Autoamerican (Remastered 2001)
The fifth album from Blondie, 1980’s Autoamerican, finds the New Wave hitmakers at their most radio-dominant—and at their absolute strangest. Autoamerican would yield two chart-topping singles (actually, three chart-topping singles, if you count the career-defining non-LP track “Call Me,” which first appeared on the American Gigolo soundtrack, and was later appended to the Autoamerican reissue). But for all the album’s mainstream success, Autoamerican is the sound of the band stretching their legs into weird and wild places—as evidenced by its two biggest hits: the irresistible Caribbean-pop of “The Tide Is High” and the landmark hip-hop homage “Rapture.” To record Autoamerican, producer Mike Chapman relocated the band to Los Angeles, where he rang up his session-musician pals. As a result, Autoamerican has the lushest arrangements of any Blondie album, swooning with strings and horns, and featuring appearances from such pop royalty as Motown guitarist Wah Wah Watson (“Live It Up”) and Flo & Eddie of The Turtles (“T-Birds”). The storied Weather Report percussionist Alex Acuña shows up on “The Tide Is High”—the album's first single, and a cover of a 1967 rocksteady single by The Paragons. But Autoamerican isn’t an album obsessed with the past: Its most consequential track, “Rapture,” would become the first Billboard chart-topper to incorporate rap—a style that had yet to enter the mainstream (Blondie guitarist Chris Stein would later say that members of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep had credited “Rapture” as the first rap song they ever heard). Beyond its two iconic hits, Autoamerican is the sound of a band spinning in all directions, unafraid to follow any whim or idea. The album's opening credits sequence, “Europa,” features a 30-piece orchestra playing Stein’s majestic score. “Live It Up,” meanwhile, is absolutely luxurious post-disco that sounds like Chic on a Star Wars-sized budget. Elsewhere on the album, “Here's Looking At You” takes a spin through 1940s-era vocal jazz, “Faces” recasts Harry into a singer belting sad tales of the Bowery at a noir piano bar, and “Go Through It” is highway-worn country rock. Autoamerican would turn out to be Blondie’s third and final platinum-selling album; the group dissolved two years after its release, succumbing to a cocktail of drugs, interband tension, and the failure of The Hunter, Blondie's last album of the 1980s. But Autoamerican captures the band members at the top of the world, and at the top of their craft, unafraid to let little things like pop success stunt their creativity and ambition.