Posts Tagged ‘Clem Burke’

Blondie Autoamerican album cover 820

At the dawn of the 80s, Blondie was one of the biggest bands on the planet. They’d hijacked the mainstream with 1978’s flawless release “Parallel Lines” and consolidated that success with the following year’s multi-platinum “Eat To The Beat“. However, while these legend-enshrining titles showed that the New York sextet had outstripped both the punk and new wave scenes, the group made an even more radical departure with their fifth album, “Autoamerican“.

The album was a radical departure for the band, with opening track “Europa” setting the pace. The track is a dramatic instrumental overture featuring orchestral arrangements and ending with vocalist Debbie Harry declaiming a passage about automobile culture over an electronic soundtrack. Incorporating elements of jazz, blues, disco, and the avant-garde, “Autoamerican” was still a sizable commercial success (going platinum on both sides of the Atlantic), but it confounded critics at first. Rather like The Clash’s equally ambitious Sandinista!, “Autoamerican” attracted criticism simply for daring to embrace sonic diversity – something that was an element of Blondie’s DNA from the get-go.

Blondie was probably the most modern band I’ve ever worked with in that they soaked up influences from innumerable sources,” Blondie and No Exit producer Craig Leon said in a 2019 Record Collector interview.

“As songs like [Parallel Lines’] ‘Heart Of Glass” show, they were like human samplers when it came to incorporating ideas and concepts and genres, often in just one song. They are probably the most eclectic band I’ve ever worked with.”

“Eclectic” remains the watchword where “Autoamerican” is concerned. Marking the first time Blondie had left their native New York to make an album, the recording sessions took place at United Western Recorders (now part of the Ocean Way complex) in Hollywood, where The Beach Boys recorded parts of “Good Vibrations”. During their Californian sojourn, Debbie Harry’s team was joined by “Parallel Lines” producer Mike Chapman and studio engineer Lenise Bent. The latter recalls band and producer being meticulous in their preparation. Producer Mike Chapman insisted the band record in Los Angeles. Guitarist Chris Stein lamented: “Every day we get up, stagger into the blinding sun, [and] drive past a huge Moon-mobile from some ancient sci-fi movie.” Drummer Clem Burke welcomed the change: “Autoamerican” was fun. We got to spend two months in California. I’m always up for a free ride.

“They’d done a lot of pre-production”, she said in 1999. “Everybody was pretty prepared by the time they got into the studio. Magical things did happen, there was room for those spontaneous things, but the preparation helped because you didn’t have to think about the basics.”

Blondie brought a wealth of new songs to the sessions, a clutch of which – “T-Birds,” the cinematic “Angels On The Balcony” and the aggressive, drum-heavy “Walk Like Me” – could easily have graced “Eat To The Beat“. Elsewhere, however, the band fearlessly grappled with everything from the jazzy cabaret of “Here’s Looking At You” to the shimmering disco-funk of “Live It Up” and the smoochy, noir-infused blues of “Faces,” with the latter featuring a gloriously smoky vocal from Harry.

Two radically disparate musical genres, meanwhile, provided the album’s signature hits. Blondie had already dabbled with reggae on Eat To The Beat’s “Die Young, Stay Pretty,” but at the instigation of guitarist Chris Stein, they delved deeper into Jamaica’s rich musical heritage for a sunny, horn-laced cover of The Paragons’ 1967 ska hit, “The Tide Is High.”

“I was the one who picked ‘The Tide Is High’,” Stein told The Village Voice in 2008. “That’s the only song [from Autoamerican] I was sure was going to be a hit beforehand – not least because it said ‘number one’ in the chorus!”

Stein’s assumption proved entirely correct when the infectious “The Tide Is High” – released as the album’s lead single, in October 1980 – shot to the top of both the UK Top 40 and the Billboard Hot 100. Its follow-up, “Rapture,” also broke new ground. A hypnotic hybrid of disco, funk, and New York’s emerging hip-hop scene, the song featured an extended rap from Debbie Harry, who namechecked hip-hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash.

