Monday, November 18, 2013

Song #425 of 9999 - Heart of Glass by Blondie

Song #425 of 9999

Title: Heart of Glass
Artist: Blondie
Year: 1978
Album: Parallel Lines

One of the reasons I write this blog is to discover songs I've never heard. Not just things that are "off the beaten path" but songs I missed along the way. I've always admitted I have gaps in my knowledge of, well, just about everything. But where 1970s pop music is concerned, I was at the mercy of my father growing up and if he didn't like a song, I probably never heard it.

Such is the case with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" which was new to me when I wrote about it last January. It was a TWOsday feature, paired with a Brian Eno/John Cale song (I also had never heard), which was influenced by the Giorgio Moroder concoction. And now here I am tonight with another song that seems so obviously influenced by Summer's tune, "Heart of Glass."

For many Blondie fans, I'm sure Parallel Lines signaled the beginning of the end for the band they adored. Truthfully, the songs really aren't all that different from their first two efforts but slick production from Mike Chapman pretty much insured this record was going to find a pop audience. And "Heart of Glass" is disco, plain and simple, even if it does toss the occasional 3/4-bar on the dance floor for people to trip over.

Debbie Harry borrows Summer's helium-filled vocal to deliver lines like "once I had a love and it was a gas" over bubbling accompaniment and the effect is intoxicating enough to make you forget just how insipid the lyrics are. (Seriously, don't even look at the lyrics.) The song is buried deep on side two of the album and was the fourth single—a crisis of confidence, perhaps? And yet, it hit #1 in ten countries, including the UK and US.

The bridge is pure pop perfection and no amount of analysis can explain why such things work—they just do. But the verse is quite fascinating. With everything that's going on at the surface, it's easy to overlook what's happening melodically and harmonically. Set in the key of E, the chords to the verse are E-C#-C#m-E (I-VI-vi-I). It's very simple but eloquent with the major submediant (VI) borrowed from the parallel minor (Oops! Thanks to Erik Schlosser for pointing out this mistake! Still unexpected but the VI in parallel minor would be C Major, not C# Major. Stupid tired brain.)—this was quite unexpected when I sat at the piano. But what really makes the verse unique is the note Harry sings to begin the airy melody over the E chord—a C#! This note effectively turns the E major chord into an E6, which I believe lends a bit more lift to a vocal that already seems to float above our stereos.

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