452. ‘Atomic’, by Blondie

Getting us back on track after (yet another) country detour… Though you could argue that there’s a country twang to the main riff on this one… sort of… Anyway, where were we? Oh yes! Blondie go atomic!

Atomic, by Blondie (their 3rd of six #1s)

2 weeks, 24th February – 9th March 1980

Add this one to the list of great intros: a sort of beautiful cacophony, a remix of the way church bells go wild after a wedding, or on Christmas morning… Ding! Dang! Dong! Apparently its based upon the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ of all things! And then it clicks into that riff. (This intro was, for some reason, cut from the single edit… but let’s just pretend that version doesn’t exist.)

Oh-ho, Make it magnificent, Tonight… Is there a better song to listen before a night out than ‘Atomic’? Back when I was young and going to nightclubs, this was often playing as I picked out a shirt, did my hair, and prayed that the bouncer would ignore the fact that I still looked about thirteen… Oh, your hair is beautiful… Debbie Harry would sing, as if she could see me in the mirror. Oh tonight… Atomic! It’s a fine, fine song. But is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…?

In some ways they’re very similar. Both rock with a disco beat (or disco with guitars…) and both with a synth breakdown in the middle – of the album versions, anyway. Here, actually, it’s time to quickly resurrect the single-edit that I killed off earlier, as that shortens the breakdown, cuts the bass guitar solo, and repeats the iconic, deep-voiced Atomic! line. It works better as a pop song, which I suppose was the point. ‘Heart of Glass’ was chopped up into various different mixes, too…

The biggest difference between last year’s Blondie and this year’s Blondie is Harry’s voice. On ‘Heart of Glass’ she was restrained, and sarcastic. On ‘Sunday Girl’ she was quite cute. She belts this one out, though, full-throated. A huge echo effect is put on her closing Oh-oh Atomics… adding to this record’s epic feel.

I’d go as far as describing ‘Atomic’ as life-affirming. A song that will psyche you up, pick you up, cheer you up… A song that does everything pop music should. Which is funny, because there’s a school of thought (in so far as pop songs have ‘schools of thought’…) that interprets this song as apocalyptic i.e. it’s the song you’d play just before the bomb goes off. That’s not something I subscribe to, though.

Anyway, I still have a question to answer though: is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…? Actually, who cares? They’re both brilliant songs. Blondie were brilliant, on top of their game at this point, and will be along again soon with another classic hit. And another one that’s totally atomic!

18 thoughts on “452. ‘Atomic’, by Blondie

  1. Its the single edit every time for me, its perfect, the sheer excitement of the record starts with an explosion and keeps the pace up throughout. I cant be doing with annoying instrumental changes of pace! Is it Blondie’s best track? Thats a huge YES from me despite the classic competition up to this point. Eat To The Beat was a whole video album, a first I think, and this Debs n co’s 4th chart topper for me.

    1. Hmm… I do think the slower breakdown in the middle of the album version is a bit frustrating, but the single version doesn’t have that intro. Did they never, ever release a definitive version with all the best bits stitched together…? Can someone please do this??

  2. A great No.1 indeed. Definitely their peak as far as I was concerned. For me, they never really cut it as a reggae or rap band – although ‘Maria’ was an amazing albeit brief return to form nearly two decades later!

  3. Apparently the UK, Ireland, Austria and Norway liked this much more than US audiences. IDK why, tho… I LOVE this song. It is bad-ass and, from my perspective, better than Heart of Glass, as much as I love that song. You are correct, she belts out this tune. This is a cruisin’ in your car, blow out the speakers kind of song. Curiously, it made it to #1 on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart around 1994-1995. It hits number one in the middle of the 90s alt rock scene. Go figure.

    1. I was shocked to see how low this charted in the US… #39! Blondie singles were either huge #1s or struggled to get Top 20 in the States, for some reason, while they were Britain’s favourite band in 79-80

      1. Americans can be tight-assed with their music…and other things, too. I’m completely fascinated with your UK chart because it can be quite different from our “tastes.” New Wave/Punk had trouble here. All I remember out of the 1980s was bland pop and hair bands (Pat Benatar being a bright spot). Prior to that, I was choked on Southern Rock (I am really tired of Lynyrd Skynyrd). The Rockers lost their minds over Disco and, thankfully, bland pop gave way into the 90s alt rock.