“Rapture” also topped the Billboard Hot 100 and received numerous critical plaudits, but while “Autoamerican“, which was released on November 14th, 1980, fared well on the charts, it was greeted with less than sparkling reviews. These days, forward-thinking music fans would welcome a record which so brazenly pushes the envelope, but, in 1980, contemporary critics struggled to get a handle on this mind-bogglingly diverse disc, which concluded with a heartfelt cover of Lerner & Loewe’s “Follow Me,” from the musical Camelot.

Divorced from the times, though, “Autoamerican” has come into its own. In an interview on Blondie’s website, drummer Clem Burke enthusiastically cited it as “my favourite… it’s a very eclectic album”.

  • Deborah Harry – vocals
  • Chris Stein – guitar, tympani
  • Jimmy Destri – piano, organ, synthesizer, background vocals
  • Frank Infante – guitar, background vocals
  • Nigel Harrison – bass, background vocals
  • Clem Burke – drums, background vocals

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Blondie didn’t just leap with 1978’s “Parallel Lines”; they went into hyperdrive. As one of the early progenitors of the highly influential NYC punk scene, singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein ditched the grime and grit and embraced what would become their own signature brand of glossy power pop and disco-tinged new wave — you know, the stuff that wound up shaping the next decade. “Heart of Glass”, the album’s state-of-the-art third single, was a total game-changer for the outfit, welding European electronica with Harry’s natural falsetto.

When Blondie went into New York’s famed Record Plant studios in June 1978 they were allocated 6 months to record their third studio album. Six weeks later, producer Mike Chapman deemed the job done and Parallel Lines was born.

Following on from their punk-meets-new-wave sound, Parallel Lines was a more focused and deliberate effort than their previous two albums, despite the band’s best efforts to achieve otherwise. With the central focus of Chapman behind the boards, he led the band to push themselves musically and at times beyond their own musical abilities. The result was an album that came to define pure post-punk pop. And Blondie’s days as a charmed underground group out of New York were numbered, as a larger world would open up to them on the heels of its release.

When Blondie started work on their third album, Parallel Lines, in the summer of 1978, they were an under-the-radar New Wave band with a nostalgic bent toward the girl-group sounds of the ’60s. They were in an entirely different position when they began recording their next album, “Eat to the Beat, less than a year later.  Kicking off with the rocking stalking anthem of “Hanging on the Telephone” (a Jack Lee cover) Debbie Harry delivers her strongest vocals to date, inhabiting the song with a sweet yet dangerous delivery.

Harry’s persona grows with the uber catchy “One Way or Another” with its signature guitar hook and sweet boppy beat that underscores the threat and menace on display in the lyrics. the obsessed jilted lover, Harry was taunting and preening with jealousy like a pro. With every line, Harry grows in strength and showcases the power needed to front an all-male band in the late ‘70s (and be taken seriously). Completing the opening trio of pop perfection, the band shifts gears with the lovelorn promise of “Picture This.” Amidst swirling guitar riffs and a classic backbeat by drummer Clem Burke, the song mixes early rock nostalgia with a burning sexuality and does so while still remaining sugary sweet.

After its release in fall 1978, Parallel Lines shot up the charts, reaching No. 1 in the U.K. and the Top 10 in the U.S. thanks to the powerhouse appeal of the single “Heart of Glass,” which went to No. 1 across the planet, including the U.S. The song added another influence to the band’s range of musical styles. So, when the six-member Blondie, led by singer Debbie Harry, entered the studio in their hometown of New York City as spring turned to summer in 1979, they pretty much followed the template of the record that rocketed them to stardom the previous year. That meant some New Wave, a little pop, a throwback or two to their punk roots and, of course, more disco. And then they took it even further.

Harry, who co-wrote eight of the new album’s songs, was thrust into the spotlight following “Parallel Lines” success. She became the focal point of the group and was often characterized by unknowing Top 40 fans as a solo artist named Blondie. Even though their publicity department stressed the issue — going as far as declaring “Blondie is a band” in press releases — getting casual music fans who knew them from only “Heart of Glass” to acknowledge there were five other people making the music was often an uphill battle.

