Platinum Girl: A Tribute To Blondie

blondie_tribute

Format: CD

Label: Cleopatra

Country: US

Year: 2000 (March 7)

Price paid: $1

Purchased at: thrift store, Rochester NY

 

Compilations are a tricky thing. When a music company sits down to hammer out a musical compendium there’s two major tracts they can take after the relatively easy concept or theme has been determined.

The first, and usually most successful, is to go out and hunt down pre-existing tracks, ponying up what needs to be paid to get the highest level of talent available. This is the most traditional route; rarely before the nineties do you see the second more insidious method pop up…

It looks great on paper: You’re a small-to-midsize indie label with a great roster of artists. A compilation album seems like a great fun way for consumers to become familiar with your talent; they buy the disc based on the few artists they do know, hoping that they’ll be introduced to new artists of a similar ilk. The problems really start to pop up when you then take those artists and attempt to shoehorn them into your ‘concept.’ Some don’t fit stylistically. Others don’t have the chops to do justice to the source material. And some just don’t give a shit.

It got pretty bad for a while there, this glut of mediocre and pointless compilations. Used CD bins seemed to be filled with them and they couldn’t give them away. You’d pick up a disc to check out the artists and be hit with a dozen or so names you’d never heard of. This first time coming across one of these was great as it seemed like quite the bargain, but by the second or third or fiftieth compilation it was apparent that you’ve never heard of these artists for a reason. In many cases the ‘artists’ didn’t even exist, or just barely so (see below.)

What it boils down to is that there are two ways to do a Blondie tribute album, the ‘right’ way and the ‘wrong’ way. Oh I’m sure there are shades of gray between these two extremes (the ‘mostly right way’ and the ‘decidedly horrible but still listenable’ way to name but two), but I’m going into this with the attitude that the compilation being reviewed here today is either a pleasant listening experience or not worthy of being used to scrape the poop off of Debbie Harry’s shoes.

A few ground rules:

This Blondie compilation will be dissected song-by-song, and at the end the results tabulated. I’ll use a one to ten grading system, with ten equaling ‘awesome’ and one being ‘pretty shitty.’ Subjective as hell I know. The categories under consideration are:

Listenability– Perhaps the most important aspect. Is it a good song?

Originality– Any idiot with a guitar can cover a song. A truly talented idiot can cover a song well. But it takes a real artist to take what has come before and run with it, mutating and transforming the source material into something unique and engaging. If this hasn’t been accomplished then, well, I might as well just listen to the original.

Blondieness– Ok, so you’ve got the ‘originality’ thing covered and it’s sufficiently melodic that I don’t feel like running out of the room screaming. But is it still Blondie? If the song is changed beyond recognition then it’s not very successful, or at least not effective enough to pass as a tribute.

Alright, let’s dig into this puppy and see what we’ve got:

 

Mephisto Walz: ‘Hangin’ On the Telephone’– Goth band that’s been around in one form or another since the mid-80s, Mephisto Walz (formerly ‘Waltz’) was formed by Barry Galvin upon his departure from Christian Death. This cover is rather spry for the group, a jangly wall of sound with distant vocals as if sung from in a cavern.

  • Listenability: 7
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 5

 

Berlin: ‘Shayla’– This 80’s supergroup Berlin need no introduction I’m sure. The vocals are of course top notch, I could do without the cheesy 90’s-sounding rap nonsense that brings to mind Duran Duran’s ‘White Lines.’ Not a compliment.

