Blondie – Rapture – 1981

Rapture” is a song by American rock band Blondie from their 5th studio album Autoamerican (1980). Written by band members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, and produced by Mike Chapman, the song was released as the second and final single from Autoamerican on January 12, 1981, by Chrysalis Records. Musically, “Rapture” is a combination of new wavedisco and hip hop with a rap section forming an extended coda.

“Rapture” was another commercial success for the band, shipping one million copies in the United States, where it was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, their 4th and last single to reach #1. It was the first #1 single in the US to feature rap vocals. The single also peaked at #3 in Canada, and #5 in Australia and the UK.

Singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein were friends with Brooklyn- and Bronx-based hip-hop artists such as “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite in the late 1970s. Freddy took Debbie and Chris to a rap event in the Bronx one night in 1978, and they were both impressed by the skill and excitement as MCs rhymed lyrics over the beats of spinning records and people lined up for a chance to take the microphone and freestyle rap. Debbie and Chris went to a few more such events, before deciding to write a rap song of their own in late 1979. They decided to combine what they had seen and heard in the Bronx with Chic-inspired disco music. Keyboardist Jimmy Destri found some tubular bells in the back of the studio, which added a haunting touch to the song. The title “Rapture” was an obvious pun on rap, according to Chris.

In an early recording the music was slower and simpler. Chris Stein said that “the slower tape was just bass, drums and guitar doubling the bass, I don’t think much else.”. This version was put aside and later reworked as “Rapture”. For “Rapture”, Stein said that “we decided to make it faster.” Stein later retrieved the original recording, and Debbie Harry and Braithwaite added vocals. The result was released in the UK as “Yuletide Throwdown”, as a flexi disc given away with the magazine Flexipop.

Chris Stein loved B-movies, science fiction imagery, so he wrote some surreal verses about a man from Mars. For the chorus, Debbie Harry tried to capture the feeling of a crowded hip-hop dance floor in the Bronx: “Toe to toe / Dancing very close / Body breathing / Almost comatose / Wall to wall / People hypnotized / And they’re stepping lightly / Hang each night in Rapture.” They also referenced their friend Fab 5 Freddy, as well as Grandmaster Flash. The song was the 1st major hip-hop song to use original music, rather than samples.

The accompanying music video for “Rapture” made its US television debut on Solid Gold on January 31, 1981, and not only became the first rap video ever broadcast on MTV, but was part of its first 90-video rotation. Set in the East Village section of Manhattan, the “Man from Mars” or “voodoo god” (dancer William Barnes in the white suit and top hat) is the introductory and central figure. Barnes also choreographed the piece. Much of the video is a one-take scene of lead singer Debbie 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 artists Lee Quiñones and Jean-Michel Basquiat make cameo appearances. Basquiat was hired when Grandmaster Flash did not show for the shoot. The UK 7″ version of the song is used in the video.

The versions appearing on the US and UK 7″ and 12″ singles were quite different. The US 7″ single, also issued with a different cover picture, used the original album version and the US 12″ single used a version with an additional verse, making it 40 seconds longer. For the UK and other market single releases, producer Mike Chapman remixed the track completely. The “Special Disco Mix” has a different introduction, a longer instrumental break with new percussion overdubbed and includes the extra verse, making it 10 minutes long. The UK 7″ version (4:59) was an edit of the “Special Disco Mix” without the extra verse. A slightly different edit with the extra verse (5:36) appeared on the band’s first greatest hits compilation The Best of Blondie (1981). The album track “Live It Up” was also extended and remixed for the B-side of the non-US 12″ single. This 8-minute version was included on the 1994 UK CD edition of Autoamerican and was reissued as part of EMI‘s 15-disc Blondie Singles Box in 2004.

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