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Music

How Giorgio Moroder and Blondie crafted their biggest hit

By the time Giorgio Moroder had met Debbie Harry from Blondie to collaborate on a new project of his, Harry was at the peak of her career with the popular 1978 release Parallel Lines, which featured the disco-infused hit singles’ Heart of Glass’ and ‘One Way or Another’. Meanwhile, Moroder, the Italian composer, songwriter and producer, had become well established as a disco music composer and producer.

In the early 1970s, off the back of a successful few years with his Munich based record label Oasis Records, Moroder founded his own recording studio in the German city called Musicland Studios. The studio became very popular and was soon welcoming the likes of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Elton John. As a producer, he rose to prominence collaborating with Donna Summer on some of her biggest disco hits, including ‘Love to Love You Baby’, ‘I Feel Love’, ‘Last Dance’, ‘MacArthur Park’ and ‘Hot Stuff’. In the late 1970s, he also released an impressive body of solo work, including the synthesiser-laden From Here To Eternity (1977) and E=MC2 (1979). His work throughout this period, later known as the disco era, gained him the title of “The Father of Disco”.

By 1980, Moroder had been commissioned to produce the soundtrack to director Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, a neo-noir crime drama starring Richard Gere. He had the instrumentals mostly figured out for the theme song of the soundtrack, which he intended to entitle ‘Man-Machine’. In need of a female singer to construct the lyrics for the track, he initially approached Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. However, Nicks declined due to other pressing obligations. 

Next, Moroder approached Debbie Harry from Blondie who appeared to have some time on her hands following the success of their 1979 album Eat To The Beat. Harry accepted the task and wrote lyrics to Moroder’s instrumentals, changing the name to ‘Call Me’, which would appear more appropriate than ‘Man-Machine’. When looking for inspiration, Harry looked through images from the film that she had been given. She once explained: “When I was writing it, I pictured the opening scene, driving on the coast of California.”

“After we saw the rough cut [of the film], we were walking across 59th Street at the bottom of Central Park, and the visuals were fresh in my mind,” continued Harry. “I wrote the lyrics really quickly. The colours had a really strong effect on me, and that’s the first line of the song. [“Colour me your colour baby / Colour me your car.”] Later I found out from Giorgio that the film was fashion designer Armani’s big break as well. You know that palette of colour throughout the film, those beautiful greys, blues and browns, it was so beautifully done.”

For Harry and Blondie, the song was a pivotal moment in the group’s perception on home soil. Though the band had been exceptionally received in Europe, the US had failed to catch on, until now. “To spend six weeks at No. 1 was a complete amplification of everything we had achieved outside of the United States,” Harry continued. “We didn’t expect it, but it legitimised us in this country and made people realise that we were adventurous and had a vision that could transcend the styles of the day. We embraced the punk attitude — we were happy but belligerent at the same time. I hear bits and pieces of ‘Call Me’ in other people’s songs even today, not direct copies of it, but similarities. Music either works or it doesn’t work. It was the right place, right time, right sound. It all just sort of fell into place. What could be better? What more could you ask for, really?”

Moroder later commented: “As soon as I heard Deborah singing a rough version of ‘Call Me,’ I knew we had a hit.” ‘Call Me’ would become Blondie’s highest-charting single of their career. The song was nominated for a Grammy and spent six consecutive weeks at number one in the Billboard charts. Giorgio Moroder made arrangements to do a full album with Blondie following the success of the single. However, Moroder would comment that because of the volatile nature of the band at the time, this would prove to be highly difficult. Moroder elaborates, “There were always fights,” he recalled. “I was supposed to do an album with them after that. We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player. I called their manager and quit.”

Despite Moroder’s decision not to make a full album with Blondie, his collaboration with them on ‘Call Me’ has remained in his fond memory as one of his greatest lifetime achievements. Harry said a few years after the release: “I remember speaking with Giorgio [Moroder], who was very enthusiastic and jumping for joy. He had so many hits by then, but this one was important for him, being in the film industry as well.”