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 7
  • Blondiness: 6

 

Spahn Ranch (featuring Vylette): ‘Dreaming’– Another Goth (or Electro-Industrial to be more specific) band on the Cleopatra payroll, this group was active through most of the 90s and have an extensive back catalog. Early vocalist Scott “Chopper” Franklin would go on to be the bassist for The Cramps and in ’93 they were joined by drummer David Glass from Christian Death. The band called it a day around the time this compilation was released. I’m rather fond of this version, although with its deadpan tongue-in-cheek heavily modulated vocals it doesn’t lend itself to frequent listens.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 4

 

blondie_tribute1a

Tiffany c. 2012 appearing on the TV show ‘What Not To Wear’

Tiffany: ‘Call Me’– 80’s teen heartthrob Tiffany (aka Tiffany Renee Darwish) is no stranger to covers. ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (Tommy James and the Shondells did it first and came in at #4 on the charts, her version reached #1 in both the US and UK) and ‘I Saw Him Standing There’ (Beatles cover, her version reached #7 in the US and #8 in the UK) were two of her biggest hits after all. Her take on Blondie is rather academic and ‘safe’, not truly doing justice to either Debbie Harry or Tiffany. Competent but unremarkable.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 2
  • Blondiness: 8

 

Swing Cats (with Christi Ellen Harris): ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too– Thanks to Brain Seltzer retro-swing was all the rage back in the mid-90s. Former Stray Cats associates Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom formed the Swing Cats to cash in on the craze (or bring their ‘creative interpretation’ to the genre, whichever you prefer), along with form Honeydrippers’ guitarist Danny B. Harvey. Who Christi Ellen Harris is is still a mystery; suffice it to say her music career was brief at best. And that’s really a shame ‘cause she’s really good! As is this cover, easily one of the strongest of the lot. Reminds me of The Dickies ‘Banana Splits’ cover.

  • Listenability: 9
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 8

 

Michelle Crispin: ‘Rapture– Former lead singer of the first openly (albeit sleazy) lesbian group Fem2Fem, Michelle’s solo career seems to have never taken off. She released a lone 12” single in the late nineties and then completely fell off the radar. The music sounds like off-the-shelf video game filler from some B-list turn-of-the-century driving game and the rap parts are completely butchered beyond recognition.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 4
  • Blondiness: 2

 

Rosetta Stone (featuring Mula): ‘Sunday Girl– Yet another Goth band on the Cleopatra label (this one from the UK), the band had a UK top forty hit with their rather odd cover of The Rattles’ song ‘The Witch.’ Who is Mula? A complete mystery; like several other bands on this compilation it appears they enlisted a female vocalist, the sausage fest that was Rosetta Stone perhaps deemed too masculine? It’s slow and plodding, but against all odds this one’s surprisingly good… and not half as cheesy as it could have been.

  • Listenability: 6
  • Originality: 7
  • Blondiness: 8

 

The Electric Hellfire Club: ‘Rush Rush– Formed by Buck Ryder (aka Thomas Thorn, formerly of My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult) in 1991, this industrial-metal outfit has a history spanning decades. Another odd band choice for a Blondie cover album, but obviously Cleopatra had to work with what talent they had at hand. And again I’m shocked that this unlikely marriage of styles turned out so well. Hard and alight with buzz sawing guitars, it’s tempered by a sweet delicate female voice and crafted with loving care by musicians that not only appreciate Blondie, but ‘get’ what it means to BE Blondie.

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 9

 

Sheep On Drugs, c. 2013

Sheep On Drugs, c. 2013

Sheep On Drugs: ‘The Tide Is High– British techno/dance-punk raver band formed in the 90s and still around today. I’m not sure of their relationship with the Cleopatra label, but they appear on several tribute compilations around the time of this CD’s release. I do not like this cover. It’s a frantic mess, surprisingly empty for all of the aural flotsam being thrown at my ears.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 3
  • Blondiness: 1

 

Ex-Voto: ‘Accidents Never Happen– Goth/deathrock band from New Orleans, Ex-Voto have four studio albums to their name and appear to have been active at least up until 2009. Their typical work is of the depressive droning male-vocal variety typical of the genre but this tune is peppy, lively, and delightfully heavy on the synthwork. Altogether enjoyable!

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 7

 

Angela Bruyiere: ‘Heart of Glass– I know nothing about this artist, and a quick Google search pulls up absolutely nothing about her… other than she appears on this compilation and nowhere else. Competent but completely uninspired cover. Angela seems to be channeling Donna Summer, as the breathy wispy vocals evoke images of discos and roller skating rinks.

