This is the 103rd post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
By the time John Holt joined The Paragons in 1964, the teenager had years of experience performing in (and winning) talent shows in Jamaica. Within a few years, shuffles in the lineup made Holt the composer and arranger for most of The Paragons’ songs.
Working with producer Duke Reid, The Paragons cranked out several songs in the latter half of ’60s. Most of these songs became hits in Jamaica, including 1968’s “The Tide Is High.”
The song, in which a narrator stressed his commitment to his girlfriend, drew inspiration from one of Holt’s friends, according to a 2014 Independent article:
A friend who was a fisherman went out and came back real quick… He said to me, ‘John, the tide is high, so I couldn’t go out.’ I always had my guitar with me, so I changed the line I had before, from ‘the time is hard’ to ‘the tide is high.’ I was trying to write a song about hard times, about the sea, and two people in love as well, or a man seeking to be friends with a woman. I guess that’s what made that song so heavy, you know. You can see that song from many different perspectives.
Though beloved in Jamaica, Holt had a limited audience outside the country, and found more success as a writer than a singer. But “The Tide Is High” became the exception, thanks to a few high-profile covers.
After The Paragons’ version of “The Tide is High” was released in the late ’60s, Jamaican DJ U-Roy released a version of the song that sprinkled his rhymes and toasts throughout the original track.
U-Roy tackled the song again later in the decade, including a version on “Rasta Ambassador” in 1977. It’s arguable that this song, simply called “Tide Is High,” was more of a sample than a cover.
But it was Blondie that introduced “The Tide Is High” to much of the world.
According to Jon Kutner’s and Spencer Leigh’s 2005 book, “1000 UK Number One Hits,” Deborah Harry said, “I first heard ‘The Tide Is High’ on a compilation tape that someone had given to me whilst we were in London. Chris (Stein) and I both fell in love with the song and decided it was too good to resist.”
The song, which appeared on Blondie’s “Autoamerican,” reunited the band with Mike Chapman, the producer credited with making “Parallel Lines” the hit record it was. (It was on that album that Chapman and Blondie covered The Nerves’ “Hanging On The Telephone.”) To give “The Tide Is High” an authentic Jamaican feel, Chapman and the members of Blondie made new string and horn arrangements, on top of hiring three percussion players.
Blondie’s “The Tide Is High” peaked at Number 1 in the US, the UK, and New Zealand. The song also reached the top 10 in Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Austria.
From that moment on, the world knew “The Tide Is High.”
In 1981, “Sly & Robbie Meets the Paragons” saw a reunited version of The Paragons teaming up with the Jamaican rhythm section and production duo of Sly and Robbie. That record included a reworked version of “The Tide Is High” that was slicker than the original. But because I will not call this a cover, because no matter what Luke Daugherty might say about Bob Dylan being able to cover his own versions of “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” I don’t think The Paragons can cover The Paragons. Sorry, Luke.
Jessica Jay was a Eurodance group from Italy, though Jessica Jay has often been portrayed as a singular person. In 1995, the group recast “The Tide Is High” as a freewheeling dance track with rap interludes, exuberant keyboards, and layered samples. It was fun, though it was an assault on the senses.
Singer Papa Dee, whose real name is Daniel Wahlgren, has developed quite the following in his native Sweden. Combining rap, ragga and dancehall, Papa Dee’s delivery as an emcee sounds like that of a toaster in the reggae tradition. His 1996 single “The Tide Is High,” from his album “The Journey,” demonstrated how he blurred the distinctions between different genres.
The Jazz Passengers was founded in 1987 as a collective of sorts, rotating through guest vocalists periodically. For the group’s 1996 album, “Individually Twisted,” Harry was essentially the lead singer, and that collaboration included a slowed-down version of “The Tide Is High.” If you didn’t know it was Harry performing with The Jazz Passengers, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a remix of the Blondie version.
Pop singer Angelina’s biggest hit was her single “Release Me,” released on her debut album, which included a peppy remake of “The Tide Is High.” Though faithful to Blondie’s version, Angelina’s cover was bouncier and dancier. Which saying something, because that Blondie version was pretty damn peppy. (And dance-y!)
Maxi Priest, of “Close To You” fame, recorded “The Tide Is High” for the soundtrack of the 1997 “Speed” sequel. The song, like the movie, did not change much about the source material.
