Weekends at Trent Polytechnic were a mixed affair. It depended who was around. Some Fridays it seemed everyone disappeared leaving me rattling round my accommodation block. It always amazed me how many students had decided to leave home and then wanted to return almost immediately, it was even rumored that someone had kept their Saturday job and would return to this every weekend.
Stuck, as I was, on the very outskirts of Nottingham the campus offered a bare minimum of entertainment opportunities and, after an initial flurry of activity when term started that boiled down to just one thing; the Poly Disco.
So, for three weeks only here are three 70’s tracks indelibly imprinted on my brain from the ‘Poly Disco’.
As a keen student of the New York scene I had had my eyes on Blondie from the moment that the first started to appear in the music papers. This was partly for obvious reasons as Debbie Harry seemed to be one of the most beautiful women who ever walked the planet but also their early repertoire tied into the slightly cheesy sixties punk rock that I had been listening to on the ‘Nuggets’ compilation LP. I bought the first record and quite liked it. Harry seemed to be a really distinctive singer, I loved her voice and Clem Burke’s drumming and the 60’s organ sound, the first LP was good but not great. There was so much going on musically that I missed the detail of their career after that but the subsequent singles sounded pretty good.
And then, all of a sudden there was Heart of Glass.
I think this was a bigger thing in the States but there was a casual hatred of disco amongst rock fans. Although you were never going to find me down studio 54 I didn’t really share this. This was partly though lack of choice, there were so little opportunities to hear music that having a blanket hatred of disco meant that radio would never be an option and radio was pretty much all there was in the 70’s. As a consequence I listened to a lot of that genre and enjoyed a lot of it.
For a band that was loosely considered punk however, recording a disco influenced track was a big step and a big risk.
The band had been playing around with a version of what they called the ‘disco song’ for a while. White rock bands trying disco always tended to sound a bit lumpy, I suspect this was the case until top pop producer Mike Chapman got his hands on it and utilised the latest technology in the form of a drum machine and synthesizers to create the irresistible groove.
By doing this he was in effect making the band a bit redundant but Chapman always prioritized a great sound over a great band. In truth Blondie weren’t that great a live band, live they could sound tinny and bombastic at the same time but by having the twin bases of vocals and drums covered they managed to get by.
Although theres apparently not a sequencer involved Chapman got the sequencer effect with the synthesizers which in tandem with the drum machine pushes the song forward. Nigel Harrison does that octave bass thing that rock players had been experimenting with since the Stones recorded ‘Miss You’ and Clem Burke (reluctantly) beefed of the rhythm with some actual drums (you can almost hear their relief in the fade out where they can cut loose and relax a bit)
Like a lot of great records its the sound that captivates, theres a glamour but its the style of the glitter ball and the Mecca ballroom rather than the catwalk. Like a lot of their earlier records theres fun mixed in with the style, just right for a crowd of gauche polytechnic students on a Friday night.
Interestingly this was a blip rather than a change in direction, the next track by the band was a return to guitar jangling with Sunday Girl, there were to be no attempts a cashing in on some sort of punk disco craze which leaves Heart of Glass in it’s own little oasis of pop perfection.