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Debbie Harry
The Tide
Is High

Auto American

‘Autoamerican’ will drive you to distraction – and all in the name of progress. Once upon a time (in 1978 actually) there was ‘Parallel Lines’… and as much as you tried, you just couldn’t get off them. The album bobbed and weaved around the charts like a hot air balloon in a Summer storm for what seemed like an eternity, and all the time the slick seduction sounds had you feeling that the wicked Debbie was playing with you… now come on honey… okay enough now, back you go again. Three tracks in particular stuck out like needles for constant airplay – and they got it: ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, ‘Sunday Girl’ and the amazing ‘Heart Of Glass’. That last cut was a classic product/example of the empathy that lies between Debbie and her musical man of destiny, Chris Stein – and its added disco appeal proved the hidden ingredient they’d been looking for; ‘Heart’ laced their acknowledged talent with deserved and world-wide success.
‘Eat To The Beat’ must have been a tough nut to consider. It’s always a temptation to climb further along the same path because, let’s face it, it’s easier to extend than to set off in other directions. Unfortunately, to stay on top you’ve also got to stay in front.
Sadly, the only track that looks like sticking around is ‘Union City Blue’, a song written by Debbie (it’s believed) while she was taking a break from the set of the film of the same name. ‘Union’, you could say, represented the atmosphere of the album as a whole… exciting, yes; powerful, yes; but from way within the grooves came an air of deliberate disappointment – even disenchantment. Lester Bangs (in his book ‘Blondie’ – published by Omnibus Press) believes that it suggests: ‘… wasted lives, a sense of mystery inside the drabness of day-to-day Middle America life that comes through like a gust of wind.’ Certainly he’s right that ‘Eat To The Beat’ was an album album… disappointing anyone who was expecting yet another string of hit singles.
But it pulled the band along musically to the point where they could get to work on ‘Autoamerican’ – and that’s where our story really begins!


by Chris Stein (words spoken)

Based on the desire for total mobility and serious physical pursuit of religious freedom, the auto drove man far further than the wheel and in remote areas, even today, is forbidden as a device too suspect for human conveyance. This articulate conception has only brought us all more of the same. Thoughlessly locked into phase two grid-lock, beat-up on its rims and abandoned on the express way.

Chris Stein instrumentalising and philosophising. What, at first, comes across as balladic sweetness and light builds in pitch and occasional discord to the weirdness of Debbie declaring the hopelessness of our automotive existence – to the accompaniment of soaring strings and background radio effects. The cut declares a total mood for the album – a feeling that I hope I’m right in paraphrasing as: ‘don’t despair, there’s always another way.’

by Chris Stein

Your old lover’s lying in the gutter
He used to be such an all night strutter
Oh my heart I heard him mutter
Oh my dear it seems to flutter
Ah Ah
It’s so hard to say no
When the deck is stacked to only go slow
It’s easy sweet to live it up
An easy street when you had enough
Ah Ah

Darkened night
Splash a light
Soft and white
And so polite
Let him in
Beneath the rim
Beneath the skin
Your next of kin

Cleansing fire
Funeral pyre
Broken wire
Grown inside her
Secret hush
Swollen rush
It’s soft and plush

You know it’s so passe
To sleep without you every day
So easy to do your stuff
So easy to live it up
Ah Ah

Again, a Chris Stein composition. Debbie vocalises brilliantly on a medium paced rocker that (with a little imagination) reinforces the opening statement of ‘Europa’. It starts: ‘Your old lover’s lying in the gutter. He used to be such an all-night strutter.’ And later: ‘Cleansing fire, funeral pyre, broken wire, grown inside her.’ Out of something old has come something fresh and new.

words by Debbie Harry, music by Chris Stein

As I sit staring into this liquid amber
Ripples move out to the edge of the glass
Is that really your reflection in there?
I just want to jump into the warm depths
And be there with you one more time
Oh all right
Hit it boys

