|Origin||New York City, New York, USA|
|Genre||New wave, pop rock, punk rock|
|Years active||1975–1982 1997–present|
|Labels||Chrysalis, EMI, Beyond, BMG Records, Epic Records, Sanctuary Records, Private Stock Records|
|Band members||Deborah Harry|
|Associated acts||Chequered Past|
About the bandEdit
The band was a pioneer in the early American new wave and punk rock 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 was noted for its eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop and reggae, while retaining a basic style as a new wave band.
The band broke up after the release of their 1982 album The Hunter. Debbie Harry continued to pursue a solo career with varied results (though she took a few years off to care for partner Chris Stein, who had developed a life-threatening illness). Keyboardist Jimmy Destri also embarked on a solo career of his own with somewhat less success than Harry.
The group 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 over the following years, and was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the RockWalk of Fame in 2006. Blondie has so far sold 40 million records worldwide.
Early career (1975–1978) Edit
In the early 1970s, Chris Stein moved to Manhattan from Brooklyn. There, inspired by the burgeoning new music scene New York Dolls, et al., aimed to join a similar band. He joined The Stilettos in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with the band's vocalist, 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. After some personnel turnover (other early members included sisters Tish Bellomo and Eileen Bellomo on backing vocals) by 1975, Stein and Harry were joined by drummer Clem Burke, keyboard player Jimmy Destri and bass player Gary Valentine. Originally billed as Angel and the Snake the band renamed themselves Blondie in late 1975. The name was derived from comments made by truck drivers who called "Hey, Blondie" to Harry as they drove by. Later, band members were bemused to learn that the name was shared by Adolf Hitler's dog 'Blondi'. Blondie recorded one song semi-anonymously under the name 'Adolf's Dog'. This is on an Iggy Pop tribute album.
Blondie became regulars at New York's Club 51, Max's Kansas City and CBGB. They got their first record deal with Private Stock Records in the mid-1970s and released their debut album Blondie (AUS #14, UK #75) in 1976, along with the single "X-Offender". Private Stock Records was then bought out by the UK-based company, Chrysalis Records, and the first album was re-released on the new label in 1977, along with the single "Rip Her to Shreds". Rolling Stone wrote about Blondie for the first time in August 1977 and 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, bandmember 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".
The single and album each 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 1977, Blondie released their second album, "Plastic Letters" (UK #10, US #78). The album was recorded as a four-piece band because Gary Valentine had left. 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. That chart success, along with a successful 1978 UK tour including a gig at the Roundhouse (The Boomtown Rats opened), 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 (bass guitar/guitar), and shortly after that Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) was added, expanding the band to a six-piece for the first time.
Allmusic later described Plastic Letters as inferior to its predecessor, saying that with the exception of the two singles, it appeared to have been constructed from "leftovers" from the Blondie album. It noted that Gottehrer's production could not compensate for the "pedestrian musical tracks" or save the album from "general mediocrity".
Mainstream Success (1978-1981) Edit
Parallel Lines (UK #1, US #6) Blondie's third album, the group's most popular, and best selling effort was released in September 1978, and was produced by Mike Chapman. The album's first two singles were "Picture This" (UK #12) and "Hanging on the Telephone" (UK #5). "Heart of Glass" was their first U.S. hit. The disco infused track topped the US charts in April 1979. It was a reworking of a rock/reggae-infused song that the group had performed since its formation, but 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 popular worldwide success. Selling more than one million copies and garnering major airplay, the single reached number one in many countries including the U.S., where, for the most part, Blondie had previously been considered an "underground" band. The song was accompanied by a music video that showcased Deborah 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), and became their second hit single in the United States. Meanwhile in the UK, an alternate single choice, "Sunday Girl", became another #1 smash. "Parallel Lines" is ranked #140 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest albums of all time. In June 1979, Blondie graced 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. it failed to achieve the same level of success. In the UK, the single "Atomic" (UK #1, US #39) reached number one, "Dreaming" (UK #2, US #27) number two, and "Union City Blue" (UK #13) was another top 20 hit, while in the U.S. their singles did not chart as strongly.
Deborah Harry worked with the Italian songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been responsible for Donna Summer's biggest hits, and they composed the song "Call Me" for the soundtrack of the film American Gigolo. Released in February 1980, the track spent 6 weeks at #1 in the U.S., reached #1 in the U.K. and became a hit throughout the world. The song is the bands biggest selling single in the US (over a million copies sold - gold status) and according to Billboard magazine, the #1 single of 1980.
In November 1980, their next 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, and was not generally well-received by critics. In October 1981, Chrysalis Records released "The Best of Blondie" (UK #4, US #30), the group's first greatest hits compilation.
Hiatus, The Hunter, and breakup (1981–1982) Edit
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.
The band reconvened in 1982 to record and release The Hunter (UK #9, US #33). In contrast to their earlier commercial and critical successes, The Hunter generally received lukewarm-to-negative reviews and failed to hit the top 20 in the U.S. The album did spin off 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. In August 1982, Blondie canceled their tour plans early and announced their break-up.
Stein and Harry (at the time a couple) 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". 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 (and played for a time with Eurythmics), and Destri also maintained an active career as a producer and session musician.
Regeneration (1997–2004) Edit
Harry continued her successful solo career after the band broke up, which helped keep the band in the public eye. In 1990, she reunited with Stein and Burke for a summer tour of mid-sized venues, as part of an "Escape from New York" package with Jerry Harrison, the Tom Tom Club and the Ramones. The band did not officially reform until 1997, however: the 1990 tour was nominally a Deborah Harry solo project.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Blondie's past work began to be recognized again by a new generation of fans and artists including Madonna and Gwen Stefani. Chrysalis/EMI Records also released several compilations and collections of remixed versions of some of its biggest hits.
In 1996, Stein and Harry began the process of reuniting Blondie and contacted original members Burke, Destri, and Valentine, who had by this time moved to London and become a full-time writer under his real name Gary Lachman; his New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation (2002) is a memoir of his years with the band. Former members Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante did not participate in the reunion, and they sued to prevent the reunion under the name Blondie.
In 1997, the original five-piece band reformed, including Valentine on bass, did live three performances, all at outdoor festivals sponsored by local radio stations. An international tour in late 1998 and early 1999 followed.
A new album, No Exit (UK #3, US #18) was released in February 1999 and was described by Jimmy Destri as "15 songs about nothing". The band was now officially a four piece, consisting of Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri: Valentine did not play on the album, although he did co-write two tracks. Session musicians Leigh Foxx and Paul Carbonara would play bass and guitar on this and follow-up Blondie releases. (Foxx had previously been a member of Harry's backing band, and performed during the 1990 "Escape from New York" tour.)
No Exit reached number three on the UK charts, and the first single, "Maria", which Destri had written thinking about his high school days, became Blondie's sixth UK number one single exactly twenty years after their first chart-topper "Heart of Glass", giving the band the distinction of being the only American act to reach number one in the UK singles charts in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The reformed band released the follow-up album The Curse of Blondie (UK #36, US #160) in October 2003. Curse proved to be Blondie's lowest-charting album since their debut in 1976, although the single "Good Boys" managed to reach number 12 on the UK charts. In 2004, Jimmy Destri retired from touring, leaving only Harry, Stein and Burke (from the original line-up) appearing at live shows, though Destri continued to work as a member of the band in the studio.