        These days, I can’t take Top 40.

      2. I may be biased, but I’ve always preferred the UK charts to Billboard… When I was growing up the US charts seemed very slow moving – 10 weeks at #1 was quite normal in the late 90s through to now – not to mention the strange rules that meant some songs simply never charted. And now doing this blog and comparing the two… the US never really got glam, or punk, or new-wave…

      3. You saw my post on Gerry Rafferty. Bill Wardlow jacked with everybody…favors for money.

        I think the closest we got to glam was KISS and Alice Cooper. The early 80s had some new wave with Devo and, Face to Face was just a minor flash in the pan, even with Laurie Sargent’s incredible voice. I loved Terri Nunn & Berlin, Toni Basil… We did have Cyndi Lauper, Oingo Boingo, Missing Persons, Wall of Voodoo, ‘Til Tuesday, The B-52s and even Donna Summer moved into the genre after Disco. I enjoyed The Waitresses. The Cars, and Blondie, by far, were the biggest but, most new wave was somewhere else and we were lucky if we got exposure to it. MTV helped my generation get stuff outside our borders that radio wouldn’t carry, plus whatever regional video channels we got.

        Now, with punk, according to Rolling Stone, ours started in Queens in 1976…The Ramones. We had a very strong undercurrent of that genre. It just wasn’t “cool music” for the generation of folks running Billboard (and Wardlow). Iggy Pop/The Stooges, Beastie Boys (started out punk), Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, The Runaways, The Replacements and even Van Halen had a punk/new wave sound. American punk is the parent of American alt rock. Wardlow was gone from Billboard by 1983.

      4. Thanks for the extensive reply! Yes, I love the Ramones and The Dolls, so US punk was definitely a thing – it just didn’t chart as often or as high. UK punk seemed angrier too, fueled by the 70s economic woes.

        Also, the US is huge, and much less homogenous in its music tastes. It’d be like a Europe-wide chart, being representative of everything and nothing. There is a Scottish singles chart, but it looks pretty identical to the British charts as a whole, save a position or two…

      5. We are a gi-hugic country. Much of that punk scene was regional. East Coast punk made some noise and it spread to the West Coast. The reverse happened in the 90s. Alt rock came out of the West Coast and spread to the East Coast. Hell, even my state of North Carolina had it’s own regional music. The former Mammoth Records out of Chapel Hill was big in this area during the alt rock time (Squirrel Nut Zippers, notwithstanding). As a side note, NC also happens to be an East Coast Hollywood, too…film-wise (not so much the “celebrity” nonsense, with the red carpet shows and walks-of-fame stars).

        I also faced the same thing when I was living in Texas. I worked in downtown Austin and on several occasions, our parking lots and parking garages were commandeered by Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew McConaughey or Sandra Bullock….18-wheelers, personal trailers, security, cameras everywhere…

        The US has Billboard (and its endless chart incarnations) and, Cash Box still exists, online but, regional music rarely makes the charts unless something catches the attention of the “suits” via trends in music venues. SXSW usually has “suits” wandering around, there, taking in the talent.

      6. People still shag here, though in smaller numbers in comparison to the 60s & 70s. My generation shagged quite a bit (teens of the 80s) but, it had dropped off some due to changes in the music industry & shag groups were aging. A large portion of shag bands were also doo-wop groups.

        Shagging will eventually die out if younger groups don’t step up & take the mantle.

        There is a dedicated radio station in North Myrtle Beach, SC, that is all things “beach” and broadcasts for both Carolinas. Both states still claim that shagging started in “their state.”

        949thesurf.com

        And, yes…in UK terms, there ain’t nothing like shagging! 😆

  4. Pingback: 454. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘The Dreams of Children’, by The Jam – The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. Pingback: 456. ‘Call Me’, by Blondie – The UK Number Ones Blog

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