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Blondie

Blondie

Rock band

For the Record

Girl-Group Beginnings

Distinctive Brew

The End of the Line

Selected discography

Sources

Blondie formed in New York during the vital transitional period between glitter rock and punk, powered by an eclectic combination of musical styles, tongue-in-cheek attitude, and the frosty, intelligent glamour of frontwoman Deborah Harry. After building a reputation within the New Wave rock underground, the band crossed over with their triumphant disco-era single Heart of Glass and enjoyed a brief reign on the charts before a variety of factors sabotaged their momentum. They broke up in 1982.

Harryafter nursing partner and bandmate Chris Stein back to health from a devastating illnesspursued a solo recording career and film acting; the groups influence, meanwhile, persisted in much of the indie rock of the 1990s. Andrew Mueller of Melody Makermay have been in a hyperbolic mood when he dubbed them historys greatest pop band and, lets face it, possibly historys greatest thing, but he no doubt reflected the general sentiment of many who enjoy smart, well-crafted pop.

For the Record

Members included Clem Burke (born November 24, 1955, in New York; joined group c. 1975), drums; Jimmy Destri (born April 13, 1954), keyboards; Nigel Harrison (joined group 1978), bass; Deborah Harry (born July 1, c. 1945, in Miami, FL), vocals; Frank Infante (joined group 1977), guitar, bass; Billy OConnor (left group 1975), drums; Fred Smith (left group 1975), bass; Chris Stein (born January 5, 1950, in Brooklyn, NY), guitar, vocals; Gary Valentine (band-member 1975-77), bass.

Group formed c. 1974, in New York City; signed with Private Stock label and released debut Blondie, 1976; signed to Chrysalis Records, 1977, and released Parallel Lines, 1978; contributed to Roadie and American Gigolo film soundtracks, 1980; group disbanded, 1982.

Harry released solo debut Koo Koo, 1981; Stein launched own label, Animal Records, 1982, before being stricken with pemphigus vulgaris; Destri released solo album Heart on the Wall, 1982; Harry and Stein co-authored book Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie, 1982; Harry appeared in films Union City, 1979, Videodrome, 1982, and Hairspray, 1988, in stage production Tea-neck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, 1983, and in television program Mother Goose Rock n Rhyme, 1989; Stein wrote music for cable television program Fifteen Minutes and material for Harrys 1986 album Rockbird; Harry dueted with Iggy Pop on Red, Hot + Blue anthology, 1990; Burke played drums with Eurythmics, Dramarama, and others; Harry was sued for song-publishing income by former manager Peter Leeds, 1993.

Awards: Platinum awards for albums Parallel Lines, 1979, Eat to the Beat, 1980, and Autoamerican, 1981, and for single Call Me, 1980.

New York in the early 1970s became something of a hotbed for offbeat rock, thanks in large part to adventurous clubs like CBGB and Maxs Kansas City; Harry had worked as a waitress at the latter. It soon became clear that the old rules of rock were changing. As the glam-rock practiced by groups like the New York Dolls lost its luster, something new began to take shape: a scavenging, garage-band ethic, heavy on attitude and confrontation. It would be a few years before anyone called it punk. The Ramones had yet to codify their pummelling three-chord formula, and British impresario Malcolm MacLaren had yet to assemble the media-ready supernova known as the Sex Pistolsand subsequently take credit for inventing punk rock. In the interim, there existed no alternative formula, so bands like Blondie simply made a musical collage of their disparate passions.

Girl-Group Beginnings

The earliest incarnation of Blondie, a campy girl group known as The Stilettoes, featured Harrya former Playboy bunny and 1960s scenemaker who had sung with the short-lived folk-rock outfit Wind in the Willowsalong with two female backup singers, Fred Smith on bass, drummer Billy OConnor, and Chris Stein, a guitarist who joined the band after seeing an early show. He and Harry connected immediately, as he told Kurt Loder in a profile published in Bat Chain Puller: I was totally taken with her, and did the best I could to win her over. After he joined the group, the pair became romantically involved. The band endured numerous personnel changes, the most important of which involved the replacement of OConnor and Smith with Clem Burke and his friend Gary Valentine. Burke, who was still in his teens when he joined the group, shared Harry and Steins adoration of 1960s girl groups like the Shangri-Las; his propulsive drumming was a crucial component of their energetic sound.