  • Listenability: 5
  • Originality: 3
  • Blondiness: 7

 

Razed In Black (featuring Shirley Dayton): ‘Rapture– I’m beginning to sense a theme here. Yet another goth band, this one with supposed elements of dark-wave, synthpop, and techno comprising their typical sound. The artist Shirley Dayton is relatively unknown; she appears on several other Cleopatra compilations as well as the 1999 Razed In Black (going under their alternative name ‘Transmutater’) album ‘Colony of Sluts.’ With this track we break the cardinal rule of compilation albums- ONLY ONE COVER OF THE SAME SONG PER COMILATION! Either this track or Michelle Crispin’s version should have been given the boot… it’s kind of a toss-up as to which one, as quite frankly they both kinda suck. More breathy sub-Donna Summer vocals overlaid on a barren uninspired syth track.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 1
  • Blondiness: 5

 

Cherie Currie and her chainsaw art, c. 2013

Cherie Currie and her chainsaw art, c. 2013

Cherie Currie: ‘For Your Eyes Only– They made a rather odd choice in enlisting ex-Runaway, sometimes-actress, and professional chainsaw wood carver Cherie to make a contribution. An even odder choice (arty or annoying, you decide) that her contribution be ‘For Your Eyes Only’, a rather disposable song from Blondie’s rather disposable sixth studio album, 1982’s ‘The Hunter.’ The song was originally written for the James Bond film of the same name, but ultimately rejected by the producers. Cherie’s take is, perhaps not surprisingly, somewhat of a bloated self-indulgent mess. Bond on lithium.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 4
  • Blondiness: 3

 

Puppie: ‘One Way or Another– Nothing is known of the band or artist known as ‘Puppie.’ Perhaps the singer was a secretary working at Cleopatra Records when the producers of this album came running out of the studio, desperate to find a vocalist in order to finish off the last track to meet a tight deadline. That’s my theory anyway and true or not, it sure comes off that way. The treatment of this song might have looked good on paper and it’s cute for about five seconds, but quickly becomes shrill and annoying.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 2

 

  • Overall listenability: 4.62 out of 10
  • Overall originality: 5.57 out of 10
  • Overall Blondieness: 5.35 out of 10

 

The numbers pretty much play out my thoughts. A slightly better than average tribute album, brought down by a few weak acts and Cleopatra’s limited roster of talent. If they had trimmed the number of tracks from 14 down to 10 and ditched a few of the weaker links the experience would have been much more pleasant.

The package design itself is another weak link; had it been stronger this disc probably would be more widely known. As it is it comes across as one of those generic compilation albums put out by session artists. So bland and flat is the layout that when I came across this disc at a thrift store I almost passed it over. Bonus points for the incorporation of ‘platinum’ ink… but inside a jewel case it just looks gray.

blondie_tribute2

The League of Gentlemen / Robert Fripp: Dislocated / 1984 (January 13th- May 16th)

fripp_league of gentlemen

Format: 7″

Label: Editions EG (EGEDS 2)

Country: UK

Year: 1981

Price paid: $3.50

Purchased at: Angry Mom Records, Ithaca NY

 

The League of Gentlemen were a short-run band comprised of guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson), bassist Sara Lee (later of the B-52’s, Gang of Four, and Indigo Girls), keyboardist Barry Andrews (later of Shriekback), and percussionist Johnny Toobad who was replaced late-on by Kevin Wilkinson (Kevin would later join China Crisis and Squeeze.) It is not to be confused with Fripp’s band of the same name from the 60s.

During their brief existence lasting from March to December 1980 they toured widely, amassing enough material for a full LP with spin-off singles and several live/compilation albums the were released later in the decade into the mid 90s. The B-side ‘1984’ is all Fripp, taken from his 1981album ‘Let The Power Fall.’

contemporary gig poster

contemporary gig poster

The League’s sound is certainly not for everyone, being a jaunty rambling free-form highly experimental affair. Very ‘Fripp’, it nonetheless has strong connections- both in terms of personnel as well as stylistically- with the New Wave. Bands such as Flying Lizards undoubtedly borrowed heavily from their intense playful methodology.

