Blondie

TrackAlbum
Fan MailPlastic Letters
Rifle RangeBlondie
Look Good In BlueBlondie
Union City BlueEat To The Beat
I'’m Gonna Love You TooParallel Lines
Hanging On The TelephoneParallel Lines
Heart Of GlassParallel Lines
MariaNo Exit
DenisPlastic Letters
RaptureAutoamerican
MotherPanic Of Girls

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Contributor: Neil Waite

Like many people, I got to know Blondie with their third album Parallel Lines. I thought it was their debut, not realising there’d already been two gems in Blondie and Plastic Letters, which soon became my favourites.

The New York club CBGB in the 70s was a hothouse for punk and new wave groups such as The Ramones, Television, The B52s, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and, of course, Blondie. Formed by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Blondie embarked on a journey from punk to new wave, disco and rap, right up to electro-funk in the recent Ghosts Of Download. They became known for their song writing, great reworkings of old songs and also for their glamorous image, focussed on Harry’s sensuous looks. But this topper-ten is about music – not clashes of egos, Stein’s illness, their lawsuits, or even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006 at which two past members sought to join them on stage and were unkindly rebuffed. These things are well documented and can be referenced elsewhere.

From the late 70s there was a Radio 1 show after the chart rundown called Star Special on which an artist would choose some favourite discs. One Sunday, the star was Debbie Harry, and I think Stein was with her. What I remember well are her amazing choices – Talking Heads, The Ramones, New York Dolls, Siouxsie & the Banshees… After this I started to take notice of Blondie and delve into their catalogue, which I never regretted.

In 1976, Blondie made a splash with a debut single called Sex Offender which had to be renamed X Offender in order for the radio stations to play it. The album, Blondie, sold slowly but when re-released on Chrysalis (with the extra track, In The Flesh) it took off. For me, Blondie is their best album, as with so many debuts. The songs are simple but full of passion, with In The Sun, Look Good In Blue and Rifle Range all worthy toppertenners.

Plastic Letters, their second release, contained their first real hit; Denis, a cover of a 1963 song called Denise by Randy & The Rainbows, reached No.2 in the UK. The chorus, Oh Denis do-be-do, I’m in love with you, Denis do-be-do – may not be Shakespeare, but the gently sighing tune and warm harmonies say it all. As the emotion rises, the lyric goes into French. Plastic Letters also includes my favourite Blondie track, the punky Fan Mail, with a great guitar break launched by a slide up on the synth which sounds old fashioned today but is still thrilling.

The next two albums, Parallel Lines (1978) and Eat To The Beat (1979), were both UK number ones. Parallel Lines had a striking sleeve with the band posing against black and white stripes like a cubist version of the Beatles on the zebra crossing at Abbey Road. A highlight for me was I’m Gonna Love You Too, released as a single in the US though not in the UK, a fine cover of a 1957 song originally recorded by Buddy Holly. Another great cover was Hanging On The Telephone, the second single from Parallel Lines in the UK, and first recorded by The Nerves. I normally prefer originals but with Debbie’s natural delivery this version is far superior, not to mention the video, again stylishly set against black and white. Heart Of Glass was Blondie’s biggest hit, written by Stein and Harry in the mid-70s. It acquired a disco vibe, reflected in the famous video in which the band members are scattered with light from a glitter ball.

Parallel Lines was hard to follow but for me Eat To The Beat matched it. These songs were rawer but still tuneful, venturing into reggae, funk or ballad style. They also released a ‘Video’ album with promo videos for every track. Union City Blue was the big song. Even the video was big, with the opening sequence panning round the Union Dry Dock in New Jersey then sweeping down to the band playing on the dockside with Debbie in cool aviator sunglasses. After this she appeared on Noel Edmonds’ Swap Shop, on which guests would donate an item for a viewers’ competition. She donated the orange jump suit she wore in Union Dock. It was the only Swap Shop competition I ever entered… but with no luck!

I loved Eat To The Beat and eagerly awaited the follow-up. But I was disappointed. I was expecting ‘Eat to the Beat 2’ but Autoamerican was shockingly different. The band were evolving faster than my tastes, though in time I caught up. I’ve included the hit, Rapture, in my ten which famously features a rap. Debbie Harry doing a rap? Yes, her conversational style is just right for it.

As by then I feared, their next release, The Hunter, was also a disappointment. But unlike Autoamerican it didn’t grow on me. I could handle Blondie going reggae or funk or even rapping, but a concept album? That was a step too far for me. I’ve warmed to the songs over the years but the vinyl rarely gets played.

At this point you might like to get a cup of tea and google Blondie’s following years, which were less musical – Stein’s diagnosis with the life-threatening illness Pemphigus, the financial mistakes, the lawsuits, etc. – and we’ll meet again in 1999…

Now after Harry’s relatively successful solo career, Blondie reformed and gave us No Exit. It was great to have them back, especially with Maria, pulsing with bass and guitar as in the Blondie we loved. The video showed a darker, moodier Debbie but she still looked great. The next two albums, The Curse Of Blondie and Panic Of Girls, were less inspired, except for the 2011 single Mother which would squeeze in at topper-ten number 11. As to the last album, Ghosts Of Download, you might listen to it out of curiosity, and the inclusion of Frankie’s Relax is a curiosity in itself. But its electro-disco bias is far from what they were about 35 years before.

Yet I love Blondie and crave a return to that original vibrant style – before Debbie finally puts away her peroxide.

 

Blondie official website

Atomic Blondie – tribute site

Deborah Harry official site

Blondie biography (iTunes)

The Wind In The Willows would need to be a mini-mini-toppermost but Deborah Harry solo albums anyone?

TopperPost #298

2 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Jun 11, 2014

    Excellent. I’d try to squeeze Rip Her To Shreds in somewhere, and I’m totally happy you picked I’m Gonna Love You Too, a fine song that sometimes gets overlooked.

  2. David Lewis
    Jun 12, 2014

    I think the comments consensus was that the Pretenders had the lead singer we hetero then young males wanted to go out with. But Blondie was a great band nonetheless. Deeply experimental and a bit more varied than history suggests. Thoroughly enjoyed the list.

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