After experimenting with various name changes, Harry came up with Blondie, and it stuck. I would walk down Houston Street and all these truck drivers were always yelling out, Hey, Blondie! she told Loder. So I said, shit, thats great, you know?Poi-fect! It was 1975, and the punk scene was still in an embryonic stage of development; Blondie continued playing tiny clubs for virtually nothing. Yet 1960s enthusiast and record-collector magazine editor Alan Betrock took the group under his wing and set them up in a low-budget studio to record some demos.

Distinctive Brew

Blondie soldiered on and added keyboardist Jimmy Destri, who played the very retro-sounding Farfisa organ. The group lived together in a loft across from CBGB and spent most of their time refining their unusual approach. Surfy guitars, British-Invasion pop melodies, girl-group vocals, and monster-movie camp meshed into a sensibility that borrowed punks tough attitude but preserved the romanticism of classic pop. According to most critics, though, even this distinctive brew might have vanished into cultdom had it not been for Harry.

Her profoundly glamorous appearance aside, she sang with a rough-hewn authority and radiated a charisma at once steely, ironic, sexy, sentimental, and playful.

After meeting producer Richard Gottehrera veteran of 1960s rock who had produced the Ramones debutBlondie found themselves recording a single, originally called Sex Offender but changed to X Offender to avoid controversy. The band recorded their self-titled debut album in 1976 for the Private Stock label but later signed with Chrysalis, which reissued the record. They then embarked on a national tour with proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop.

Blondie followed up with 1977s Plastic Letters, dubbed half-great by Loder, featuring Frank Infante on bass (for the exiting Valentine) as well as on rhythm guitar. It was an especially tumultuous time for the band. It seemed like I spent half my time either trying to keep certain people in the group or trying to convince Debbie and Chris to get other ones in, Burke told Loder. Somebody was always on the outs with somebody else. Nigel Harrison took over the bassist position in 1978, and Infante moved to full-time guitar. Two singles from the album reached the U.K. Top Ten, but the group had already begun working with then-hot producer Mike Chapman on their next album, Parallel Lines. Released in 1978, this third outing featured a revised version of a song on the early demosfirst known as The Disco Song, then Once I Had a Love, and finally Heart of Glass.

In his list of the Top Ten albums of 1978, New York Times critic John Rockwell lauded Parallel Lines as Blondies best so far. Deborah Harrys singing continues to improve, and the bands blend of progressive experimentation and popsy appeal works better here than ever before, he wrote. A really delightful disk, and its surprising that it didnt do a bit better commercially. Of course, it did later: Heart of Glass became an international smash, and Parallel Lines went platinum. The album later yielded another hit, One Way or Another. After toiling in obscurity for years, the members of Blondie were rock stars, and Harrys near-ubiquity in jeans ads and elsewhere necessitated the promotional slogan Blondie Is a Group.

Eat to the Beat, the groups 1979 release, yielded the hit Dreaming. But even as they highlighted their power-pop leanings, Blondie continued to dabble in dance music, scoring another smash with Call Me, a song from the American Gigolo film soundtrack that paired Harrys lyrics with music by disco svengali Giorgio Moroder. Next came Autoamerican, which sported Rapture, an exercise in rap when the genre was in its infancy. It is a tribute to the musical instincts of Harry and Stein that they so cannily pursued a form that few in the music world took seriously; the song sat atop the charts for two weeks andalong with the sprightly calypso-reggae cover The Tide Is Highhelped the album go platinum.