My initials spray across a pavement
Cut into your private interview
Talk to me now
Step into my room
We’ll have a word or two

If I ever had a million dollars
If I didn’t give it all to you
Would ya lose interest
Show me indifference
Foot in another shoe

Not very high heels
Not wearing sneakers too
A magazine ad
A printed canvas
A basic new shade, blue suede shoe

Thought I’d like to have a little party
Thought I’d like to have a little do
Sure I stopped drinking
But for the moment
Honey here’s looking at you

I’ll stop my drinking
Give you my promise too
Clean out the closet
Be existential
And cast a vote for president too

But for the action of the moment
Nothing does what it ought to do
Instant depression
I learned my lesson
Nothing that I’d rather do

Come on over my place
Can’t see him sideways
Honey here’s looking at you

A real turn-up! Debbie slips effortlessly into what some see as her ‘Monroe’ image to deliver a contribution that could easily have come from the same stable as Lennon & McCartney’s classic ‘Your Mother Should Know’. It’s a cunning and tuneful device with Debbie providing some pretty lines: ‘A printed canvas, A basic new shade, blue suede shoe.’ It’s all there, from the Thirties strings to the massed saxes and (I predict) it’s one that’s going to stick around and pick up a good-sized heap of re-recording royalties.

words and music by John Holt

The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on
I’m gonna be your number one
I’m not the kinda girl
Who gives up just like that
Oh no

It’s not the things you do that tease and hurt me bad
But it’s the way you do the things you do to me
I’m not the kinda girl
Who gives up just like that
Oh no

The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on
I’m gonna be your number one
Number one, number one

Every girl wants you to be her man
But I’ll wait my dear till it’s my turn
I’m not the kinda girl
Who gives up just like that
Oh no

The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on
I’m gonna be your number one
Number one, number one

Every girl wants you to be her man
But I’ll wait my dear till it’s my turn
I’m not the kinda girl
Who gives up just like that
Oh no

The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on
I’m gonna be your number one
Number one, number one, number one
The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on
I’m gonna be your number one

What can I say?! Certainly one of the biggest worldwide hits of 1980 and superbly and unashamedly commercial. Reggae stalwart John Holt’s song is a crossover masterpiece – and the perfect chart vehicle for Debbie and the crew. It’s also one of those infernal tunes that has one constantly thinking ‘wait a minute, that line reminds me of something’ – a deja vu that’s said, traditionally, to be one of the more essential ingredients of any hit song. Listen out for the wild background hilarity right at the end (most DJs are chopping it way before the fade).

words by Laura Davis, music by Jimmy Destri

Afterglow in a distant row
The door is open and the lights are cold
The children come in here and they dare the ghost
Like a fire burning in a stone

Silent light in the theatre’s sky
Phantom cigarette and a silent cry
The door swings open and it’s cold outside
Run and hide, run and hide

They can still see him
Singing on the corner singing songs
That never fade away
Fade into the kids that come along

Memory in a silent seat
Melody on a long retreat
Like an angel on a balcony
Like an angel on a balcony

Keyboard man Jimmy Destri takes a part-composing credit here in a cut that pulls us right back into the mood created at the start of ‘Autoamerican’. Sombre and rather obscure lyrics reflect the perpetual nature of things – ‘(songs that)… fade into the kids that come along.’ Frank Infante injects a powerful guitar break that complements the flowing melody.

words by Debbie Harry, music by Chris Stein

She knew it
About route three
Oh she blew it
You know she coulda told me
He can’t say no
He can’t ask why
Go through it
Highway bride

He delivers
He’s a roadsider
He gets no road
From a back-seat driver
Away we go
Yes or no
I love you honey
Gimme a beer

But just like Jerry Lee
She’s tuned in on me
And I’ve got no defence
But it makes no difference
Cause just like Jerry Lee
She’s tuning in on me
She does it easy
Like ACB

