The Paragons (1967)
Today on Cover Friday, we have a well-known cover, not-so-well-known original. The cover is the fairly ubiquitous “The Tide Is High,” as performed by Blondie, from their 1980 album, Autoamerican. Still played frequently on radio today, it hit #1 on the charts both here in the U.S. and in the U.K. (and maybe other countries as well . . . didn’t do the full check on that). If you haven’t heard this somewhere in your life, you need to get out more. Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the song for a long time, as I didn’t really think it stood up to Blondie’s earlier songs and it seemed kind of a novelty hit, but over time it has definitely grown on me. I still don’t really like “Call Me” very much, though — not that you asked.
Less well-known is the original version of “The Tide Is High,” released by Jamaican rocksteady (the precursor of reggae) group The Paragons in 1967. I’m not sure quite how widespread the release was outside of Jamaica, but it was not a major hit. If I had known this song before Blondie’s cover, I probably would have liked their cover a lot more from the start, because this version is simply a great song, no whiff of novelty about it. You’ll note of course that Blondie performed a gender change to the song, but it was seamless and certainly either version works well on that count.
In the final assessment, I really feel like the original Paragons version rescues Blondie’s version, in my mind anyway — it shows the song for the cool laid-back track that it is, and makes it easier to see that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were merely sprucing it up a bit with the extra sound-effects. They actually stuck pretty close to the soulful heart of the song, as it turns out.