Songs to the Siren

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Heart of Glass


January 1979 (single), 23rd September 1978 (LP)🇺🇸

Another landmark record in terms of production, this is one of those records that still sounds amazing over 40 years on. Like the previous song on this blog, it has a hook whereby the time signature sometimes changes. Golden Brown adds an extra beat here and there, but Heart of Glass skips a beat. Reportedly the result of an editing accident which was kept when it sounded great, the result is an iconic “middle 8” section which sounds wrong when repeated in normal time in an extended version.

Like the previously mentioned act The Strangers, Blondie were a band with punk origins who could play well enough to progress on from that genre pretty quickly. With Mike Chapman producing, this song was, according to the song’s writers Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, a tune they had lying around for a while that they couldn’t find the right way finish. Towards the end of the Parallel Lines sessions, Chapman heard their demo. It had a reggae-ish feel, and was known as “Once I Had A Love”. Chapman saw something in it, and wanted to work on it straight away. He and the band brought a disco feel to it, and they made a massive hit.

Recording it took some time. To ensure full separation of each part of his kit, drummer Clem Burke had to record just the bass drum for the whole song, then just the snare, etc. Nowadays you’d program this with loops/samples and do it in no time, but this was a time-consuming and laborious manual process - the record precedes the Linn Drum by a few years.

Although there’s no Linn Drum but there is of course actually some drum machine on it - rather obviously so, that’s how it starts. A preset on the Roland CR-78, played at a higher than normal tempo, plays all the way through alongside the “real” drums.

Every instrument has a hook here. There’s the “sequenced” synths before sequencers were really a thing, there is Frank Infante’s muted lead guitar melodic lines all the way through, and some gloriously clichéd disco bass from Nigel Harrison, all this from a band that was considered punk not long before. And what matters most is the vocals - Harry delivered a deliciously sweet high voice performance, far from the shouty angry thing that punk tended to be. And with lyrics that carried an edge for those times (the “soon turned out to be a pain in the ass” line had to be replaced in the radio edit, if I recall correctly).

The skipped beat is in what we old-timers call the “middle 8”, the instrumental section that breaks up the verse-chorus-repeat structure. It starts 2m 0s into the official video.

This, to me, is truly one of the greatest pop records of all time. If I ever say I’m tired of this, you can pull the plug, I’m done.

There are plenty of other songs that skip beats here and there, and it’s worth checking out David Bennett’s analyses (video 1 and video 2) of some of them. He talks about Heart of Glass, and other examples from Arrows (covered by Joan Jett), The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Panic at the Disco, Johnny Cash, Green Day, Labi Siffre.