He’s hard to hold
On the rolling road
He knows his rig’s hot
Get through that road block
Ten miles to go
Oh radio
She knew it
Now so does he

I love you honey
Gimme a beer
Go through it
Come sit right here

Debbie and Chris conjure up a fine travelling song, a fast mover that’ll bounce you along the highway for many a happy mile. Included (I suspect) with an eye on future single release – although by no means as ‘instant’ as ‘Tide Is High’ – it sure grows fast. The theme of the lyrics also fits in well with the ‘open road’ aspect… something about the shameful infidelities of a truck drivin’ man.


words and music by Jimmy Destri

There you are
Giving candy
Making confidence with an easy eye
Easy words
Oh what a dancer
Dance you right into the corner in the fire

Do the dark apostle
Do the sidewalk hustle
Do the invisible dance
In the fire, fire, fire, fire

Walk on glass
With the master
There’s no question he can’t answer with his eyes
What a stage
Oh what a dancer
Looks like a baby with an old man’s eyes

When you break the rules
And you burn your bridges
And your fingers itch and they’re getting wet
When you look at her

Do the dark apostle
Do the sidewalk hustle
Do the invisible dance
In the fire, fire, fire, fire

Walk on glass
Walk on fire

Another Jimmy Destri song – medium paced with ‘eastern’ musical effects. Lyrically it’s a little obscure though again giving off – principally through Debbie’s handling of the melody – a noticeable air of melancholy. Listen for interesting work from Destri on keyboards.

words by Debbie Harry, music by Chris Stein

Toe to toe
Dancing very close
Body breathing
Almost comatose

Wall to wall
People hypnotised
And they’re
Stepping lightly
Hang each night
In rapture

Back to back
Spineless movement
And a wild attack

Face to face
Sighless solitude
And it’s
Finger popping
Twenty-four hour shopping
In rapture

Fab five Freddy told me everybody’s fly
DJ spinnin’ I said my my
Flash is flash, flash is cool
Francois c’est pas Flash, mon dieu!
And you don’t stop, sure shot
Go out to the parking lot
And get in your car and drive real far
And you drive all night and then you see a light
And it comes right down and it lands on the ground
And out comes a man from Mars and you try to run
But he’s got a gun, and he shoots you dead and he eats your head
And then you’re in the man from Mars, you go out at night
Eating cars, you eat Cadillacs, Lincolns too, Mercuries and Subaru, and you don’t stop you keep on eating cars
Then when there’s no more cars you go out at night and eat up bars
Where the people meet face to face, dance cheek to cheek, one to one
Man to man dance toe to toe, don’t move too slow cause the man from Mars is through with cars, he’s eating bars, yeah wall to wall, Door to door, hall to hall, he’s gonna eat them all. Rapture, be pure, take a tour through the sewer don’t strain your brain, paint a train and you’ll be singing in the rain don’t stop do punk rock.

Well now you see what you wanna be, just have your party on TV
Cos the man from Mars won’t eat up bars where the TVs are
Now he’s gone back up to space where he won’t have a hassle
With the human race, now get up and don’t stop, just blast off
Sure shot, cos the man from Mars stopped eatin’ cars and eatin’ bars and now he only eats guitars – get up

Our favourite twosome again, with the track that’s strongly tipped to be the next single to be pulled from the album. What starts off in a lilting sort of way as an observation on the passion between lovers suddenly flips over into a weird sort of monologue – about a Martian with a predilection for eating up cars and bars!!! Full marks for imagination, but don’t ask me what it all means. It’s pulled along all the way through by a slinky and tightly orchestral disco beat and the tail end is tightened further by some driving sounds from Frank Infante’s guitar.

words and music by Debbie Harry

Cracked beyond recognition
Ah Ah

His space is
At the palace
He sleeps for 25 cents
Ah Ah

Now he’s wiping headlights
Windshields with an old rag
It ain’t nine to five

Down and dirty he’s an old tramp
He poses like a dead man
A night train passes by