The End of the Line

By 1981 the group had lost cohesion. Harry had already recorded a solo album when Blondie reunited to record The Hunter, which Donald Clarke, in his Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, deemed a sad parody of former glories. It did yield a moderately successful single, Island of Lost Souls, and thus necessitated a tour; this venture proved disastrous as Chris Stein had by then come down with a rare and debilitating illness called pemphigus vulgaris. Wed see Chris come offstage and go directly to oxygen, Destri related in the interview with Loder; this undignified spectacle convinced the group to pack it in, and much of Stein and Harrys money went to pay his substantial medical bills.

Harry pursued acting and periodic music projects but spent the bulk of the mid-1980s nursing Stein back to health; she has also had to deal with substantial litigation over profits generated by the group. Although she released a number of solo albums in ensuing years, critics have generally dismissed them as pale when compared to her best work with the band. Only French Kissin in the USA, a collaboration with Stein from her 1986 effort Rockbird, generated any chart action. Destri, meanwhile, moved into record production after releasing a 1982 solo album; Burke played drums for Eurythmics and, later, for indie rockers Dramarama.

Yet the intervening years have also seen a number of compilations and the spilling of considerable ink regarding Blondies sainted place in power pop history. As producer Dan Loggins put it in the notes to the collection he compiled entitled Blonde and Beyond, the band crafted three minute pop gems; timeless and contradictory symbols of their own era. Paul Mathur of Melody Maker proclaimed, For more of us than would perhaps care to admit, Deborah Harrys music has been a mark against which all other pop is judged.

Harry herself, according to Rolling Stone, was at her peak the ultimate urban babe: streetwise, glamorous, tough, very cool. Her influence on the scores of woman-led and all-female indie rock bandsnotably the celebrated Riot Grrrl groupsbecame a favorite topic for her champions in the rock press. But regardless of Harrys status as an icon, Blondies place in posterity is assured, thanks to a solidand strikingly versatilebody of work.

Selected discography

On Chrysalis, except where noted

Blondie (includes X Offender), Private Stock, 1976, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.

Plastic Letters, Private Stock, 1977, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.

Parallel Lines (includes Heart of Glass and One Way or Another), 1978.

Eat to the Beat (includes Dreaming), 1979.

(Contributors) Roadie (film soundtrack; featured on Ring of Fire), 1980.

Autoamerican (includes Rapture and The Tide Is High), 1980.

(Contributors) American Gigolo (film soundtrack; featured on Call Me), 1980.

The Best of Blondie, 1981.

The Hunter (includes Island of Lost Souls), 1982.

Once More into the Bleach, 1988.

The Complete Picture: The Very Best of Deborah Harry and Blondie, 1991.

Blonde and Beyond, 1993.

The Ultimate Collection, 1994.

Atomic (12-inch dance remix), 1995.

Solo recordings by Deborah Harry

Koo Koo, 1981.

Rockbird (includes French Kissin in the USA), Geffen, 1986.

Def, Dumb and Blonde, Geffen, 1989.

(With Iggy Pop) Well Did You Evah, Red, Hot + Blue, Chrysalis, 1990.

Debravation, Sire/Reprise, 1993.

Solo recordings by Jimmy Destri

Heart on the Wall, 1982.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Donald, Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.

Encyclopedia of Rock, edited by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Schirmer Books, 1988.

Harry, Deborah, and Chris Stein, Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie, 1982.

Loder, Kurt, Bat Chain Puller: Rock & Roll in the Age of Celebrity, St. Martins, 1990.

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC-CLIO, 1991.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Melody Maker, March 9, 1991; July 10, 1993.

New York Times, December 22, 1978.

Rolling Stone, April 15, 1993; October 14, 1993.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to Blonde and Beyond, Chrysalis, 1993.

Simon Glickman

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Blondie

Blondie the curly-haired heroine of an American strip cartoon by Chic Young (1901–73) which first appeared in 1930; Blondie was first the girlfriend, and later the wife, of Dagwood Bumstead for whom the Dagwood of Chancery is named.

