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

 

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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.

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Berlin: Take My Breath Away

berlin_takemybreathFormat: 7″

Label: Columbia

Country: US

Year: 1986

Price paid: $1

Purchased at: Books and Melodies, Syracuse NY

 

Watching every motion in my foolish lover’s game

On this endless ocean finally lovers know no shame

 

‘Take My Breath Away (Love Theme from “Top Gun”)’ or as it’s more commonly known ‘Take My Breath Away’ appears on the band’s fourth album ‘Count 3 & Pray’ (1986) and- not too surprisingly- on the ‘Top Gun’ soundtrack.

It went all the way to number one in the US, UK, and Belgium (#2 in Canada and the Netherlands, #4 in New Zealand) and is by far the band’s highest-charting single; its nearest competitor was ‘No More Words’ which went to #23 in the US in 1984 and ‘The Metro’ at #58 in 1981.

The song was written by Giovanni Giorgio Moroder (with Tom Whitlock), a musical artist with a long an impressive history. Some of the notches in his belt include co-writing credits on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, worked with the Human League to compose ‘Forever in Electric Dreams’ for the film ‘Electric Dreams, and more recently contributed to Daft Punk’s 2013 album ‘Random Access Memories.’ The B-side of this single is his composition ‘Radar Radio’ (featuring Joe Pizzulo.) Mr. Pizzulo also makes appearances on the soundtracks to ‘Scarface’ (1983), ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1986), and ‘Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders’ (2000.)

‘Take My Breath Away’ won the 1986 Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. It’s been covered many times by everyone from Diana Ross to Jessica Simpson.

Typical of US 7″ sleeves of the period (and soundtrack singles in particular) the artwork is serviceable, but unremarkable. At least the band makes an appearance on the cover, so that’s something I guess.

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Berlin: Sex (I’m a) / The Metro

berlin_sex

Format: 12″

Label: Mercury

Country: Netherlands

Year: 1982

Price paid: $5

Location purchased: Exchange, Kent OH

 

“I’m a man, I’m a teaser I’m a man, well I’m a virgin I’m a man, I’m a one night stand I’m a man, I’m a drug I’m a man, well I’m your slave I’m a man, I’m a dream divine, and we make love together…”

Probably best known for their hits ‘The Metro’ (which is given second billing on this single) and ‘Take My Breath Away’ (from the Top Gun soundtrack) Berlin are one of the west coast/LA ‘biggies’, ranking up there with the Missing Persons and their ilk in my book. They claim inspiration from Devo and Kraftwerk; although sufficiently ‘synthy’, they fall more into the ‘radio-friendly’ than the conceptual camp. That’s not an insult.

Sex (I’m a) is a naughty, naughty song. Especially for 1982. I’m torn as to whether it’s a brilliant period piece or merely an annoying repetitive tone-deaf jingle. Not surprisingly it was banned from some US radio stations. Despite this it rose to #62 on the US charts and an impressive #18 in New Zealand.

The video itself is a classic. Cheesy, sleazy, and low budget in a way only an early 80s video can be. I seem to recall seeing it once or twice on MTV, but I don’t remember the (animated) nudity so I could be mistaken.

The sleeve art is unremarkable. With it’s poor color/font choices and undersized photo placed dead-center it smacks of a hastily and unsympathetically produced single intended for European consumption… which is exactly what it is!

*Fun Fact- Terri Nunn was an aspiring actress, even auditioning for the role of Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars.’ I like to think that in one of the infinite parallel worlds that make up our multiverse she actually got the part.

Berlin: 2014 stickers and badges

  terri6

Format: various

Country: US

Year: 2014

Price paid: $8.50 (including ship.)

Purchased at: Official Berlin featuring Terri Nunn website

 

If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: I love autographs. Whether personalized with a thoughtful sentiment or merely pithily hen-scratched, there’s something about that tenuous connection with a celebrity that comes about from getting/owning their (oft unintelligible) scribbles that infuses the object with deep meaning. In the case of the New Wave genre few signatures carry high monetary value, but to me they’re priceless artifacts.

terri4In most cases I get my autographs second-hand from dealers, eBay, other collectors. Sadly authenticity is always an issue. The FBI has stated that 70% of sports autographs are fakes. I’m not sure what the numbers are in the world of music, but undoubtedly forgeries are passed off as the real deal every day, especially with personalities like Elvis and dead Beatles, where big bucks are to be made. Even the signature of a ‘minor’ artist, with their relative obscurity, doesn’t make authenticity certain. It takes careful research, such as comparing examples to known or independent specimens, and trust in your source to be confident that what you have is genuine. But I digress…

Happily provenance is not an issue here, as I received them directly from the source…

I’ve been a fan of Terri/Berlin for years, so I really perked up when I came across an autographed item on eBay. A lot of them actually. Personally signed, if requested at checkout. Many artists ask that you give your name when signing autographs (she did)- this practice is to discourage flippers I imagine; signed items typically don’t (re)sell for as much if they have someone’s name on them.

terri5I’m fine with that, but didn’t want my personal request to get lost and just end up with a few awesome but autograph-less stickers, so I went right to ground zero, that is, the official website. Prices were the same but I felt more confident that the note would get through. I thought I’d be cute and ask for ‘<3’ and wow, she did it for me. It’s the little things that make a fan’s day.

 

I’m not sure why she’s selling her signature so cheap, basically free with anything you buy. I routinely see autographs of artists of a similar ilk/status (no respect meant!) go in the $25-30 range so IMO she should sign less and charge more per. That being said- and being a cheap bastard- I went for the ‘deluxe’ Combo Pack to maximize my signature-bang, getting 2 autographs and three buttons for under ten bucks.

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