The feisty ambition of
ex-Playboy Bunny Deborah Harry and her mop-topped male colleagues has paid off.
A quarter of a century after their debut, Blondie are rightly acclaimed as one of
the most influential bands of their generation. They also became the most commercially
successful act of the entire Punk and New Wave scene. Though it didn't exactly happen
Debbie Harry first featured
on record as a member of folk-rock troupe The Wind In The Willows (a self-titled
album was issued by Capitol in 1968), but it is in 1974 that the Blondie story really
begins, when Harry and partner/guitarist Chris Stein formed a new group out of the
remnants of spiky girl trio New York club outfit The Stilettos. Joined by Clem Burke,
Gary Valentine and Jimmy Destri, Blondie built up a sizable underground following.
The group, were eventually
signed to Private Stock in 1976. An album appeared early the following year, though
BLONDIE was transferred to Chrysalis for a full international release in September
'77. It sounds every bit as vibrant 25 years on. One of the stand-outs, the In
The Flesh hit a soft spot Down
Under and hung around the upper reaches of the Australian chart for a long time,
confounding everyone's expectations. In sharp contrast, an early take of X
Offender had been issued as an
introductory Stateside single but was commercially ignored. At the time the new
pop sensibility, 'Punk' was still not considered suitable airplay material.
Just when is Debbie going
to tell us who, the deliciously vicious Rip Her To Shreds is about? One thing is for sure, though: it's undoubtedly a killer single.
PLASTIC LETTERS arrived
in early '78, while the attendant single was the delectable Denis, an adaptation of a 1960's Randy And The Rainbows
Top Tenner picked by Debbie against some opposition, but, as she told the band firmly
at the time: "Look, if we do an oldie right, the American DJs will play it, and
I think we could have a hit." A hit? For sure, but, alas, not in the US. No one,
least of all Harry, expected Denis to climb to No.2 in the UK that March: "I wasn't even thinking about foreign
countries," the frontwoman admitted. "I just wanted to break in the States."
While recognition in their
homeland continued to evade them, the single signalled the beginning of a 'special
relationship' between Britain and Blondie that's still going strong. Debbie would
refer to the country as the band's "second home" and it wasn't long before the tender
timbre of (I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear was also making itself felt on the UK chart.
For the next album, producer
Mike Chapman proved to be a huge boost for the Blondie sound, teaching the band
the importance of tighter arrangements and backing tracks honed to glossy perfection.
Chapman was rather taken with Heart Of Glass, a blues which had been around in their live set
for years, and reworked the song into a highly commercial disco send-up. It became
a sure-fire smash that topped a million sales, not only in the UK, but (hurrah!)
in the US as well. Well, if you're going to have your first hit in your own country
you might as well do it in style.
The uniform excellence
of PARALLEL LINES became such an enormous success that, by the spring of '79, Blondie,
now including Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, were arguably the biggest pop band
on the planet. The stalker-styled One Way Or Another gave them their second Billboard® Top 40 placing,
while in Britain three more hits were plucked from this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut
of an album: the voyeuristic splendor of Picture This had showed in at No.12 in September 1978, edgy Hanging
On The Telephone (originally
recorded by New Wave neurotics The Nerves) crashed at No. 5 in time for Christmas,
while the luscious Sunday Girl - Chris's paean to Debbie's pet pussycat - followed Heart Of Glass to the top in May 1979.
EAT TO THE BEAT built on
Blondie's all-consuming rise, with expansive American power-pop chords and Clem
Burke's pounding Anglophiliac drumming a noticeable highlight, particularly on the
lead track Dreaming, panoramic
Brit hit Union City Blue and the awesome Atomic, a UK No.1 which makes a bass solo sound sexy. The LP also spawned a US
single, The Hardest Part, a surprisingly short faux-funk firecracker featuring Debbie's filthiest
Two transatlantic No.1's
followed. Call Me, an electro-rock
collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, spent six weeks at the head of the Hot 100 in
spring 1980, and was succeeded in the fall by The Tide Is High, a top cover of The Paragons' reggae classic. It
was an atypically tropical taster for the AUTOAMERICAN album, which heralded a more
eclectic approach to recording. Rapture was the undoubted masterpiece. Five years before
Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith joined forces, the track was the first real example of
white rock interfacing with black hip hop, and is the band's last US chart-topper
A rare promotional single
edit of Rapture, which
boasted an extra verse not present on the regular 7" or LP versions, found its way
onto THE BEST OF BLONDIE in 1981, and nestled alongside a sterling selection of
well-known tracks, including unique versions of Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl (a charming 'Franglais'-style mix, which made the
song's bridge of handclaps all the more delightful) and In The Flesh, specially created for the album by Mike Chapman.
All four are made available again here on GREATEST HITS in newly remastered form.
The group reconvened for
their sixth album proper in 1982. THE HUNTER was trailed by the catchy calypso charm
of Island Of Lost Souls,
and though it peaked at a half-decent No.11 in the UK, the LP performed poorly internationally.
There was a feeling that things had run their course, not to mention internal conflicts
and health problems, and Blondie disbanded at the end of a North American tour.
But what a legacy they
left behind. They were pioneers in the art of "crossing-over" and combining different
styles of music - unprecedented at the time, though it is now very much the norm.
Therefore, unlike many of their contemporaries, the Blondie sound has hardly dated
at all, and their run of classic pop singles is one of the most accomplished in
But the story doesn't end
there. In the late '90's Chris approached Debbie about getting the band back together,
and 17 years after their last album - amid roll-call of shiny and new female singers
and girl-fronted groups who cited Debbie as an important influence (Garbage, Hole,
The Cardigans, Annie Lennox and Madonna, to name but a few) - Blondie, with the
original line up of Debbie, Chris, Clem and Jimmy, were back.
17 years later the release
of NO EXIT proved that the band were still a creative force to be reckoned with.
Deborah and the gang also managed to achieve something they could never quite manage
before: entering the British singles chart straight in at No.1! In a market saturated
by manufactured teen pop, the headline-grabbing success of the infectious Maria made the feat all the more remarkable. Blondie were
the only group to have UK No.1's in the '70s, '80s and '90s. And they've got time
yet to add to that impressive record. Here's to the next 25 then.
--Steve Pafford, August 2002
(Steve Pafford is the
author of the forthcoming book BlondieStyle)