Autoamerican is the fifth studio album by Blondie. It was released on this day in 1980 and it reached Number Seven on the American pop charts.
It was a radical departure for the band, starting with Europa, the opening track, with its dramatic instrumental overture with orchestra and ending with Debbie Harry deriding automobile culture over an electronic soundtrack. Besides rock and pop songs, Blondie takes on other musical genres: jazz with Here’s Looking At You and Faces with it blues influence; the reggae song The Tide Is High, a cover of The Paragons‘ 1967 Jamaican hit; and my favorite from the album, Rapture combines funk, rock, jazz, and the then emerging genre of rap.
The cover artwork shot has the band posing on the roof of 300 Mercer Street in Manhattan, although the album was recorded in Los Angeles. The image was lifted from a commissioned painting by artist Martin Hoffman (1935–2013).
People argue over the single Rapture‘s place in the history of rap. Was it the first rap song? The first commercial rap song? The first rap song by a female? Rapper’s Delight by Fab Five Freddy was a regional hit, but Rapture was the first Number One rap song and it stayed at Number One for two weeks. Fab Five Freddy:
”For a lot of the white, mainstream public, it was the first time that they heard anybody rap, and it kinda paved the way, you could say, for what was about to come.”
Rapture is a really a mix of disco, funk, and hip-hop with the rap section forming an extended coda. Its lyrics are notable for namechecking hip-hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash.
The music video made its debut on Solid Gold on January 31, 1981, the first rap video ever broadcast on MTV, it was part of its first 90-video rotation. Set in the East Village, the “Man from Mars” is played dancer William Barnes in white suit and top hat. Barnes also choreographed. Much of the video is done in one-take with Harry dancing down the street, passing by graffiti artists, Uncle Sam, an American Indian, child ballet dancer, and a goat. Fab Five Freddy and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat make appearances.
The first official remix of Rapture is on the compilation album Once More Into The Bleach (1988). The track was remixed again and reissued as a single in 1994 this time peaking at Number Eight on the Billboard Hot Dance chart.
In 2005, Rapture was “mashed” with The Doors‘ Riders On The Storm (1971) into Rapture Riders. This unofficial mashup remix was later approved by both bands and released as a single credited to Blondie vs. The Doors. It is included on Blondie’s Greatest Hits: Sight + Sound. Rapture Riders was Number 10 on the U.S. Dance chart and was a Top 40 hit in Europe.
Grandmaster Flash samples Rapture on his single The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel and also includes the track on his album Essential Mix: Classic Edition (2002), editing out all the rap parts. Destiny’s Child samples it on their single Independent Women (2003). Joe Pesci sings it in-character as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini in the film My Cousin Vinny (1992). Erasure covers Rapture on their album Cowboy (1997), with Vince Clarke providing the rap. Alicia Keys recorded a cover on the Sex And The City soundtrack.
There are echoes of a Tin Pan Alley past on Autoamerican, yet it abandons Blondie’s earlier 1960s girl group affectations. Autoamerican feels complex, concept-like, literate and ever so slightly pretentious. There are lot of odd influences: science-fiction and symphonic film scores, nods to the 1930s and 1940s (Harry’s extraordinary, soaring, self-penned torch song, Faces), ska, some inspired, new-wavish rock and even rockabilly twang on Walk Like Me. The closing track, Follow Me, is a cover from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe‘s Broadway musical Camelot (1960). Autoamerican is certainly eclectic and esoteric, but it all works for me.
Toe to toe
Dancing very close
Wall to wall
And they’re stepping lightly
Hang each night in Rapture
Back to back
And a wild attack
Face to face
And it’s finger popping
Twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture
Fab Five Freddie told me everybody’s high
DJ’s spinnin’ are savin’ my mind
Flash is fast, Flash is cool
Francois sez fas, Flashe’ no do
And you don’t stop, sure shot
Go out to the parking lot
And you get in your car and you drive real far
And you drive all night and then you see a light
And it comes right down and lands on the ground
And out comes a man from Mars
And you try to run but he’s got a gun
And he shoots you dead and he eats your head
And then you’re in the man from Mars
You go out at night, eatin’ cars
You eat Cadillacs, Lincolns too
Mercury’s and Subaru’s
And you don’t stop, you keep on eatin’ cars
Then, when there’s no more cars
You go out at night and eat up bars where the people meet
Face to face, dance cheek to cheek
One to one, man to man
Dance toe to toe
Don’t move to slow, ’cause the man from Mars
Is through with cars, he’s eatin’ bars
Yeah, wall to wall, door to door, hall to hall
He’s gonna eat ’em all
Rapture, be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer
Don’t strain your brain, paint a train
You’ll be singin’ in the rain
I said don’t stop, to punk rock
Well now you see what you wanna be
Just have your party on TV
‘Cause the man from Mars won’t eat up bars when the TV’s on
And now he’s gone back up to space
Where he won’t have a hassle with the human race
And you hip-hop, and you don’t stop
Just blast off, sure shot
‘Cause the man from Mars stopped eatin’ cars and eatin’ bars
And now he only eats guitars, get up!