I bought an album based on one song, well actually two and neat cover art. The album was Blondie’s Autoamerican a loosely conceptual recording about Americans dependence on cars. Or at least that’s how it started out. While Autoamerican was not the first, it would be my last Blondie album as it was delightfully frustrating to listen to, but maybe not worth the 8 or so dollars I paid for it at a Zarye store in 1981.
At about the same time rap was making itself known, an surprising development would put the New York based band on the rap map. Blondie was strictly a new wave band in the classic American sense. It’s lead vocalist Deborah Harry exuded a European flair and her band had been on a roll with the last two albums scoring hits in the top 10.
With Autoamerican, the band decided to try new things, like recording in the surreal environment of Southern California and working with longtime producer Mike Chapman. The resulting album was a odd mesh of styles, often bizarre choices that ranged from ‘covers of 1920s pop, Broadway and reggae songs to a weird, but funny rap song.
Oddly enough it would be the last two traditionally un-new wave influences that would land the band their two biggest hits to date, ‘The Tide is High’ and’ Rapture’. The Tide is High was a remake of a Paragons song from the ’60s, sang in a almost flat vocal style that became an album pre-release hit.
It would be the second single ‘Rapture’ that would erase the memory of ‘Heart of Glass’ for a new generation of hip hop fans. The song became the first #1 rap single on the pop chart, years before Aerosmith and Run DMC would repeat the feat and nearly a decade before suburban white boys made rap top 40 material.
By rap standards, the song was laughable in that crude early 80’s kind of way, but it brought a kind of humor and light hardheartedness to a genre that was mostly angry in its delivery. It did not hurt that it had a fresh original beat during a time when most rap was sample dependent. The songs impact in the hip hop community was huge as it would be sampled by Grand Master Flash and reached the R&B top 40. Now a rap classic, it has since been remixed on multiple occasions, keeping it on the dance charts for well into the ’80s.
The impact of the two singles from Autoamerican was so profound, that Blondie’s label never bothered to release a third single, instead rushing the release Deborah Harry’s uneven solo album in an attempt to cash in on her rising celebrity. Autoamerican would be the last album from Blondie that maintained a high profile on the the pop charts. Harry’s solo work fared no better.
Autoamerican was in many ways the end of an era of wild experimental and commercially successful music from America’s disco to new wave darlings of the ’70s.