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Blondie

Blondie

Rock band

For the Record

Lived and Worked Together

Illness and Fighting Took Center Stage

Reunited and Rejuvenated

Selected discography

Sources

One of the most successful American groups to emerge as part of the late 1970s New Wave sound, Blondie formed in the midst of New York Citys legendary punk scene. They rose to stardom, though, not with the hard and loud sound of such New York punk legends as the Ramones, but by expressing the attitude behind that sound through a wide variety of pop music styles. Lead singer Deborah Harry embodied that attitude in her performances, which rock critic Steve Huey of the All Music Guide described as imitating and inverting clichés about musical styles and personae associated with women.

Their unique sound resulted in a string of albums and singles that all reached number one on the charts, starting with the disco hit Heart of Glass from Parallel Linesm 1978 and ending with the calypsoflavored The Tide Is High from Autoamerican 1980. These years of uninterrupted success came to an end in 1982 due to illness and infighting. Even in their absence, the music of Blondie remained popular and, after sixteen years apart, most of the band members reunited to put together

For the Record

Members include Clem Burke (born November 24, 1955, in New York; joined group c 1975), drums; Paul Carbonara (joined group 1998), guitar; Jimmy Destri (born April 13, 1954), keyboards; Leigh Foxx (joined group 1998), bass; Nigel Harrison (band member 197882), bass; Deborah Harry (born July 1, c 1945, in Miami, FL), vocals; Frank Infante (band member 197782), guitar, bass; Billy OConnor (left group 1975), drums; Fred Smith (left group 1975), bass; Chris Stein (born January 5, 1950, in Brooklyn, NY), guitar, vocals; Gary Valentine (band member 197577), bass.

Group formed C 1974, in New York City; signed with Private Stock label and released debut Blondie, 1976; signed to Chrysalis Records, 1977, and released Parallel Lines, 1978; contributed Call Me to American Gigolo soundtrack, 1980; Stein became ill and group disbanded, 1982; group reunited and released new studio album, No Exit, 1999.

Harry appeared in films The Foreigner, 1978, Union City, 1979, Videodrome, 1982, Hairspray, 1988, and Copland, 1997, in stage production Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, 1983, and in television program, Mother Goose Rock r Rhyme, 1989; Harry released first solo album, Koo Koo, 1981; Stein founded Animal Records, 1982, before being stricken with pemphigus vulgaris (a skin disease); Destri released solo album Heart on the Wall, 1982; Harry and Stein coauthored book Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie, 1982; Stein wrote music for cable television program Fifteen Minutes and material for Harrys 1986 album, Rockbird; Harry dueted with Iggy Pop on Red Hot + Blue anthology, 1990; Burke played drums with Eurythmics, Dramarama, and others; Harry was sued for songpublishing income by former manager Peter Leeds, 1993; Harry sang with the Jazz Passengers, 1998.

Awards: Platinum awards for albums Parallel Lines, 1979, Eat to the Beat, 1980, and Autoamerican, 1981, and for single Call Me, 1980.

Addresses: Record company Beyond Music, P.O. Box 18524, Beverly Hills, CA 90209. Website www.blondie.net.

a new album. As if they had never gone away, Blondie had a hit album in No Exit and a hit single with Maria in 1999.

The core of the band that became Blondie first played together in The Stilettoes, which featured Harry and two other female vocalists. Guitarist Chris Stein came on board after attending one of their shows, impressed by The Stilettoes take on the music of such 1960s girl groups as the ShangriLas. In 1975 a series of further changes transformed the band into Blondie. Another girl group aficionado, drummer Clem Burke, joined, bringing with him his friend, bass player Gary Valentine. That same year, Jimmy Destri brought his Farf isa organ to the band. On top of the personnel changes, Harry decided the group needed a new name, and she chose one that she often heard from truck drivers who passed her in the street.

While Harry would come to be the face and voice of Blondie, Stein and Burke would come to drive the bands distinctive sound. In Guitar Player Michael Molenda wrote, [T]he muted rhythm figurestypically with a hint of slapbackand moody singlenote lines of guitarist Chris Stein broadcast a Blondie song even before Harry enters the mix. Although Stein jokingly told Molenda that he had adapted a certain way of playing to Clems crappy timing, many credited Burkes drums as a driving force for the band. In describing Blondies songs, critic Greg Kot wrote in Rolling Stone that Burke made them explode.