The sleeve art is sparse and just a tinge haughty; in that regard it’s representative of the music itself. The salmony-pink color choice lets you know it’s ultimately all in good fun.

 

fripp_league of gentlemen2

Blondie: Heroes 12″

blondie_heroes

Format: 12″

Label: Chrysalis

Country: West Germany

Year: 1982

Price paid: $9.50

Purchased at: Angry Mom Records, Ithaca NY

 

Though nothing will keep us together

We could steal time just for one day…

‘Heroes’ is a cover of the (now) popular Bowie song, recorded live on 12 January 1980 at The Hammersmith Odeon in London.

Strangely or maybe not, as it’s a live track of merely passable audio quality it was only released in Germany- as this special official ‘Super Sound Single.’ The B-side includes the French version of ‘Sunday Girl’ (the original English version is from the 1978 album ‘Parallel Lines’, this version originally appeared on the 1979 UK 12″ single) and ‘In The Flesh’ (from their 1976 self-titled debut LP.)

Robert Fripp plays guitar on ‘Heroes’; the single was co-written by David Bowie and Brian Eno, so one assumes there must be an Eno/Fripp connection at some level. Since Eno and Fripp released four collaborative studio albums between 1973 and 2007 and all.

The sleeve art is typical of the period for a mainland Europe release. That is, an undersized photo on a plain field with some text around it. The saving grace is that the image of Debbie Harry chosen is pleasant on the eyes. Bonus points for the Andy Warhol shirt.

blondie_heroes2

New Wave Death List

death1

…and now I’ve had my 15 minutes
I’m just another memory
An embarrassing part of your youth
Don’t leave me dying here
Don’t leave me dying here…
Altered Images, Dead Popstars

 

This entry is dedicated to Thomas Erdelyi (aka Tommy Ramone), the newest member to the list…

ramones

Johnny (1948-2004), Tommy (1949-2014), Joey (1951-2001), and Dee Dee (1951-2002)

Death is a funny thing; the way we approach it says much of us as individuals. If this list seems irreverent, or pointless, or smug, or just plain offensive, well, keep in mind that your days are numbered and your fate is as certain as anyone mentioned. As are mine. You may not die from shooting up heroin in some maggot-strewn dive in Cleveland after a lackluster and under attended gig, but we can all certainly strive for such a glorious demise.

death3

Patty Donahue (1956-1996)

When I started entry I did so as a lark; with the recent passing of Bob Casale (Devo) I got to thinking of my own mortality… and then visions of other New Wave artists who had passed began dancing in my head. The sadness I felt of the early passing of Patty Donahue (Waitresses) so many years ago was the first to come to mind, but the list quickly grew…
If I knew at the beginning of this list’s creation what I know now, I probably would have never started the project. I thought it would be a quick hour-long research yielding maybe a dozen artists. Some ten hours later my mind is reeling with thoughts of cancer, heroin, and suicide. It took me to a dark place.

death2

Nancy (1958-1978) Sid (1957-1979)

This list is long, but undoubtedly there are many minor musicians that saw fleeting fame decades ago that have passed, their demise having gone unnoticed by all but their friends and family. Researching the fate, be it dire or happy, of members of a group like say Girls At Our Best would be a difficult undertaking… and certainly beyond the time I could commit to such research. Suffice to say, if you see someone who’s missing from the list please feel free to let me know!

chrissy

Chrissy Amplett (1959-2013)

