Blondie knew how to write a brilliant pop song. That might sound a little controversial considering that they are generally regarded as being one of the leading lights of the new wave bands that emerged from the underground scene, embodied by New York’s notorious CBGB’s club.
However, beyond the punk snarling on stage, many of those bands – including Talking Heads – ended up writing some of the catchiest music in the known world. This version of ‘Heart of Glass’, from the album Parallel Lines, is still an undeniable floor-filler regarded as one of the best songs of the 1970s. However, this incarnation of the Blondie classic wasn’t always a given, and it wasn’t always popular.
At the time of its release in 1979, ‘Heart of Glass’ was a bold move. Disco was generally regarded with suspicion by New York’s punk scene, and the song was seen as pretty controversial as a result. That same year, however, ‘Heart of Glass’ hit number one in the US charts. So how did the song come to be? Below, we take a look inside the disco version of ‘Heart Of Glass’.
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein wrote an early version of the song back in 1974. Then it was known as ‘Once I Had A Love’. Back then, it was slower and more reggae-infused. However, with the help of Mike Chapman, the song took on new life.
Chapman went to visit the band while they were rehearsing the songs for the album and noticed the song’s potential: “I suggested they call it’ Heart of Glass,’ which was one of the lines in the chorus. I thought the song was an obvious hit if the arrangement was right. We spent the first day of rehearsal rearranging it, and I decided that it should have a bit of a Donna Summer vibe, which pleased Debbie. She loved Donna Summer.”
Much of the song’s magic stems from its incorporation of the Roland CR-78 Drum Machine. The early drum sampler was released the same year Blondie were producing ‘Heart Of Glass’ and imbued the track with an up-to-the-minute sound. The song also features heavy use of synthesisers, which Chapman found to be very difficult to record: “Synchronising [the synthesiser and drum machine] was a big deal at the time. It all had to be done manually, with every note and beat played in real-time rather than looped over. And on old disco tracks, the bass drum was always recorded separately, so Clem had to pound away on a foot-pedal for three hours until they got a take they were happy with.”
Chapman added how his disco arrangement for the track proved difficult for the band as well: “The band were very loose as players and the track needed to be really tight. Clem and Nigel both had issues with me during the recording of the track; we were very close to having some serious fights the whole time. It took a week to get it right, but in the end, it sounded amazing. I have to say that the sound of the final record came more from me than from the band. That was my job.”
Despite being accused of “selling out”, with the disco version of ‘Heart of Glass’, Blondie created one of the greatest songs of the new wave era.
You can listen to the track below.