Lived and Worked Together

The distinctive Blondie sound didnt develop overnight. In their early years, the whole group roomed together in the same loft near legendary punk club CBGB, where New Yorks punk scene was coming to life. They honed their mix of innocent prepunk pop styles with songs about the tough life of the city streets, which Harry sang with an ironic glamour that drew on her past as a Playboy Bunny. In 1976, Blondie cut their first single, X Offender, toning down the titlefrom Sex Offender out of fear of controversy. They then issued their debut album, Blondie, on the Private Stock label. Their 1977 followup, Plastic Letters, gave the band their first taste of success, spawning two Top Ten singles in Great Britain. In spite of the hits in England, this was a tumultuous time for the band. One of the hits, Denis, was a cover of the 1963 song Denise, by Randy and the Rainbows. While such a song fit nicely with the interests of Harry, Stein, and Burke, Valentine found it too commercial and refused to play it. He left the band, but not before writing the other British hit on the album, (Im Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear.

The year 1978 proved to be a milestone, as personnel changes and a new label brought incredible commercial success in the U.S. Frank Infante had joined the band to play bass when Valentine left, but now he moved to guitar as Nigel Harrison came aboard as the bassist. This version of Blondie signed with a larger label, Chrysalis, and began recording their next album with noted NewWave producer Mike Chapman. The resulting album, Parallel Lines, propelled the band into the limelight, where they would remain for the next three years. The album also showed the groups adeptness with diverse styles, with both the disco Heart of Glass and the punkish One Way or Another climbing to number one on the charts.

Blondie continued to gain momentum when their 1979 album Eat to the Beat yielded the hit Dreaming. Their next single proved to be one of their biggest hits, but it came from a movie soundtrack instead of one of their albums. Collaborating with German disco producer Giorgio Moroder, Blondie had a smash in 1980 with Call Me, from the American Gigolo soundtrack. Then they went back to the studio to record another album. The result, Autoamerican, repeated their success while again highlighting their innovative use of widely different musical styles. Rapture was yet another numberone hit, a raptinged song at a time before rap music had come to the attention of most of the popular music world. Not to be tied to one kind of beat, they also released the calypsoinfluenced hit The Tide Is High from the same album.

Illness and Fighting Took Center Stage

Blondie had reached their peak, and now internal tensions threatened to pull them down. For one thing, they had to fight the perception that Blondie was Harrys stage name and that she was the whole act. Publicists concocted a promotional campaign featuring the slogan Blondie Is a Group in an attempt to educate the public. Although officially still a group, by 1981 individual band members had started working on projects outside Blondie. That year Harry released her first solo album, Koo Koo, which went gold. Around this same time, Stein began to struggle with a rare and debilitating genetic illness, pemphigus vulgaris. Harry, Steins partner offstage as well as on, devoted time to caring for him. Amidst all this turmoil, Blondies 1982 album The HunteriaWed to yield the commercial or critical success of their earlier work. It did, however, yield a moderately successful single, Island of Lost Souls. A tour in support of the album proved extremely difficult for Stein and, in October of 1982, the band broke up.

Yet Blondie maintained a presence even in the absence of new material. Their songs remained popular in dance clubs and appeared on several compilations targeted at that audience, overshadowing Harrys solo albums. While Harry was recording on her own and acting inmovies, most notably Hairsprayin 1988, the rest of the band worked farther away from the limelight, variously trying their hands at record production and playing with other bands. But even after a decade, Blondie would not go away. Their music gained exposure to whole new audiences in the 1990s, with covers of One Way or Another appearing on the soundtracks of The Rugrats Movie and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch television show. Now the children of Blondies original fans experienced the music.

