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Blondie vs. Nirvana – Song Parallels

Blondie and Nirvana
Hulton Archive / Frank Micelotta, Hulton Archive

Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain once famously revealed that he lifted the opening riff from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ off of Boston‘s ‘More Than a Feeling’ — and as revolutionary as his songs may have seemed in the early ’90s, they were actually often rooted in the classic songcraft of the past.

Case in point: ‘Heart-Shaped Box,’ a hit from Nirvana’s 1993 album ‘In Utero’ that repeated Cobain’s formula for ‘Teen Spirit,’ slowing down a classic chord progression (in this case, a blues riff that was popularized in John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boogie Chillen” and had resurfaced over the years in songs as varied as ZZ Top‘s ‘La Grange’ and Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’) and dropping a new melody on top.

Except in this case, the melody was familiar, too — a slowed-down, but still easily recognizable, version of the one that Giorgio Moroder and Debbie Harry wrote for Blondie‘s No. 1 1980 hit, ‘Call Me.’ Originally recorded for the soundtrack to Moroder’s Richard Gere-led drama ‘American Gigolo,’ ‘Call Me’ is lyrically worlds removed from ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ — although if Courtney Love is to be trusted, it’s just as sex-driven as ‘American Gigolo,’ and in any event, that swerving melody works equally well for both songs.

Listen to Blondie, ‘Call Me’

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Listen to Nirvana, ‘Heart-Shaped Box’

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Next: Ritchie Valens vs. R.E.M.

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