This musical growth is evident on the modern torch song of “Fade Away and Radiate,” the pulsing driven beat of “I Know But I Don’t Know” with its borderline psychedelic melody, and the urgent rock swing of “11:59.”

Even the album’s filler songs such as “Just Go Away” and “Will Anything Happen” rival the hits on other band’s albums of the era. And then there’s the bouncy pop of “I’m Gonna Love You Too” and “Sunday Girl” that present a softer, more playful side to Blondie’s sound, But the game changer of the album, and for the band, was the soon to be disco anthem “Heart of Glass.” To a bubbling drum machine and strutting open hi-hat beat, the production on “Heart of Glass” is flawless. From the soft and subtle (at first) blipping synth line and slow sweeps, Blondie boldly stepped from the grimy stages of New York’s clubs to the dance floors of thriving discos.

Loved, and also hated, for producing a “disco” song, Blondie held fast to their belief of writing a great song befitting of the pop and r&b influences that appeared—perhaps less obviously—in their earlier recordings. Parallel Lines is the album of a band (somewhat reluctantly) finding its sound. It became the album that sprang them forward and launched them onto the world stage, and would form the blueprint for their subsequent efforts. It remains a perfect encapsulation of Blondie in their prime, focused on superior songcraft and musicianship. Whilst producer Chapman may have pushed them to beyond their creative breaking point, the result ensured an album that stands the test of time.

When they reconvened in the studio to make Eat to the Beat, Blondie were still working hard on that band dynamic. All six members contributed songs to the album in one form or another and, along with returning producer Mike Chapman, were determined to not rest on Parallel Lines’ laurels. Eat to the Beat sounds like a follow-up, but not a sequel. And that’s no small achievement.

From the start, Blondie didn’t quite fit in with the punk groups they were often associated with. They were poppier and more melodic. And they didn’t seem like they wanted to save the world — or burn it down, for that matter. So the disco explosion that was “Heart of Glass” sounded natural, an effortless offshoot from their downtown art-punk roots. A small step, but an integral part of Blondie’s story. As producer Chapman noted in the album’s 2001 reissue, tensions were high during the recording, stemming from increased drug use among various members. But Harry also began to assume more control, outlining a vision for the album that included the usual mix of pop, punk, disco, New Wave and even R&B-inflected songs.

Blondie will release a new EP and concert film, “Blondie: Vivir En La Habana”both centering around the band’s 2019 debut performance in Cuba. The film will premiere in June at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, and the EP will follow on July 16th.

In 2019, Blondie were invited to perform in Havana as part of a four-day cultural exchange event through the Cuban Ministry of Culture. It was the group’s first time playing in the country, and, ahead of the trip, drummer Clem Burke noted they were eager to make the most of their time there.

“We’re hoping to try to sort of semi-integrate ourselves into the community and maybe do some performances and jamming prior to the official concerts for the local community,” he told Rolling Stone magazine at the time. “I really don’t know what to expect other than there’s a common denominator when you’re playing music. If possible, maybe we’ll do a drum circle or some kind of musical communication, which is always a great field leveller.”

“Being from New York City, we were fortunate that it’s a melting pot of musical ideas, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures,” added singer Debbie Harry, noting that Latin and Caribbean music had always been a significant influence for the band. “It doesn’t seem so far-fetched that we would adopt some of those feelings into what we do.”

The documentary’s director, Rob Roth, immediately knew it was a one of a kind moment.  “When this opportunity came up I could not imagine not documenting it,” he said in a statement “I knew it was going to be special somehow…we managed to pack in some really beautiful moments.”

“We had wonderful Cuban musicians join us for the performances – vocalists, percussionists, horn players … they added a terrific level of excitement to our songs, ” Harry said of the performances. “On ‘The Tide Is High’, Síntesis vocalists Ele Valdés and Maria del Carmen Avila sang with me and did the original harmonies that John Holt had put on the song; it was incredibly beautiful.”