Interest in Blondie would not fade. In 1997 the album Essential Blondie: Picture This Live was released, featuring stage performances from 1978 and 1980. This occasion gave critics the opportunity to assess the bands work and legacy. Writing in the Village Voice, Robert Christgau called the album a memento mori for fans who loved them to the bone and forensic evidence against fools who mistook their flesh for plastic. Still, the album had a limitededition release, targeted at hardcore Blondie fans wishing to remember the past instead of at potential new audiences.

Reunited and Rejuvenated

But it turned out that Blondie wasnt doneyet. Upon being approached to record two new songs to add to a greatest hits collection, the band that hadnt performed together in sixteen years decided to put out an album of allnew material. The result was the 1999 release No Exit, which found surprising commercial and critical success for an album by a band reuniting after nearly twenty years. This version of the group brought Harry, Stein, Burke, and Destri back together. Valentine toyed with the idea of rejoining, but decided against doing so. Infante and Harrison never even received an invitation, so they sued over Blondies recording and performing without them. In the meantime, guitarist Paul Carbonara and bassist Leigh Foxx joined the lineup. The album reunited more than just the band members; two producers from Blondies past joined in the project. Mike Chapman helped them record demos for the album, and then the groups first producer, Craig Leon, came in to put together the final product.

No Exit received a warm reception from both the public and critics. The album debuted at number 18 on the Top 200 chart and maintained strong sales. Meanwhile, reviewers expressed surprise at the quality of new material from a band that hadnt recorded together in almost twenty years, applauding them for reuniting for the sake of music, not money. Christgau wrote, [H]ere the commitment is as palpable as such ironic formalists can make it. Harry told Lyndsey Parker of Launch, Were trying to see the album as a continuationtrying to pick up where we left off. I certainly didnt want to hybridize the old stuff and just do a rehash; I wanted to integrate it with a little bit of modernity. Indeed, the collaboration with rapper Coolio on the title track showed that the group still had the same willingness to experiment with new styles, keeping Blondies sound as fresh as ever in spite of their long separation.

Selected discography

On Chrysalis, except where noted

Blondie, Private Stock, 1976, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.

Plastic Letters, Private Stock, 1977, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.

Parallel Lines (includes Heart of Glass and One Way or Another), 1978.

Eat to the Beat (includes Dreaming), 1979.

Autoamerican (includes Rapture and The Tide Is High), 1980.

(Contributors) American Gigolo (film soundtrack; includes Call Me), 1980.

The Best of Blondie, 1981.

The Hunter (includes Island of Lost Souls), 1982.

Once More into the Bleach, 1988.

The Complete Picture: The Very Best of Deborah Harry and Blondie, 1991.

Blonde & Beyond, 1993.

The Ultimate Collection, 1994.

Atomic (12inch dance remix), 1995.

Remixed, Remade and Remodeled (also known as Remix Project), 1995.

Essential Blondie: Picture This Live, Capitol, 1997.

No Exit (includes Maria), Beyond, 1999.

Solo recordings by Deborah Harry

KooKoo, 1981.

Rockbird (includes French Kissin in the USA), Geffen, 1986.

Def, Dumb and Blonde, Geffen, 1989.

(With Iggy Pop) Well Did You Evah, Red, Hot + Blue, Chrysalis, 1990.

Debravation, Sire/Reprise, 1993.

Solo recordings by Jimmy Destri

Heart on the Wall, 1982.

Videos

Best of Blondie: The Videos, Pacific Arts, 1981.

Live in Concert (also known as Blondie: Live), MCA, 1987.

Sources

Periodicals

Guitar Player, April 1999, pp. 5864.

Melody Maker, March 9, 1991; July 10, 1993.

New York Times, December 22, 1978.

Rolling Stone, April 15, 1993; October 14, 1993; January 9, 1999; February 9, 1999; April 12, 1999.

Village Voice, January 27, 1998, p. 83; March 23, 1999, p. 120.

Online

Blondie, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 18, 1999).

Blondie: Still Golden, Launch, http://www.launch.com (June 18, 1999).

Lloyd Hemingway

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