sound that captures the memories of Spector-esque girl groups with great affect and Debbie manages to take those lovelorn lyrics to a height that would have to impress Ronnie Spector or Darlene Love.
    JC – if you ever feel like you want to “educate” those unversed younger coworkers, I’d point them to Eat To Beat as the entry point to Blondie.

  8. Good lord, I’ve been known to listen to just the intro to this on a loop for long minutes! Has there ever been a more cinematic, widescreen buildup for a pop song ever? The drum fills alone make me weep. It’s by far my favorite Blondie song from my favorite Blondie album! It’s such an emotional number, and of course Debbie’s vocal was icing on the cake. Absolutely heart-wrenching.

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