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The Story Behind the Song: How Blondie created their monster hit ‘Call Me’

Blondie came out on the tail end of their Eat to the Beat album in September of 1979 on the top of the world; it went platinum in the States where it spent a full year on the Billboard charts and went to number one in the UK charts. Their success would be further skyrocketed when Debbie Harry, the band’s singer, was approached by the father of disco, Giorgio Moroder. Around this period, Blondie was experiencing the increasing pressures of stardom and the lifestyle that comes with this kind of lifestyle; drugs, partying, label pressures and the rest. The band, with tension high, would start to argue quite often. 

A the same time, the Italian father of disco, Giorgio Moroder, had composed the majority of the music for what would become ‘Call Me’, and brought what was just an instrumental at the time to Debbie Harry. Moroder needed a female singer to compose the lyrics and melody around his music. Before Harry transformed Moroder’s piece, it was called ‘Man-Machine’, and he had originally approached Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, but Nicks would have to decline due to other obligations.

The project involved turning ‘Man-Machine’ into the theme song for a new up and coming film at the time, American Gigolo, a neo-noir film about a male escort. When Debbie Harry began writing the lyrics and melody, which she did in just a few hours, Harry took inspiration from some of the images from the film: “When I was writing it, I pictured the opening scene, driving on the coast of California,” she once commented.

“As soon as I heard Deborah singing a rough version of ‘Call Me,’ I knew we had a hit,” Moroder later commented. ‘Call Me’ would go on to become Blondie’s highest-charting single in their career. The song was nominated for a Grammy and spent six consecutive weeks at number one in the Billboard charts. Giorgio Moroder was slated to go on to do a full album with Blondie, especially after how successful the single turned out to be. 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 this chaos, Debbie Harry would achieve the record as the first woman to have three number one hits in the British charts. Reflecting on the success of the song while writing in her memoir Face It, Harry is able to vividly recall the buzz of excitement when the track began to rise through the charts: “When ‘Call Me’ hit No. 1 in April 1980, we were on the road,” the singer wrote. “I was doing a lot of promo, going out to radio stations, and we did a lot of appearances and performances of that song, which was really exciting and fabulous. They were giving out a lot of gold 45s and LPs at that time, and 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.”

Harry continued: “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. 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.

“To spend six weeks at No. 1 was a complete amplification of everything we had achieved outside of the United States. 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?”.

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