In 2019, the legendary American rock band Blondie performed for the first time in Havana, Cuba as part of a cultural exchange through the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Directed by Rob Roth.

Even though The Empty Hearts band features members of BlondieThe Cars, Chesterfield Kings and The Romantics — as well as being christened by Little Steven Van Zandt from his super-secret list of unused band names — this is no cynically constructed super group. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Clem Burke, two-time Grammy nominee and MTV Video of the Year Award-winning guitarist Elliot Easton, bassist Andy Babiuk and lead singer/rhythm guitarist Wally Palmar have parlayed a combined lifetime of rock ’n’ roll into their music, a sterling collection of influences that include ‘50s American roots rock ‘n’ roll, ‘60s British Invasion and ‘70s garage-punk that is anything but retro, rather a refreshing return to core musical values.

These are all friends that I felt could get along both socially and musically,” says long time Chesterfield Kings bassist Babiuk, who started the ball rolling by calling old-time pal, Romantics’ singer Palmar and asking if he wanted to start a band. “Remember when you first picked up a guitar because you loved The Beatles, The Stones and The Kinks? Wouldn’t it be great to get in a room, write songs and play them like we did when we were teenagers? And that’s just how it started.” Blondie drummer Burke had previously played with Palmar in The Romantics and with Easton on several Blondie sessions and in an aborted band featuring Doug Fieger. Easton and Palmar knew Babiuk from frequent stops at his former employer, Rochester’s legendary House of Guitars, before Andy started his own guitar store, the ultra-hip Fab Gear.

All four came of age in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in indie punk/new wave bands that demonstrated a love of classic rock and roll. “We’re the last rock band standing,” laughs Easton. “The whole idea is to have a blast playing with friends. We were just laughing and in high spirits all the time. No drama. It was just a lot of fun, and you can hear that in the grooves.” “Those common influences are what brought us together,” adds Burke. “We’re survivors and lifers of rock ‘n’ roll. We take from everything that’s come before musically. A lot of people have never heard or seen a band like this. There’s a freshness to it, at the same time as it’s a recollection of the past. Being a rock musician today is like being a jazz musician back in the early days of rock.”

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THE EMPTY HEARTS are:
Clem Burke – DRUMS, VOCALS
Elliot Easton – LEAD GUITAR, VOCALS
Wally Palmar – LEAD VOCAL, RHYTHM GUITAR, HARMONICA
 Andy Babiuk – BASS, VOCALS

Released August 28th, 2020

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Originally released on Animal Records in 1982 and produced by Chris Stein of Blondie, “Zombie Birdhouse” is something of a lost classic. This album may just be Iggy’s Morrison Hotel; like that Doors classic, Zombie Birdhouse takes an almost novelistic look at the character of America that is by turns funny and angry, reverential and irreverent. It’s filled, too, with an almost mystical primitivism that brings out the shaman in Iggy’s soul. Throughout, Iggy’s collaborator, guitarist-keyboardist Rob duPrey, manages to produce some fascinating noise by altering, filtering and treating his instruments. A heady concoction of drones, Afrobeats and freeform lyrics, the album was Iggy’s 6th solo studio album and represents him at his freewheeling best.Chris Stein and Clem Burke of Blondie provide the exotic rhythmic spice that seasons this record to perfection. The sleeve notes have been written by long time Iggy fan Irvine Welsh.

A visual for lead single ‘The Villagers’ is unveiled as a taster of the album,

The reissue of Zombie Birdhouse has been remastered by Paschal Byrne at The Audio Archive, London. It features the singles ‘Run Like A Villain’ and ‘The Villagers’ along with rare photographs from the original photo-shoot by Esther Friedman.

The CD edition is Expanded with the addition of a Bonus Track in the form of the original version of Pain and Suffering, which features fellow Blondie band member Debbie Harry on backing vocals. The song was originally recorded for the ground-breaking animated feature film, Rock and Rule (Iggy provided the voice of the Monster From Another Dimension and Debbie Harry the voice for the character, Angel) but the OST was never released.