Not the answer
For princes and dancers
Ah Ah

He’s standing under street lights
He’s thinking of his old life
He lost his pretty young wife
The corner is his big plan
Brunch with Jim in jitter bars
Blue laws ain’t for shitters
Newsprint is for cheaters
Cement mattress for believers

Now he’s shooting power curves
His buddies think he’s got some nerve
Mrs Face had other lovers
Her arms smothered other numbers

He freezes
Christmas season
All Saints protect him
Ah Ah

His face is
Cracked beyond reason
Beyond recognition
Ah Ah

Moody and soulful, and ‘jazzed’ by a superb, free-falling background sax. Another sad tale of life turned sour (penned entirely by Debbie) and a real departure from anything that’s gone before. You almost get the impression that the band is saying to itself, ‘there’s nothing we can’t do – and we’ll prove it, too!’ High marks for courage, although Blondie followers might have some catching-up to do.

words by Debbie Harry, music by Nigel Harrison

Circle high
Circle low
Jammers fly

You show, you show
Whiplash go
You show, you show

Hit ’em high
Hit ’em low (my T-bird)
Elbows fly (T-bird)
Helmets go (my T-bird)

On the dot in the slot
Tie the knot
On the dot time kisses
In the slot on the dot
Tie the knot
In the slot no misses
Hit ’em high
Hit ’em low (my T-bird)
Elbows fly (T-bird)
Helmets go (my T-bird)

T-bird, mighty bird
Black sun conqueror

Coil it up
Wind it out
Strike it hot
Coil it up
Plumed serpent

Coil it up
Wind it out
Strike it hot
Coil it up
My T-bird, serpent curl
T-bird, rule the world
T-bird, mighty bird
Black sun born again

Oh I love my T-bird

Back on the old winning streak we go with a Debbie Harry/Nigel Harrison composition. A great sound, with strident chords from Infante – surely a strong contender for single release. A hypnotic hook, interesting lyrics and a gritty performance from Debbie all add up to a monster of a song that’s so incessant it’s like driving without brakes.

words and music by Jimmy Destri

We don’t wear that uniform
Paper men from pages torn
Right off the press
(it could be Tass)
Suits for the regime

The media gone had a baby
Seventh wave another navy
I live in America
Grid-lock on the street

Tell that girl you like her badge
Tell that man that you’re the Nazz
Tell me that you’re not the last
Walking in parade

Dressed to test you up the road
Tighter than the latest clothes
Close the circle, walk in row
Walking in parade
(Why don’t you)

Walk like me (x 3)

Carrying the standard stick
And marrying the politik
You won’t know tomorrow
What went down today

Look at me I’m in tune
References around my room
Just another secret school
Another cycle going by

You never looked like that
Don’t look like me
Don’t take it back
You never had a name like that
Never had a colour

Walking like a millionaire
Walking on imported air
Change the way you comb your hair
And watch what you walk under
(Why don’t you)

Walk like me (x 3)

Why don’t you (x 2)

Walk like me (x 4) Hey

A final track from Jimmy Destri dealing with the perils of conformity; no matter who anyone is or where they are, they’re all trying to fit into something. A fast-ish rocker that’s punctuated with slashing chords and a Clem Burke drum sound that takes me (what a giveaway) back, back, back to Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’.

Typical of Blondie, they’ve sprung a big surprise with a final track that, in a strange sort of way, is totally appropriate for the closing of ‘Autoamerican’. Lerner and Loewe (of ‘My Fair Lady’ and many other hit shows fame) wrote it and it’s hardly surprising that Debbie & Co are asking us to ‘follow them’. If their next album turns out anything like as enterprising and well-groomed as this, who knows where we’re all going to end up?
And there you have ‘Autoamerican’… an album that will confound doubters and confirm everything for the dedicated. 12 tracks that are going to propel Blondie into 1980 supremacy with a vengeance. They do it every year… only thing is, they do it better every time.

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