This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #135: Call Me by Blondie, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, American Gigolo.
“Call Me” by Blondie was that group’s biggest selling song of their career. It reached the #1 spot on the charts and remained their for seven consecutive weeks. For the year 1980, when it was released, it ended up being declared by Billboard Magazine as the #1 song for the entire year. “Call Me” was a song that was part of the soundtrack to the movie, “American Gigolo”, which starred Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton. The story of “Call Me” IS the story of the movie, “American GIgolo” so, in order to discuss the song, let’s start with a quick recap of the movie and why it became the hit that it did. Here is the story of one of the most perfectly crafted movie soundtrack songs of all-time….”Call Me”.
The movie, “American Gigolo” is a crime drama. It starred Richard Gere as a high-priced male prostitute whose job it was to squire rich and well-connected woman whenever they came to Los Angeles. The role made famous by Gere was, originally, offered to Christopher Reeve, John Travolta and, even, Chevy Chase (who was as hot as anyone at the time, fresh off of his star turn as news anchor on the new hit show, Saturday Night Live). But, all actors turned the role down and, eventually, it fell to Gere who, at the time, was an unknown actor/model.
At it turned out, one of the reasons that “American Gigolo” was even made in the first place was because the desire of two emerging European talents who wanted an “in” to the North American market. Those two men were designer, Giorgio Armani and music whiz, Giorgio Moroder. Both men ended up playing a crucial role in helping Blondie’s lead singer, Deborah Harry, to find the necessary inspiration to accurately capture the mood of the film in her song, “Call Me”.
Let’s first talk about Giorgio Armani. By 1980, Armani was a name of note in the fashion world. In particular, he had developed a reputation for designing stylish men’s suits. Being a designer, Armani had a eye for colour schemes that worked well together so, when the film’s producers wanted to consult someone who could give their film a certain stylish, noir look that they were looking for, they asked Armani for help. So, Giorgio Armani became an Art and Costume consultant for the movie. Because of his influence, Richard Gere, who was already well-versed in the ways of fashion and modelling, was dressed in Armani suits and filmed in lighting that bathed him in blues and other filtered colours. A beautiful man was made even more handsome and stylish because of Armani’s touch. Because of the showcase that “American Gigolo” provided to Armani, one of the #1 trends that happened as a result of the movie was a huge demand in Amercia for Armani suits. HIs desire to create an inroads into the lucrative American market was achieved.
This brings us to Giorgio Moroder. In 1979, when the movie was being put together, Giorgio Moroder was one of the new wonder kids behind one of the biggest musical movements at the time, Disco. Moroder had just created a means of introducing himself into the North American music market via his work with Donna Summer. It was Moroder who helped create the synthesized pulsating beat that powered Summer’s breakthrough hit, “I Feel Love”. *(you can read the post for that song, here). Because of his use of synthesizers, an endless series of beats could now be automated and played in any manner he desired. Moroder’s innovation helped give Disco its dance-oriented sound and, as time went on, helped give a sonic foundation to those who now make electronic dance music. So, when the directors of “American Gigolo” sought someone to crate the musical soundtrack for their film, they turned to the hottest person in the world of music at the time, Giorgio Moroder.
It was Moroder who put together the musical structure of the song, “Call Me”. When he first completed the instrumental version of the song, he approached Stevie Nicks who, like him, was one of the hottest and most sought-after personalities in the world of music. She turned him down due to recording conflicts (which, as it turned out, resulted in a song called, “Rhiannon” which, surprisingly enough, bears almost the exact same musical chord structure as does “Call Me”). So, after Nicks turned Moroder down, he went with contestant #2 and that was Deborah Harry of the group, Blondie. As you may recall from our earlier post about the song, “Heart of Glass” *(you can read that post here), Blondie rose up out of the early Punk scene in NYC and, despite their great early success with songs such as “Heart of Glass”, there was a snarling bit of punk sensibility that existed just beneath the surface of their music. Thus, one of the main feelings in the music industry was that Blondie, as a band, had no long-term future but that their lead singer, Deborah Harry, was a star in the making and, if she could be pried away from her band and launched as a solo act then, there would be a lot of money and success awaiting all concerned. So, Deborah Harry was approached by Giorgio Moroder with the instrumental track to “Call Me” and asked if she would write the lyrics and sing the song for the soundtrack to “American Gigolo”. She agreed. So, armed with Moroder’s instrumental track, as well as, the some of the early, Armani-influenced scenes from the movie, Harry set to work. It is not by accident that the opening verse to “Call Me” ended up being about the “look” of the movie, with verse #2, being about the stylish “feel” of the movie….
“Colour me your colour baby,
Colour me your car.
Colour me your colour, darling,
I know who you are.
Come up off your colour chart
I know where you’re coming from…
“Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love.
Roll me in designer sheets,
I’ll never get enough….”
The producers of the film were thrilled with Deborah Harry’s song, with Giorgio Moroder’s score and with Giorgio Armani’s style and knew that they had a hit on their hands. The movie, itself, as a story being told, was never lauded as being anything that special but, because of how it was dressed and packaged, it sold well across America and helped to launch the career of Richard Gere, in the process. Gere, as it turned out, went on to follow the well-worn career path created by another handsome leading man, Robert Redford. You may recall how Redford was the eye candy in the Barbra Streisand movie, “The Way We Were”; all dressed in designer suits and white naval uniforms. Well, not too long after “American Gigolo” was released, with Gere in his designer suits, he, then, put on the naval whites for “An Officer and A Gentleman” and, not long after that, he reprised his “American Gigolo” role (except in reverse) when he starred with Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”.
In any case, “Call Me” is a lesson in product placement and in how the entertainment industry creates demand by tapping into trends. “Call Me” is a great song in, and of, itself. But, the song benefits from the very careful crafting of its’ look and sound and because of the various talented people called upon to work their own particular brand of magic. But, whatever the case, how the song came to be is irrelevant to those who bought the single and danced to it in clubs. For them, “Call Me” by Blondie is one of the greatest songs of all-time and certainly, one of the greatest movie soundtrack songs of them all, too.
So, without further delay, let me play “Call Me” for you, from the Original Motion Picture soundtrack to the movie, “American Gigolo”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Call Me” by Blondie (from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “American Gigolo”), can be found here.
The link to the official website for Blondie, can be found here.
The link to the video for the movie trailer for “American Gigolo”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Giorgio Armani, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Giorgio Moroder, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.