[14] Altered Images, ‘I Could Be Happy’

Altered Images

I reckon we’re past finding Clare Grogan’s voice irritating now; we can find it endearing and find the bite within the cute. I should have realised at the time, but I was a primary school boy and everyone was an Ant and we disdained, well, girls. Girl singers, anyway. Girl singers who weren’t Debbie Harry. I wasn’t much of an Ant, come to think, but that will become obliquely clear. Can you have obliquely clear?

Eighteen months later I’d blossomed into a mature pop aesthete and adored ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ – although I didn’t return to ‘I Could Be Happy’, ‘Happy Birthday’, all those earlier charms for another couple of decades. Over those decades, Johnny McElhone – the power behind the Altered Images throne – had formed Texas, first bolstering the Campaign for Real Rock with dull early songs then rediscovering the pristine pure pop of AI’s swansong. But Texas couldn’t trump White On Blonde with any more conviction than Altered Images could follow Bite.

Back to basics then. ‘I Could Be Happy’ is wonderful because its guitars ring and Grogan attempts to rhyme “tree” with “holiday” by singing “holidee”. If that’s not Top 10 Gold, I don’t know what is. We play both this and ‘Happy Birthday’ with Junior declaring she likes them “the same”. She air-drums along, but claims she’s “shaking a sweet jar” – and that’s really the essence of Altered Images, isn’t it?

[1] Blondie, ‘Heart of Glass’

Pick a card, any card.

An unholy marriage of rock and disco? One unlucky shuffle and you could get Electric Six.

A dazzling blonde singer backed by some lens-shattering blokes? Have Transvision Vamp. Or, at a stretch, Shakatak. Or, if you’ve broken a mirror recently, here’s Generation X.

Now you know how damned lucky we are to have Blondie, and ‘Heart of Glass’. Their place in pop’s firmament was sealed by this record, punk poise not misplaced but overshadowed by complete understanding of the mechanics of disco. It’s atypical, of course, and yet fits seamlessly between ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ and ‘Sunday Girl’ in the rich run of sterling singles Blondie dashed off in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. They showed a taste for adventure rarely matched, and could even consider their gorgeous singer a bonus, not an essential selling point – let’s not pretend she didn’t help, mind you. Still, looks aside, Debbie Harry’s presence (dear) is a boon on ‘Heart of Glass’ for her casual juggling of comforting coos and acid dismissals. The velvet glove.

For all its diverse ingredients, this is a dance record – and we danced en masse. Junior 2 shook her shoulders in the style patented by both mum and big sister, while Junior herself watched with widening eyes as the groove burst out of the click-track intro. It’s a pleasure to see pop music’s greats hitting the spot; one of the reasons we’re here.

Extra, extra: in a victory for ambition over commonsense, I plan for us to tackle 1994 now, hoping to finish it in time for the feverishly anticipated 2008 Top 20 – which in turn I have mad ideas of finishing on or around Christmas Eve. Who’s with us?

[14] Blondie, ‘Sunday Girl’

Light as air, carefree and – what? – hard to get? Junior’s mum pointed out that Junior and Juniorer are both Sunday Girls (“You were born on a Sunday, J” “I was very born on a Sunday”) but perhaps not in the way Debbie Harry is hinting. We all love the song, know the words – even the French ones on this Best Of version – and Junior sways in front of her sister, hips in time to the gossamer rhythms.

Blondie were bang into their flow by this point, succeeding ABBA as the singles band du jour, knocking the classics out at a rate to make Paul Weller jealous; not that he was far behind. I’m always seduced by a band that respects the single, that can put so much care in for so sustained a period. You know the suspects: Wham!, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Girls Aloud… hmmm. I feel like I’m coming out.

I shared a bed with Debbie Harry last year. Well, she draped herself across it, while I perched at the end, asking questions she’d answered a thousand times before. In all the excitement, my tape recorder broke, but she let me have an extra five minutes once I’d taught myself shorthand. Lovely. Anyway, that’s one for the After Dinner circuit.