Blondie had recently completed work on their fourth album in the summer of 1979 when they were tapped by Italian disco maestro Giorgio Moroder to record a new song for an upcoming movie.
Moroder was coming off a string of hits, including Donna Summer’s groundbreaking singles from a few years earlier and the No. 1 Bad Girls LP earlier in 1979. Blondie broke through the year before with their own disco hit, “Heart of Glass.” So, the team-up made sense all around.
Blondie were between post-production and release of Eat to the Beat when frontwoman Debbie Harry was approached about working on a new song with Moroder, who already had a framework for the track, for the soundtrack to the movie American Gigolo. The basic structure, composed by Moroder and called “Man Machine,” was there, but the 39-year-old producer needed someone to write lyrics and a melody around his instrumental.
Enter Harry – after Moroder’s initial choice, Stevie Nicks, had to turn down his offer because she recently signed on as a solo artist, and her new contract restricted such outside collaborations. The Blondie singer watched an early cut of American Gigolo and wrote lyrics for the song based on her impression of the male prostitute (played by Richard Gere) who was at the center of the movie. She reportedly composed the words in just two hours.
The rest of the band joined Harry in the studio for the recording of “Call Me.” Moroder, who was still busy working with other artists as well as making albums as a solo artist, produced the session in New York City in August 1979, temporarily taking over the studio position held by Mike Chapman on Blondie’s previous two LPs, as well as their next two. (Moroder’s instrumental take of the song eventually appeared on the single’s B-side.)
Watch Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ Video
“Call Me”‘s springboard was past Blondie songs like “Heart of Glass” and the newer “Atomic” that straddled the line between New Wave and disco. The new track was obviously targeted for the dance floor: Saturday Night Fever, and its huge commercial aftereffects, was still on everybody’s minds.
Moroder, a master at building the repetitiveness of a song to the point where it becomes a fine art, delivered one of his best works outside of Summer’s influential catalog. Blondie, for their part, sounded less like a band and more like the button pushers behind Harry – a point of contention that surfaced during the Eat to the Beat sessions. It didn’t help matters here. But outside of “Heart of Glass,” they never made a better song.
They never made a bigger one either. “Call Me” was released as a single in early February 1980; on April 19 it reached No. 1 and stayed there for six consecutive weeks. (According to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: 1955-2018, it was beat out for the top hit of the year by Kenny Rogers’ “Lady,” which also spent six weeks at No. 1 and the same number of weeks in the Hot 100: 25.)
The song’s success temporarily interrupted Blondie’s promotion of Eat to the Beat. “Dreaming” and “The Hardest Part,” the album’s first two singles, came out before “Call Me” was released. But as the soundtrack song climbed the chart, a third single from the album, “Atomic,” was put on hold until May, in the middle of “Call Me”‘s hold at No. 1.
Within a year, Blondie released their fifth album, Autoamerican, which spawned two more chart-topping singles, a cover of the early reggae song “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture,” the first No. 1 hit to include a rap; Harry appeared on The Muppet Show to sing a truncated “Call Me”; and the band briefly broke up before reuniting several times over the years. Their subsequent returns never again reached the commercial peak of their eternal disco smash.