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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rapture - What Does It Mean?

For this edition of the Sunday Jukebox, we're actually going to be revisiting the year that could be considered the most schizophrenic year on the pop charts.

As it so happens, it was the very year that I was born.  1981.

Now, I won't bore you again with details about how crazy a year 1981 really was.  Let's just say that it was one of the only years that had rock, dance, pop, country, and even reggae hit the top of the charts!  It was as if the year couldn't decide what genre of music to spotlight, so it just decided to play all of them equally.

In fact, you could probably consider 1981 to be one of the first years in which a song that contained a relatively new genre of music hit the top of the charts.  And as it so happens, that song is the subject of today's blog.  Would you believe that it topped the charts thirty-three years ago this week?  And that the artists who made this song famous are still touring and recording music?

Okay, so here's a little story to tell you before I go ahead with announcing what today's song is all about.  This is a song by a band that formed in 1974, and has played together off and on over the last forty years.  Sure, they took a near fifteen year break in the mid-1980s while some of their members embarked on solo careers and other projects, but when the band regrouped in the late 1990s, they picked right up where they left off. 

Of course, it probably also helped the fact that the band had several #1 singles between 1979 and 1981, which included "Heart of Glass", "Call Me", and "The Tide Is High".  And, of course, the male populace of the world probably appreciated the fact that the band's lead singer was once a Playboy Bunny.

Have you figured out the name of our band yet?  Well, here's the song that we're going to feature today...a #1 hit this week in 1981.

ARTIST:  Blondie
SONG:  Rapture
ALBUM:  Autoamerican
DATE RELEASED:  January 12, 1981

So, Blondie's "Rapture" was a rather interesting hit, don't you think?  And, it's also a song that depending on who you talk to can have a whole lot of different meanings.  I don't think it has as many theories as Richard Marx's "Hazard", but we'll get to some of the ones that I have heard over the years, as well as the explanation that I think best fits.

First things first though, let's talk about the mechanics of the song.  Although this was likely not the first time ever that this style of music was made, it was one of the very first examples of rap music making an appearance on the charts.  The music video actually debuted more than two weeks after the song did on January 31, 1981.  And, believe it or not, it wasn't on MTV (the network wasn't founded until August).  It was on Solid Gold! 

The music video did however become the very first rap video played on MTV though.

I suppose that you could also say that this song was a perfect representation of the wackiness of the 1981 charts.  Much like the 1981 Billboard charts were a collective hodge-podge of genres, this song also featured an interesting blend of rap, disco, pop, R&B, and New Wave!  You'd think a combination like that would be a mess, but as you can plainly see, it blended very well together.

The choreography in the video was also done very well, with the smooth moves delivered courtesy of William Barnes (the man dressed entirely in white).  Even Fab Five Freddy (one of the pioneers of the hip-hop movement of the early 1980s) made a cameo appearance in the video.

TRIVIA:  Grandmaster Flash was also invited to do a cameo in the video as well, but was a no show.

But of course, here's where the song starts to get a little bit more...interesting.  When it comes to trying to decipher Debbie Harry's rapping, many people seem to have many different theories about what it all means.  At first glance, it might seem like Debbie Harry has lost her ever-loving mind, spouting off random words that make absolutely no sense.  But the thing about rap is that even the strangest combinations of words can provide a deeper meaning.

Here.  I'll post a link to the SONG LYRICS for "Rapture" and let you read them over.  Study them.  Attempt to make sense of them.  And, see if you can come up with your own interpretation of what they mean!  Go ahead.  I will wait.

Okay, so have you deciphered the lyrics between the Man from Mars eating bars and eating cars, and guitars?  Well, let's have a look at some of the interpretations that I have heard over the years.

First interpretation?  The song talks about "The Rapture".

In biblical and religious terms, the "Rapture" is an event which supposedly separates the sinners from the godly, in that a group of people will be taken up to meet the Lord, while others will be left behind on Earth to atone for their sins and to endure a series of tribulations.  The Rapture has been the subject of many movies, the most recent being the "Left Behind" series starring religious wingnut Kirk Cameron.

(And yes, I did refer to him as a wingnut.  Given some of the things he's done in the past, I suppose the description fits.)

Well, in a way, I suppose that the rap part could be considered a form of "The Rapture".  After all, the song is entitled "Rapture".  And in the song, the Man from Mars comes from above to wreak havoc on the population, eating more cars than a chop shop crusher, and chomping on bars all over the world before returning back to his own planet where he doesn't want to hassle with the human race.  I guess if you really wanted to, you could consider the Man from Mars as being a euphemism for God.

But that's just it.  A stretch.  I don't think this song is about THE "Rapture" at all.

Another possibility that I've heard is that this song is all about recreational drug use.  Certainly, the video is quite...strange.  Particularly in the long scene where Debbie Harry is rapping.  I mean, you have ballerinas, a man in an Uncle Sam costume, graffiti artists, and even a goat!  Certainly not images that one sees in everyday sober life.  But high on drugs?  Well, I suppose your mind could definitely play tricks on you and you might end up seeing goats on the street. 

But I doubt that this song is all about drug use.  Otherwise, there would be a heck of a lot of references to actual drugs in the song, whether they outrightly mention drug names, or euphemisms for drugs (i.e. Mary Jane, etc.)

There's also the fact that the song could be a symbol of growing materialism and consumer culture taking over the world, as many people have pointed out that the only casualties of the song were the Cadillacs, Lincolns too, Mercury and Subaru - and the poor guy who had his head eaten by the Man from Mars. 

But in all honesty, I think that the song is a perfect display of the changing times of the early 1980s.

I think "Rapture" is all about the death of disco and the transition to making music with pictures in addition to words. 

Just think about this for a moment.  1981 was really considered the last gasp of disco music.  It was the year that disco flatlined on the operating table (well, at least it was until the mid-1990s when it began to make a slight comeback upon its marriage with electro-pop).  A lot of people will say that the disco era was somewhat of a simpler time (despite all of the drug use), with people getting close to one another based on the beat of the music, the warm glow of the disco lights, and the general feeling that the only way to enjoy music was from a spinning turntable, or a live concert performance.

But as the 1970s faded into the 1980s, disco began to lose its appeal in a big way.  Some areas even hosted parties and celebrations that allowed people to destroy and burn their old disco records!  And, it was also a time in which simple melodies of disco records were being replaced by synthesizers, electric guitars, and drum machines.  It was as if technology was invading the world of popular music slowly, but surely.

Much like the Man from Mars came down from above to invade Earth slowly, but surely.

I suppose that the Man from Mars could be a symbol for the future of music.  And, it's especially telling in the last part of the rap where Debbie Harry talks about how they're having their party on TV.  Interesting, given that this song was released the same year MTV began killing the radio star.

Think about it.  It makes sense.  I think that "Rapture" is about the changing face of pop music.

But that's just my opinion.  What's yours?

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