In 1980, precious few of us in the DC area had heard of "rap." The Studio 54 and CBGB's crowd were so far away, they might as well have been in East LA from us. DC was so far away from anything cool, it seemed, and all we had was a thin strip of M Street in Georgetown and a little of the Dupont Circle thing going, but back then it wasn't metrosexual coolness, but more of a hangout for stoners and people who were still nervous from the race riots only just a decade or so before. The most "urban" I ever saw was Breakdancing, and that didn't last so long here.
So apart from "Rapper's Delight," which never caught on much here and was actually considered a novelty record with the likes of "Disco Duck," rap didn't really start becoming on its own until it hit MTV after I graduated high school. All of us thought that it was another fad like glam rock or the hair bands.
Still, one song snuck into the late night airwaves as a fringe new wave song. And that was Blondie's "Rapture." They had already made hits with "Call Me," "One Way or Another," and "Heart of Glass." Lead singer of Blondie, Debbie Harry, a former Playboy Bunny and punk icon, once said about "selling out to disco" with "Heart of Glass" (formerly a reggae song, no really), "I cried all the way to the bank..." She was REALLY big in the pop scene in a post-disco, pop-punk, new-wave melange that launched MTV. Much like Madonna's early street work, Debbie went to all the clubs to hear the new sounds. Rap caught her ear as the free form styling that was very unique. The roots are in jazz, but this was more vocal than scat or be-bop.
The video, you have to understand, was INCREDIBLY surreal to us when it came out, and we'd already been through Klaus Nomi. So when MTV was desperate to fill a 24 hour channel, they played it a LOT. I didn't have MTV, but I had the poor-man's MTV, Friday Night Videos, on NBC4. If my father was out on some business trip and my mother was drunk, I'd use my copious private time on the weekend to pack in as much TV as I could (since I wasn't allowed to watch TV as a kid that wasn't PBS).
I first saw this on a small black-and-white TV in the kitchen, and I was entranced and almost scared at what I was seeing. It started out fairly normal... sorta. A peeping Tom in a white tails and top hat watches Debbie sing from a small nightclub that seems to like to color red a bit much. Man, Debbie looks so mainstream! Here we have some African dancers in white. And then some fledgling video effects slows her down. Kinda trippy for a 12 year old at 1 am.
But the main part of the song starts when Debbie starts to... talk? And she's spouting gibberish about men from mars and cars and bars... at the time it reminded me of some campfire game I played as a kid where you have to add to a poem alphabetically and then pass it on until it got so complicated or convoluted, most of us didn't get past the letter "J."
Several visual elements still stick out in this video for me. The tall man in the white suit, the Indian with the weird neck movement sliding up from the potted plants, the young ballerina (the girl who played that is now probably like in her late 30s... you ever think she puts that on her resume?), a woman goes by with a goat, and some girl dressed like a robot stuck against a wall like a Counterstrike character when your joystick breaks. Nowadays, with cartoons like "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," most kids wouldn't bat an eye, but that video was so... WEIRD, that it freaked people out. I can't imagine why, we already had "Magical Mystery Tour" syndicated on TV. But I knew kids who had nightmares about the white suit guy. I didn't. I just thought it was dang cool that he danced with the ballerina in "perfect sync."
Now that I am older, and have experienced freestyle rap in person (and damn, the kids still dedicated to this are incredible), Debbie's attempt seems almost childish and crude. I guess she had to make it memorizable, to sing it in concerts and such.
Still, it still has massive appeal to me. I also have a bitchin' remix with Doors' "Riders on the Storm" by Go Home Productions as well as a combination of that and a remix with various Gorillaz videos.