Blondie Day on Green Adelaide
Image by PeterTea
Blondie is an American rock band, founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. The band was a pioneer in the early American new wave and punk scenes of the mid-1970s. Their first two albums contained strong elements of these genres, and although successful in the United Kingdom and Australia, Blondie was regarded as an underground band in the United States until the release of Parallel Lines in 1978. Over the next three years, the band achieved several hit singles and became noted for its eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop, rap, and reggae, while retaining a basic style as a new wave band.
Blondie broke up after the release of their sixth studio album The Hunter in 1982. Debbie Harry continued to pursue a solo career with varied results after taking a few years off to care for partner Chris Stein, who was diagnosed with pemphigus, a rare autoimmune disease of the skin.
The band reformed in 1997, achieving renewed success and a number one single in the United Kingdom with "Maria" in 1999. The group toured and performed throughout the world during the following years, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Blondie has sold 40 million records worldwide and is still active today, with a new album, Panic of Girls, planned for release in 2010.
Early career (1975–1978) In the early 1970s, Chris Stein moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan.Inspired by the burgeoning new music scene at the Mercer Arts Center, he sought to join a similar band. He joined The Stilettos in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with one of the band’s vocalists, Debbie Harry, a former waitress and Playboy Bunny, Harry had been a member of the folk-rock band, The Wind in the Willows, in the late 1960s. In 1974, Stein parted ways with The Stilettos and Elda Gentile, the band’s originator. Stein and Harry formed a new band with drummer Billy O’Connor and bassist Fred Smith. By 1975, after some personnel turnover (including sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo on backing vocals), Stein and Harry were joined by drummer Clem Burke, keyboard player Jimmy Destri and bass player Gary Valentine. Originally billed as Angel and the Snakes,they renamed themselves Blondie in late 1975. The name derived from comments made by truck drivers who catcalled "Hey, Blondie" to Harry as they drove by.Later, band members were amused to learn that the name was shared by Adolf Hitler’s dog Blondie, a fact acknowledged in parody when, in 1997, they semi-anonymously contributed a cover of "Ordinary Bummer" to the Iggy Pop tribute album We Will Fall under the pseudonym ‘Adolph’s Dog’. Blondie became regulars at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB.They got their first record deal with Private Stock Records in early 1976 and released their debut single "X-Offender" on June 17, 1976.Their debut album Blondie (AUS #14, UK #75) was issued in December 1976. In September 1977, Blondie bought back its contract with Private Stock and then signed with Chrysalis Records.The first album was re-released on the new label in October 1977. Rolling Stone’s review of the debut album observed the eclectic nature of the group’s music, comparing it to Phil Spector and The Who, and commented that the album’s two strengths were Richard Gottehrer’s production and the persona of Deborah Harry, saying she performed with "utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she’s portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending." It also noted that Harry was the "possessor of a bombshell zombie’s voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song".
The band’s first commercial success occurred in Australia in 1977, when the music television program Countdown mistakenly played their video "In the Flesh", which was the B-side of their current single "X-Offender". Jimmy Destri later credited the show’s Molly Meldrum for their initial success, commenting that "we still thank him to this day" for playing the wrong song. In a 1998 interview, drummer Clem Burke recalled seeing the episode in which the wrong song was played, but he and Chris Stein suggested that it may have been a deliberate subterfuge on the part of Meldrum. Stein asserted that "X-Offender" was "too crazy and aggressive [to become a hit]", while "In the Flesh" was "not representative of any punk sensibility. Over the years, I’ve thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That’s all." In retrospect, Burke described "In the Flesh" as "a forerunner to the power ballad".
Both the single and album reached the Australian top five in October 1977, and a subsequent double-A release of "X-Offender" and "Rip Her to Shreds" was also popular. A successful Australian tour followed in December, though it was marred by an incident in Brisbane when disappointed fans almost rioted after Harry canceled a performance, due to illness.
In February 1978, Blondie released their second album, Plastic Letters (UK #10, US #78). The album was recorded as a four-piece band because Gary Valentine left the band.Plastic Letters was promoted extensively throughout Europe and Asia by Chrysalis Records. The album’s first single, "Denis", was a cover version of Randy and the Rainbows’ 1963 hit. It reached number two on the British singles charts, while both the album and its second single, "(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear", reached the British top ten. Chart success, along with a successful 1978 UK tour, including a gig at London’s Roundhouse, made Blondie one of the first American new wave bands to achieve mainstream success in the United Kingdom. By this time, Gary Valentine had been replaced by Frank Infante (guitar, bass guitar), and shortly after that Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) joined, expanding the band to a six-piece for the first time.
