Story of the Song: Hanging on the Telephone, Blondie (1978)

Robert Webb
Friday 17 September 2010 00:00 BST

Stuck on punk's West Coast outpost, The Nerves' fame barely made it out of California. The trio recorded a solitary, self-titled EP in 1976 before breaking up.

By 1978, their primary songwriter, Jack Lee, was facing financial ruin – but one song on that EP was about to change his fortunes. "I remember the day vividly," Lee told Mojo magazine in 2007. "It was a Friday. They were going to cut off our electricity at six o'clock, the phone too."

Before disconnection, that phone rang. It was Debbie Harry asking Lee if she could record "Hanging on the Telephone". Lee agreed, and Blondie rehearsed it before convening to record their third album, the career-defining Parallel Lines. It was produced by Mike Chapman, who described the song as "magic from the beginning". A telephone with a British ring tone was kept as the opener. The song made the top Five in November 1978 and has subsequently been covered by many, including Girls Aloud and Def Leppard. Lee, who went on to pen "Come Back and Stay" for Paul Young, regretted his own version was never a hit, but says he always knew "Hanging on the Telephone" was a special song: "Even people who hated me – and there were plenty – had to admit it was great."

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