Blondie – Plastic Letters

So, as I said last time, I picked up both “Blondie” and “Plastic Letters” after I’d already learned every note of “Parallel Lines.” In fact, “Plastic Letters,” which like their debut was produced by Richard Gottehrer, was released only seven months before “Parallel Lines,” in February 1978. A little more adventurous than “Blondie,” it nevertheless continues some comic strip / film noir themes that make it tremendously fun, like “Contact In Red Square,” “Detroit 442,” and the dreamy “Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45).” “Kidnapper” is a saucy, bratty romp, and “Denis” is the only remake of “Denise” that is ever necessary. But again, the singles did nothing in the US (what the hell, America?), even though “Denis” went to #1 in Europe and #2 in the UK.

Plastic Letters front cover
Plastic Letters front cover

So, having listened to both the first and second Blondie albums based on the recommendation of my friend The Doctor, and having found that in fact, his recommendation was extremely valid, that, if anything, he had understated the excellence of those albums, you would think from that point forward I would just listen to his recommendations and check things out when he presented them to me. This is the man who took me (well, I did the driving) to see Country Joe and the Fish when I barely knew who they were. Now, the man who told me there was better Blondie (and there is nothing at all wrong with “Parallel Lines” — it’s a masterpiece). And later, he would hep me to a number of other artists that I should have paid more attention to when he did the hepping.

But of course I didn’t listen! That’s just not how my brain works. Some of his recommendations took years, perhaps a decade, to sink in. Happily, Blondie wasn’t one of them.

Plastic Letters back cover
Plastic Letters back cover – Love that Clem was credited with “Premier drums.”

Must say, even though I know I got this and “Blondie” in that summer of ’79, I don’t recall where — maybe at Desert Shore records, maybe somewhere else. But I do remember that they were definitely records that my summer roommates did not like to hear. I was subletting a room in an apartment with two female graduate students who loved all mellow music and were pretty much over college freshmen. For the latter, I blame them not at all — I was getting over myself pretty quickly, too. But for them, Van Morrison was kinda hardcore. I was relying on borrowing their stereo, and had no headphones. My listening to The Animals and Jefferson Airplane was unwelcome — but Blondie? This was just unacceptable. They were huge Joni Mitchell fans, and this was like the anti-Joni.

This may well be my favorite Blondie album. These songs would populate my mixtapes for the next several years, and so they’re permanently associated with that time of my life. It’s interesting, in fact, that I think of the songs in relation to the mixtape they were featured on. “Contact in Red Square” was featured on what I called “The Red Tape,” which was stamped with a hammer and sickle motif for extra relevance, and that tape was made in our last college apartment on Marshall Street in Syracuse. “Kidnapper” went on a tape called “The Twilight Zone,” a loosely themed collection I made around the time we first got cable and became obsessed with reruns of “The Twilight Zone” on the “super-station” out of Boston, WSBK. And so on.

I should note that Syd Straw did an excellent twist on one of these songs, changing it into a Christmas song with “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presents, Dear.”

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