"Heart of Glass" was their first U.S. hit. The disco-infused track topped the U.S. charts in April 1979. It was a reworking of a rock and reggae-infused song that the group had performed since its formation, updated with strong elements of disco music. Clem Burke later said the revamped version was inspired partly by Kraftwerk and partly by the Bee Gees’ "Stayin’ Alive", whose drum beat Burke tried to emulate. He and Stein gave Jimmy Destri much of the credit for the final result, noting that Destri’s appreciation of technology had led him to introduce synthesizers and to rework the keyboard sections. Although some members of the British music press condemned Blondie for "selling out", the song became a success, worldwide. Selling more than a million copies and garnering major airplay, the single reached number one in many countries including the U.S., where Blondie had previously been considered an "underground" band. The song was accompanied by a music video that showcased Debbie Harry’s hard-edged and playfully sexual persona, and she began to attain a celebrity status that set her apart from the other band members, who were largely ignored by the media.
Blondie’s next single in the U.S. was a more aggressive rock song, "One Way or Another" (US #24), which became their second hit single in the United States. Meanwhile, in the UK, an alternate single choice, "Sunday Girl", became a #1 hit. Parallel Lines is ranked #140 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time. In June 1979, Blondie, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Their fourth album, Eat to the Beat (UK #1, US #17), released in October 1979, was well-received by critics as a suitable follow-up to Parallel Lines, but in the U.S., its singles failed to achieve the same level of success as in the UK, where "Atomic" (UK #1, US #39) reached number one, "Dreaming" (UK #2, US #27) reached number two, and "Union City Blue" (UK #13) charted in the top 20.
Blondie’s next single, the Grammy-nominated "Call Me" was the result of Debbie Harry’s collaboration with the Italian songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been responsible for Donna Summer’s biggest hits. This track was not included on any Blondie studio album; rather, it was the title theme of the soundtrack for the film American Gigolo. Released in February 1980, "Call Me" spent six weeks at #1 in the U.S. and Canada, reached #1 in the U.K. and became a hit throughout the world. The song is the band’s biggest selling single in the U.S. (over a million copies sold – gold status) and was Billboard magazine’s #1 single of 1980.
In November 1980, Blondie’s fifth studio album, Autoamerican (UK #3, US #7) was released and contained two more #1 US hits: the reggae-styled "The Tide Is High", a cover version of a 1967 song by The Paragons, and the rap-flavored "Rapture", which was one of the earliest songs containing elements of rap vocals to reach number one in the U.S.,sweeping the world by storm. "Rapture" would be the band’s only single to achieve a higher chart position on the U.S. charts than in the UK, where it peaked at #5. Autoamerican was a departure from previous Blondie records, featuring less new wave and rock in favor of stylistic experiments, including acoustic jazz: "Faces", and from an early Broadway show, "Camelot", came "Follow Me".
Hiatus, The Hunter, and breakup (1981–1982)
Following their success of 1978-80, Blondie took a brief break in 1981. That year, Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri both released solo albums; Stein helped out with Harry’s album Koo Koo (UK #6, US #28) and Burke with Destri’s Heart on a Wall. Frank Infante sued the band regarding a lack of involvement during the Autoamerican sessions; it was settled out of court, and Infante remained in the band (though Harry has subsequently said Infante was not on the next LP).
The band reconvened in 1981 to record and release (in 1982) The Hunter (UK #9, US #33). In contrast to their earlier commercial and critical successes, The Hunter was poorly received and failed to hit the top 20 in the U.S. The album did have two moderate hit singles: "Island of Lost Souls" (#11 UK, #37 US) and "War Child" (#39 UK).
The Hunter also included a song entitled "For Your Eyes Only" which shares its title with a 1981 James Bond film. This song was originally written on spec to be the film’s opening-title theme. However, the producers chose another song by the same name, composed by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson. Blondie was offered the chance to perform Conti and Leeson’s song, but they turned the offer down. Sheena Easton’s rendition of Conti and Leeson’s theme song became a top-ten single worldwide.
With tensions within the band on the rise due to the commercial decline and the constant press focus on Harry to the exclusion of the other band members, events reached a breaking point when Stein was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness pemphigus.Blondie band members received a letter to tell them not to rely on any more money from the bank, as there was only ,000 left in their account. Their managers had completely wiped them out, and as a result of this and of drug use, mismanagement, tension in the band, slow ticket sales, and Chris Stein’s worsening illness, Blondie canceled their tour plans early in August 1982. Shortly thereafter, the band splintered, with at least one (unspecified) member quitting and instigating lawsuits against the other group members; the group formally announced their break up in November, 1982.
Stein and Harry, still a couple at the time, stayed together and retreated from the public spotlight for a few years, with the exception of the minor single releases "Rush Rush" (1983, from the film Scarface) and 1985’s dance track "Feel the Spin". Harry was forced to sell the couple’s five-story mansion to pay off debts that the band had run up, Stein owed in excess of million, and drug use was becoming an increasing concern for them. Harry decided to call off her intimate relationship to Stein and moved downtown. She stated in a 2006 interview that she felt she was having a sort of breakdown due to all the stress. After Stein recovered from his illness, Harry resumed her solo career with a new album (Rockbird) in 1986, with active participation from Stein. Meanwhile, Burke became a much-in-demand session drummer, playing for a time with the Eurythmics, and Destri maintained an active career as a producer and session musician.