THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part Eighteen : HEART OF GLASS

Yup.  The 12″ single which rotates at thirty-three and one-third revolutions per minute.  And which, as a sad teenager, I stared at with a magnifying glass trying to work out if Debbie Harry was braless beneath that slip of a white dress.

mp3: Blondie – Heart Of Glass

Debbie and Chris Stein, in 2013, provided The Guardian with an explanation of how the song came to be:-

DH: In 1974, we were living in a loft in New York’s then notorious Bowery area, rehearsing at night in rooms so cold we had to wear gloves. Heart of Glass was one of the first songs Blondie wrote, but it was years before we recorded it properly. We’d tried it as a ballad, as reggae, but it never quite worked. At that point, it had no title. We just called it “the disco song”.

Then, in 1978, we got this producer, Mike Chapman, who asked us to play all the songs we had. At the end, he said: “Have you got anything else?” We sheepishly said: “Well, there is this old one.” He liked it – he thought it was very pretty and started to pull it into focus. The boys in the band had got their hands on a new toy: this little Roland drum machine. One day, we were fiddling around with it and Chapman said: “That’s a great sound.” So we used it.

Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerised sound. People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we’d covered Lady Marmalade and I Feel Love at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for “going disco” with Heart of Glass. There was the Disco Sucks! movement, and there had even been a riot in Chicago, with people burning disco records. Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said: “I guess I’ll have to.”

The lyrics weren’t about anyone. They were just a plaintive moan about lost love. At first, the song kept saying: “Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass.” We couldn’t keep saying that, so we came up with: “Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.” We kept one “pain in the ass” in – and the BBC bleeped it out for radio.

For the video, I wanted to dance around but they told us to remain static, while the cameras moved around. God only knows why. Maybe we were too clumsy. I wore an asymmetrical dress designed by Steve Sprouse, made the boys’ T-shirts myself, and probably did my own hair. Everyone says I look iconic and in control, but I prefer our other videos. It was No 1 around the world. We’d had a lot of hits, but this was our first at home. Chapman was in Milan with us and said: “Join me in the bar.” I thought: “Oh God, I just wanna go to bed.” But we dragged our asses down and he told us it was No 1 in America. We drank a lot.

CS: Recording with Mike was fun, if a little painstaking – we had to do things over and over. But Jimmy [Destri, keyboards] had a lot to do with how the record sounds, too. Although the song eventually became its own thing, at first he wanted it to sound like a Kraftwerk number.

It was Jimmy who brought in the drum machine and a synthesiser. Synchronising them was a big deal at the time. It all had to be done manually, with every note and beat played in real time rather than looped over. And on old disco tracks, the bass drum was always recorded separately, so Clem had to pound away on a foot-pedal for three hours until they got a take they were happy with.

As far as I was concerned, disco was part of R&B, which I’d always liked. The Ramones went on about us “going disco”, but it was tongue-in-cheek. They were our friends. In the video, there’s a shot of the legendary Studio 54, so everyone thought we shot the video there, but it was actually in a short-lived club called the Copa or something.

I came up with the phrase “heart of glass” without knowing anything about Werner Herzog or his movie of the same name, which is a great, weird film. It’s nice people now use the song to identify the period in films and documentaries. I’ve heard a million versions. There are lots of great mash-ups. My favourite features the song being played at super-low speed, like odd industrial music.

I never had an inkling it would be such a big hit, or become the song we’d be most remembered for. It’s very gratifying.

And here’s your instrumental b-side

mp3: Blondie – Heart Of Glass (instrumental)

While I’m on, I can’t resist posting another couple of versions, but not ripped at 320kpbs:-

mp3: Associates – Heart of Glass (Auchterhouse Mix)
mp3: Blondie & Philip Glass – Heart of Glass (Crabtree Mix)

The former is one of the 12″ versions of a flop single released in 1988. The latter is a mashup by producer Jonas Crabtree;  it fuses parts of the Blondie song with parts of the Violin Concerto by Philip Glass and was used to great effect in one of the key scenes in the first series of the TV adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale.

JC

9 thoughts on “THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part Eighteen : HEART OF GLASS

  1. Quality, JC. Great to see Associates here as well. I have this one and the Temperament Mix 12″ too. That’s the one that comes with 3-D glasses so you get an extra interesting view of the New York skyline on the cover. Anything to sell a flop single, eh? The first time I saw Debbie Harry was on television when this video was shown on a late-night show. The babysitter went against my parents wishes and let me stay up late. I remember it like it was yesterday. Big big moment.

  2. It’s a great song, and as we are a bit late here by the time I got to pick up the album there was a second pressing with the full length disco version on. Full on joy!
    Billy’s version actually (I think, at least) became a bit of a hit in New York gay clubs.
    I prefer the Temperamental mix to the regular 12″ Auchterhouse mix, more directly club oriented. I also have the 12″ of the temperamental mix that came in a generic black sleeve with an “orchestra acapella” version on the flip.

  3. I’ve always thought of this as one of the band’s ‘Moroder’ moments. I’m not a huge fan of the verse but when that chorus kicks in – oh, boy.

    Parallel Lines is, of course, a monster pop LP – bra or no bra.

  4. Eternally evocative of late 70s teen years hearing Blondie, The Jam, Costello, even SLF or The Clash on daytime Radio One, rare glimpses of the New Wave outside its Peel show domain. This single was way ahead of its time, and I still prefer the original to all the remixes, re-releases, mash-ups . . .

  5. I showed the ‘Heart of glass’ video to my A Level students to say that DH was my first crush. Their reaction?.. ‘too much make-up’…

  6. I love Heart of Glass and it’s my least favorite song on Parallel Lines. What a stellar album! Debbie Harry is a goddess.

  7. Like many Americans not living in major metropoli, “Heart Of Glass” was the first Blondie song I managed to hear and the eerie, minor key disco was a haunting, intriguing sound just at the point where I thought I was over and done with disco. But I made a mental note to check Blondie out. When I got the album I was shocked to see Robert Fripp on “Fade Away + Radiate” at just the point where I was getting into him! Fave track on “Parallel Lines?” Three way tie betaeen “Pretty Baby,” “Fade Away + Radiate,” and “11:59” but the killer Blondie album for me came next. [Apart from the debut!]

    I swear I once heard Associates cover when it came out in a New Wave club and I was dying to know who it was but eventually found out when I got “Popera” [my 1st Associates recording] a few years later and thus became obsessed with Billy and Associates. I love the Temperament mix but need the promo with the orchestra accappella mix!

  8. The promo video had a lasting impression on me as a kid and I have always loved the song. The ‘special mix’ on The Best Of Blondie was the one I played the most as a teen, but these days it’s the 12″ Disco Mix all the way. The subsequent remixes are best avoided and on a first listen, the initial intrigue of the Crabtree mash up soon got a bit wearing, so maybe I need to give it a few more plays.

    Billy Mackenzie’s cover is of course vocally brilliant but I never felt the backing quite did his voice or the song justice. Francois K’s mixes are definitely the pick of the bunch.

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