Monday, December 24, 2012

'Hanging on the Telephone'

Via Killian and Kurt Loder, "Taking punk platinum: How #Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” was made" (on Twitter).

One number for which she didn't have to put pen to paper was Parallel Lines' dynamic opening track, 'Hanging On The Telephone', which was also the opener on a 1976 EP by guitarist Jack Lee's short-lived LA power pop trio, the Nerves. Blondie had shared a bill with the Nerves on one of their first visits to the West Coast, and they had already worked on the song by the time they introduced it to Mike Chapman.

"That track was magic from the beginning," he says. "Unlike some of the others, it was an easy one to cut because it was more like Blondie's normal, frantic sort of style, and I also vibed it up a lot. Initially, they didn't know quite how much to put into it, but I told them, 'Look, this is more like the stuff on your first two records. Let's give it that sort of punk/new wave attitude.' I knew that the energy level on that track would make or break it. If we didn't have that energy we'd miss the point, because the musical structure of the song is very tense — it sits you on the end of your chair, and we had to have a track that did the same thing.

"They were all very much into giving it that full-on energy, and of course this was Clem's favourite way of playing. If he really liked something, that in itself added extra energy. So, I think we did four takes and I then took the best one to work on and fix things. If there was a guitar mistake or a bass mistake, we'd punch in and out. In those days, I didn't cut the tape a lot like I'd do later on."

While Burke's sharp drumming and Nigel Harrison's pumping bass are punctuated by Frank Infante's electrifying, punk-edged guitar lines, 'Hanging On The Telephone' is nevertheless powered right from the start by Deborah Harry's energetic, in-your-face vocals as she spits out the song's staccato-style opening lines with machine-gun rapidity: "I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall. If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall. I know he's there, but I just had to call..."

"Debbie always got it right away whenever I tried to describe what to do, but a lot of the phrasing was totally down to her," Chapman states. "She has a strange way of delivering certain phrases, and I found myself accepting things from her that I never would have accepted from anyone else. I would have had other people change it, whereas with her I'd think, 'No, no, no, I've got to leave it like that,' or else it just wouldn't be her. For instance, in 'Hanging On The Telephone', the lines 'I heard your mother now she's going out the door. Did she go to work or just go to the store?' — I remember listening to those and thinking, 'This is the dumbest lyric I've ever heard.' However, it was so dumb, it was beautiful, it was brilliant, and when Debbie then sang it in her inimitable way it suddenly sounded even funnier. It just sounded like the weirdest, most bizarre thing I'd ever heard."
It's a long piece, but fascinating.

It's about Mike Chapman as much as it is about Blondie (one band I never did see back in the day).