Of the many pop groups that Lou Pearlman assembled, Take 5 was not one of the more memorable ones. The group covered “The Tide Is High” for its album for the same name, and in it, one can hear that these kids were still kids when they recorded it. The result is that this sounds like something you’d hear on a Disney TV show’s soundtrack, and that makes it kinda creepy.
“Platinum Girl: Tribute to Blondie” was a 2000 compilation that featured metal and industrial acts covering Blondie — and in the case of “The Tide Is High” and “Hanging on the Telephone,” songs that Blondie had covered, too. Sheep On Drugs reworked “The Tide Is High” with a shit ton of drums, speeding the song up at some parts and slowing it down at others. In a weird way, it resembled Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s cover of “Ray Of Light.”
Before she was an actress on “Doctor Who” and “Penny Dreadful,” Billie Piper had a music career. She covered “Last Christmas” in 1998, and two years later, she released a cover of “The Tide Is High.” Both covers were fine, though they were more like late ’90s updates than bold reinterpretations of the songs. Pleasant as the song was, Piper’s “The Tide Is High” was interesting to me not so much because of the cover itself but rather that I knew of Piper as an actress before I knew her as a singer.
Though relatively unknown in the US, German band Seeed has become popular Europe, particularly in the group’s native Germany. The group’s blend of hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae made for an interesting take on “Tide Is High,” released in 2000. I hesitate to call this a cover, as the verses were changed and the only lyrics to remain were the chorus.
The Chubbies was a lo-fi indie band that seemed to draw as much influence from garage rock as it did punk. In 2001, the band covered “The Tide Is High” for the compilation, “How Many Bands Does It Take to Screw Up a Blondie Tribute?” When reviewing “Hanging On The Telephone,” I pointed out that The Kirby Grips didn’t screw up that song, and The Chubbies didn’t screw up “The Tide Is High,” either. The cover was brash and bratty, but was fine by me.
The Mighty Diamonds was one of the most famous reggae groups to come from Jamaica in the 1970s. Two decades later, Mr. Vegas was one of the most popular reggae singers and rappers on the island. In 2001, Mr. Vegas teamed with The Mighty Diamonds to cover “The Tide Is High.” They didn’t reinvent the song by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed fitting that a famous reggae rapper and famous reggae trio teamed up on one of reggae’s most famous songs.
English girl group Atomic Kitten covered the song and added a new part of it for the group’s 2002 second album, “Feels So Good.” “The Tide Is High (Get the Feeling)” reached Number 1 in the UK, just as Blondie’s version had. No other cover of the song did that. But not everyone appreciated the song. David Cheal of The Telegraph put it on his list of “top five awful cover versions,” a list that included Stereophonics “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Madonna’s “American Pie,” and Duran Duran’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It).” Yikes.
Kardinal Offishall and Keri Hilson sampled “The Tide Is High” for their 2008 song, “Numba 1 (Tide Is High).” Like the Seeed song, this was not a cover, as it only borrowed the chorus and the general arrangement.
In 2017, Shamanes Crew and La Combo Tortuga translated the song, resulting in the poppy “Juntos.”
In reviewing covers of “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballons,” I questioned whether translations deserved to be in a separate category from straight covers. The reason being because I don’t know how I would handle a cover of “Juntos.” If someone did cover this song, would it be considered a cover of Shamanes Crew and La Combo Tortuga? Or would the cover of “Juntos” be considered a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide Is High”? For now, I’m willing to say this is a translated cover.
The variety of covers shows how far-reaching the song’s influence has been. If there is another cover of the song that has earned the right to be mentioned in the same sentence as Blondie’s, I suppose it would be Atomic Kitten’s “The Tide Is High (Get the Feeling).” It spent more weeks on the chart than Blondie’s, and was at Number 1 for one week longer. And there are probably a nonzero number of people in the UK who first heard that version, not Blondie’s.
But the fact that this song has appeared on Blondie tribute albums is worth noting, because it demonstrates how much that version has become part of the DNA of the song. Most of the world would not know the song if not for that version. Have there been any versions of “The Tide Is High (Get the Feeling)” on any Atomic Kitten tribute albums?