[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop , 2011]
“Tunnel to the other side / It becomes daylight / I say he’s mine…”
How can a track like ‘Union City Blue’ – essentially a pop song with no discernible chorus – be so stirring, panoramic and unforgettable? Really, it’s just several verses strung together in a rather humdrum cycle, and yet it is one of the strongest songs in the Blondie catalogue. It’s so free-flowing and airy it sounds as though it took Debbie Harry and bassist Nigel Harrison (a Stockport lad, by the way) mere seconds to jam out. They obviously had the confidence to just let it fly. All power to them for not structuring the life out of it.
I find the track evocative of my teenage years in Preston. I used to blast it out in my ten-foot by ten-foot bedsit, often in an attempt to mask the sounds of the middle-aged man in the room opposite shagging his alsatian. The song personified everything I longed for at that point: escape; enterprise; the sheer glamour and scale of city life. All those words Harry throws at the listener – Skyline! Passion! Power! How they reeled me in.
I went to see Blondie in 2000. It wasn’t an amazing gig, but I treasured it because it was one I thought I’d never see. Chris Stein looked so frail and ill he gave the impression of being propped up and operated from behind by a complex pulley system. Debbie was throwing herself around like a pissed grandma on a bouncy castle to compensate. But when Clem Burke started slamming out the tom tom intro of ‘Union City Blue’, he looked and sounded perfect.
‘Union City Blue’ is as much Clem’s song as it is Nigel and Debbie’s. The end of the track is as heart-stopping as the opening. For almost the whole of the last minute, Clem is smashing the shit out of every cymbal available. Few other pop producers would countenance such a relentless hammering, but Mike Chapman knew better than to argue. Pure exhilaration.
On a final note, I have always noticed that, live, Debbie Harry tends to sing “powder” rather than “power”. I’m not entirely sure what this might be a reference to…