A Biography By Glenn O'Brien
Blondie was the greatest pop band of the New Wave Punk era. They were pop because you can't really say they were new wave or punk, or funk, or disco, or art for that matter. They did everything that interested them -- including the first rock/reggae and rock/disco. To some they were new wave with their ironic words, cool haircuts and Debbie in day glo Steven Sprouse fashions. To some they were punks -- mocking rock dinosaurs and Debbie the cover girl on Punk Magazine. Whatever they did, it all came out sounding great and Blondie remains one of the biggest hitmaking bands of our time.
The original Blondie was formed in 1974 by art student/fallen away hippie guitarist Chris Stein and ex-Max's Kansas City waitress and Playboy bunny, vocalist Debbie Harry, drummer Clem Burke and keyboard player Jimmy Destri joined in 1975. The band played in New York downtown circuit -- CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and the Mercer Arts Center. They collected a big following and in 1976 they recorded their first album "Blondie". It was released in 1977 and was well received. After a successful stint in L.A., the band toured in support of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
In the summer of 1977 they released their second album, "Plastic Letters" and toured Europe and Asia. In March of 1978 the single "Denis" hit #1 in the UK. That summer the band worked with producer Mike Chapman to hone their radio sound and create the album "Parallel Lines". The single "Picture This" made #12 in the UK and the follow-up "Hanging on the Telephone" hit #1. At the end of the year Debbie made her first film, Union City.
In 1979 Blondie had their first #1 US hit with "Heart of Glass" which also sold over a million copies in the UK. The album sold over 20 million copies. The fourth single from "Parallel Lines", "Sunday Girl," also hit #1 in the UK. In September 1979 the band's fourth album "Eat to the Beat" was released, along with the first ever album length video. Before the year's end, Blondie had its fourth UK #1 hit with "Dreaming."
In February 1980 they hit #1 in England again with "Atomic." Two months later they hit #1 in the U.S. a second time with "Call Me," from the film American Gigolo. Before the end of the year, "Eat To The Beat" was certified platinum and Debbie was on "The Muppet Show."
The fifth Blondie album, "Autoamerican", was released in January and the first single "The Tide is High" made #1 in the UK. The first reggae tinged hit, it was #1 in the U.S. by March. Debbie appeared on the popular TV show "Solid Gold," and soon the album was solid platinum. In August, Debbie released her first solo album, "Koo Koo", produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic and featuring a cover by H.R. Giger, the Academy Award winning sci-fi artist who created Alien creature.
By 1982 there was dissension in the band, but they still managed to produce a final album "The Hunter". The single "Island of Lost Souls" was the band's last U.S. hit. In the meantime, Chris was felled by a rare and often fatal genetic disease, and the band fell apart. Debbie spent the next several years nursing Chris back to health.
Debbie went on to appear in numerous films and plays and to create music in various contexts. In recent years she has become the featured vocalist of the Jazz Passengers. Jimmy left music for awhile to become a family man and contractor. Chris produced various bands in New York. Clem continued to record and tour with top acts.
The new album, the seventh Blondie album of new material, was produced by Craig Leon, who actually worked on their first album with legendary producer Richard Gottherer.
Blondie was considered one of the inventors of new wave and/or punk, but the group always resisted classification. At the height of punk anti-disco sentiment, the group rocked the dance floors of the world with the updated disco of "Heart of Glass." Today, Blondie is as elusive, uncategorizable and ironic as ever.
Hearing "No Exit" is truly surprising because it's a perfect evolution of Blondie as we knew it. It's as if the band continued to develop, to tighten even, despite the fact that they weren't together. The trademark elements are still there: that perfect, propulsive beat; Debbie's unmistakable voice, seductive, soulful yet ironic; atmospheric keyboards, sometimes lush, sometimes eerie; and brilliantly articulated guitar lines that never approach cliché. And, of course, the thing that stands out, especially today, is the band's ability to create perfectly crafted pop songs -- catchy, instantly memorable, yet full of subtleties that continue to grow on you with repetition. It's just as good as it ever was, but sweeter.
"Maria," is a sexy pop anthem in the tradition of the great Blondie hits --dynamic but sweet, sensual but with a streak of wicked wit, unique but utterly contagious. "Night Wind Sent" is a haunting, delicate love song, that's all beauty. "Forgive and Forget" is a sort of tom tom driven creation myth -- jungle drums meet electronic rhythms to create an exotic rhapsodic, moody dance music -- hypnotism with hooks.
Blondie was never a novelty act, but even their hits showed a remarkable gift for transcending genres and fusing different moods and styles. Now, as bona fide adults and virtuoso players and writers, they've developed some even more startling hybrids. "No Exit" is a high powered monster mash, a Transylvanian rap dozens-duel between Debbie and Coolio that's the musical equivalent of Mystery Science Theater 3000. "Screaming Skin" is a wild vampire ska romp, sort of Bela Lugosi meets Skatalites. Blondie shows off cool and kooky chanteuse moves in "Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room."
It's a classic Blondie album, but even better in ways. The band takes itself less seriously so the songs are even wittier. And two of the good things about getting older are that if you play your cards right you can get smarter and you can get more skilled. Blondie's holds a winning hand with "No Exit".