On The Web

My favourite album: Eat to the Beat by Blondie

Guardian and Observer writers are picking their favourite albums – with a view that you might do the same. Here, Caroline Sullivan reckons nothing can beat Blondie

theguardian.com – 1st September 2011

By Caroline Sullivan

‘Downtown decadence’ … Blondie’s Eat to the Beat

Blondie’s masterpiece is usually held to be 1978’s Parallel Lines, while Eat to the Beat, which followed a year later, is considered an inferior attempt to duplicate its arty/trashy perfection. I can understand why Parallel Lines gets so much love – any album that contains Heart of Glass, Hanging on the Telephone and Sunday Girl is going to rank high in people’s Best Records of All Time list. For me, though, it lacked the special shot of cool downtown decadence that, in my impressionable head, underpinned Eat to the Beat.

I wasn’t really aware of Eat to the Beat until several years after it came out. I discovered it during the summer that I lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, on a street populated by drug dealers and new wave scenesters. The area had a sordid glamour that I fancied was a bit like Paris in the 20s, and my preoccupation was how to be part of it. Too geeky to be one of the cool kids, too chicken to actually take drugs, I nonetheless wanted to swap places with one of the heroin-addled Johnny Thunders/Lydia Lunch lookalikes who slouched around the place in studded belts and black hair.

Then I came across Eat to the Beat, which seemed to embody all the nocturnal seediness of their lifestyle. The album, I should explain, wasn’t overtly about sex, drugs or the after-hours clubs where they hung out – in fact, you could’ve mistaken it for a collection of catchy pop songs. (One music site retrospectively dismisses it as mere “corporate rock” – how dare they?) But when you connect with an album, it doesn’t matter so much how it sounds as where you are when you hear it. And I was in my room on East 7th Street, playing Atomic and Die Young, Stay Pretty over and over, wondering how to become a drug addict without taking drugs.

So, for one humid New York summer, it was my soundtrack. The pinging disco of Atomic sounded to me like a monumentally hedonistic rush, The Hardest Part evoked the Italian-American truck drivers who catcalled the new wave girls sidling down 7th Street and Die Young, Stay Pretty’s beginner-level reggae sounded strange and dangerous. Even the delicate lullaby Sound-a-Sleep captured the disorienting feeling of leaving a club at dawn, when the streets were silent and swept clean. Eat to the Beat brilliantly encapsulated all the things that made New York so intoxicating. And it helped that Blondie themselves lived this dark downtown life (or so I thought – in fact, by then, guitarist Chris Stein had contracted a serious illness, and the band soon split up).

I left the album in New York when I moved to London, and haven’t listened to it all the way through in years. The only song I play occasionally now is Atomic. But when I do, I still remember wandering down the streets of the East Village with the album on my Walkman, trying to pass for one of the cool kids.


Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button