So, who made the list? Well, the most important attribute for inclusion is that the person be dead. Given that, the artist (or producer, collaborator, what have you) needs to have been working within the genre of ‘new wave.’ Which begs the question- “Just what is New Wave, anyway?” That’s a complex query with no easy answer. For the purposes of this list ‘new wave’ is what is commonly seen by Joe Sixpack as ‘New Wave’ (Devo, Blondie, Go-Go’s) in addition to first gen punk, some ska, some indie, some alternative. The concept of ‘new wave’ (no caps) is more of a spirit than a time-locked and narrow style. An idea that permeates to this day, like ripples in the surface of a pond from a stone cast into the murky depths of the late 70s.

poly

Poly Styrene (1957-2011)

I’ve included not only musicians such as singers and drummers, but also those that have had a notable impact on the genre. Producers, venue owners, critics, and (in one case) groupies. The range of deaths runs from the pathetic (suicide) to the noble (crushed in an effort to save others while the World Trade Center collapsed around them), from the mundane (dying in sleep) to the tragically improbable (being hit by a speeding boat.) In almost every case their creative lives were snuffed out too soon…

 

 

By the numbers:

Date range covered: 1972-present
Average age at death: 44.8 years
Youngest: 18 (John Spence, older brother of Gwen Stefani)
Oldest: 88 (Esther Wong, owner of the seminal west coast venue ‘Madame Wong’s’)
Most fatal year to be a punk/new waver: 2004 (10 deaths)
Deadliest occupation as a punk/new waver: punk (62 deaths)

Manner of death*:

35cancer (8 specifically lung and 5 specifically liver)
21overdose (15/21 or 71% over overdoses were heroin-related)
19heart attack or other fatal heart issue
17miscellaneous (lesser diseases, house fires, bicycling accidents)
12suicide
8brain aneurisms and clots
8car related fatalities
6AIDS
4Pneumonia
4homicide
3died in sleep
3natural causes
1drowned

* If death is due to multiple reasons (such as suicide by overdose) both are listed

list

A majority of the data for this chart was gleaned from this site. Its listings are exhaustive, with the amount of errors you might expect from a pet-project database of its magnitude. So vast in fact that merely wading through what seemed like millions of dead rock stars and picking out the relevant individuals took not an inconsiderable amount of time.

klaus 2

Klaus Nomi (1944-1983)

Lady Gaga bootleg ‘Mickey Mouse’ Paparazzi sunglasses

 glasses2Format: eyewear
Country: unknown
Year: 2012
Price paid: $10.48
Purchased at: Triple Optic (Amazon dealer)

 

“‎Do not allow people to dim your shine because they are blinded. Tell them to put on some sunglasses, ‘cause we were born this way bitch!” – Lady Gaga

2Say what you will about Gaga, if she were to disappear tomorrow her place in music history is still sealed as one of the more colorful pop artists of the early 21st century. Her longevity has yet to be proven, but her embracing of two major demographics (awkward teens and ostracized sexual groups) through her benevolent ‘Mother Monster’ image gives her a readymade fanbase that should keep the Haus of Gaga afloat for years to come.

 

Lady Gaga signs a fan's copy of the NY Post, then poses with him while wearing Mickey ear sunglasses outside of Rockefeller Center, NYCStrip away all the meat dresses, glitter lobster hats, and Shrek-sized shoulder pads and you’re left with a slightly better than average Madonna-esque crooner. The thing is though you CAN’T separate the Gaga from the dress; they’re as intertwined as Thelma and Louise, Siegfried and Roy, Disney and Mickey Mouse.

As of 2014 you can still purchase a pair of these iconic glasses, officially known as ‘Mickey by Jeremy Scott by Linda Farrow’ for a very reasonable $464 (not including lenses.)

4The pair on display here are cheap ten dollar knockoffs, basically costume-quality. Many choices await on Amazon if you choose to invest in a pair, of varying quality but almost universally under $20. The differences when compared to the original are many. The original has a flatter, thicker body, thinner bridge, and the blinder ‘flaps’ are flatter and appear to be non-opaque. But to be honest, Ms. Gaga herself would have a difficult time differentiating between the two if you were to be sporting these in a dark nightclub or rave.

glasses1