YOUR HAIR IS BEAUTIFUL

Giorgio Morodor meets surf instrumental in this epic hit. For once in Blondie’s career the song is almost non-existent – it’s all about Clem Burke’s hissing hi-hat, Nigel Harrison’s burbling bass breakdown, the thrill of the signature guitar lick, and Blondie’s transformation from post-modern classicists to video-led fusion futurists.

(The 500 Greatest Singles since Punk and Disco – Gary Mulholland (2002)

Atomic is an absolute blinder of a single, but it’s worth remembering that it was the third and final 45 to be lifted from Eat To The Beat, the album released in September 1979 to a general reception of ‘it’s OK, but it’s not in the class of Plastic Letters’.

Rather unusually, the third single outperformed the previous two – Dreaming had reached #2 while Union City Blue had stalled at #13.  Atomic entered the charts at #3 at the end of February 1980, before spending two weeks at the top, giving Blondie their third, in what eventually would prove to be six, #1 hits.

In an era when the fashion was to seek sales by extending the music on the 12″ from what was already available on the album, producer Mike Chapman chose to cut the best part of a minute by removing what has been described as the ‘three blind mice’ intro along with a later bass solo:-

mp3: Blondie – Atomic (album version)
mp3: Blondie – Atomic (12″ version)

This version was also the one put onto the 7″, with the b-sides being another track lifted from Eat To The Beat

mp3: Blondie – Die Young Stay Pretty

A reggae-influenced number, the positive reaction from fans to the songs was a big influence on the band deciding to cover The Tide Is High in a similar style when they next went back into the studio and to have it as the lead-off single for the next album, Autoamerican.

The bonus on the 12″ was a live track that had been recorded at the band’s gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 12 January 1980, the second-last night of what had been a triumphant 16-night tour of the UK that had begun on 26 December 1979 and included a show on New Year’s Eve at the Glasgow Apollo that was broadcast live simultaneously on the telly via BBC 2 and on the transistor via BBC Radio 1. Your humble scribe was in the audience….

I reckon the recording of the track included on Atomic was played as a one-off in London:-

mp3: Blondie – ‘Heroes’ (live)

Yup, a cover of the Bowie classic, made a bit more special for all concerned by the fact that Robert Fripp, who had contributed to the original recording, came on stage to play lead guitar.

JC

9 thoughts on “YOUR HAIR IS BEAUTIFUL

  1. Let’s the gig war stories begin …

    I can’t offer any, just envy.

    Atomic is typical throwaway pop fodder – despite the fact it refused, quite rightly, to be thrown away. It’s odd to think back to how huge Blondie was?

    I never had the opportunity to see them live but I have had the pleasure of seeing Bleachie!

  2. This is a great single. Surprising that Blondie went dancefloor as Debbie was a brilliant singer but a frankly terrible dancer.
    Is it just me who can see a link between Atomic and New Order’s stuff around 82-3?

  3. Weird, and possibly of little interest, but just yesterday I was watching
    a Blondie interview on YouTube. It was from Swap Shop (UK Saturday
    morning kids’ TV show) and took place around Christmas ’79.

    The interviewer, Noel Edmonds, acted like an absolute prat throughout.
    Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, however, quietly took the rise out of him
    between fielding calls, and deciphering accents, from polite children
    who’d dialled the famous 01-811-8055 number. The tour JC witnessed was
    mentioned too.

    Edmonds was clearly insanely jealous of Stein’s relationship with DH and
    can barely disguise this fact. It’s pure Alan Partridge.

    Atomic is of course a beezer, although I prefer the dramatic Union City Blue.

  4. Atomic is cinematic. It amazes me that it’s never found its way into a Tarantino film.
    I love Eat To The Beat. It just a perfect album to me. From Clem’s opening drum roll on Dreaming to the classic cold end of Living In The Real World, it just devastates.
    Debbie, at the time, was a force of nature. She had more power in her pout than Wonder Woman in her crossed arms and armbands.

  5. I immediately loved the rock-disco hybrid “Atomic,” which topped the UK charts but only managed to muster a scant scrape into the US Top 40 at a lowly #39! The pressure packed Clem Burke drumming was served here by some of the most prominent bass on the album and incongruous on the surface of it, twangy guitar chords. Since keyboardist Destri wrote the music here, he finally got to cut loose with the synths on this track the most on this album. His Moroderesque envelope on the synth hook [possibly pulse gating and not a sequencer] was a clear harbinger of the band’s next move, “Call Me” written and produced with the disco master. The breakdown in the middle eight gave bassist Harrison a chance to steal the spotlight for a couple of bars.

    Mike Chapman has talked about how he recorded the tune live in the studio, directing the band from the seat of his pants. At the point of the bass solo he gave the nod to Harrison “solo, now!’ and he flew with it without thinking at all. It was a dynamic rock disco hybrid, held back only by the [I’m guessing] deliberately banal and sketchy lyrics that were there only to have a Debbie presence on the instrumentally-driven song. I bought the 12” single to get the aforementioned live “Heroes” [complete with bonus Fripp!]* in 1991 and didn’t play the A-side of the disc for many, many years and was shocked to find it was the 7″ edit instead of the full monty LP cut, as I’d assumed.

    • I am of course, like anyone reading htis, seething with jealousy agaist our host for having the good fortune to be present at its recording!

  6. Thanks PPM

    just to clarify… I, sadly, wasn’t present at the recording of ‘Heroes’ as that was the London gig at the end of the tour. The Glasgow gig had been a couple of weeks earlier, but thanks to it having been a BBC broadcast much of the set can be enjoyed nowadays via you tube

  7. love the song, love the remixes,
    love the re-remixes even more.

    classic blondie, there’s only a few songs as iconic as this.

    and love the proto punk DIY video too.

    awesome.

    later
    -1

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