Blondie - Blonde Ambition

Debbie Harry - Vox
Chris Stein - Gtr
Gary Valentine - Bass
Clem Burke - Drums
Jimmy Destri - Keyboards

Chris Stein fell in love with Debbie Harry, ex-Hefner bunny & singer in NYC girl group, The Stilettos, in 1974. Debbie had form, in fact she was a serial pop wannabe - time in folk act Wind In The Willows in the late 60's had given her a taste & she'd been learning ever since. With Chris she recruited bassist Fred Smith, gtr-ist Ivan Kral & drummer Billy O'Connor - Blondie were a band.

NYC was a graveyard even then - bands died as quick as they were born. Kral soon departed to join The Patti Smith Group, Smith defected to Television & O'Connor fucked off to law skool - Chris & Debbie recruited Messers Valentine, Burke & Destri & ripped it to shreds all over the Lower East Side. 1976 was a big year for New York - crawling, screaming & spitting from the depths of the Bowery came a noise that people would start calling punk rock before too long. Max's Kansas City & CBGB's were the venues of choice - Television, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Suicide & Blondie were the groups.

Considered "pop" outcasts by some of the bitchier elements of the scene, Blondie were punk enuff if you were a 15 year old delinquent in a bedroom in middle England in 1976 (& I was, I was). Debbie Harry was by far the hottest "broad" we'd ever seen fronting a rock band. She was sex on a stick but pulled it of with beauty & voice alone - no cleavage enhancement, no dangerous underwear, no raunchy videos, no body piercing & very little foul or abusive language.

Blondie's 1st lp originally appeared on Private Stock Records in 1977 before being picked up by UK based Chrysalis Records later that same year. It was recorded at Plazza Sound Studios above Radio City Music Hall in NYC & was produced by Brill Building regular, Richard Gottehrer. Featuring debut single "X Offender" (originally entitled "Sex Offender") as well as future hits "In The Flesh" & "Rip Her To Shreds", "Blondie" was dubbed an "Instant Record" by it's creators. Harry's voice dominated the organ heavy grind of Blondie, her vocals had none of the sugar coated sickliness usually associated with the female singers in the mid to late 70's. The cracks around the edges of her range said, "attitude, buddy".

Compared to the blitzkrieg roar of the Ramones, or the twin gtr assault on melody of Television, Blondie WERE pop by definition. Harry & Stein made a conscious decision early on to ditch the "punk/new wave" tags in favour of "power pop" in order to maximise their exposure & sales. In retrospect, they do sound tame compared to Patti Smith or the females punk had empowered in the UK (Siouxsie, Poly Styrene, Pauline Murray, Ari Up etc). By the time "Blondie" was released in the UK, pictures of Debbie were replacing pictures of Lily in bedrooms all over the country. The band supported Iggy Pop on his US jaunt that year - the word was out.

Ironically, considering the strength of their first 3 singles, it took a cover vershun to blow Blondie to the top of the pile; "Denise" by Randy & The Rainbows was given a gender perspective change & lost an e @ the end - "Denis" became the record that broke Blondie in the UK - a string of hit singles followed, all the way to the bank.

"Denis" was taken from the second Blondie lp, "Plastic Letters". Again produced by Gottehrer @ Plaza, the album had a harder edge & another massive hit; "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear" (as well as the prophetic "I'm On E" - which would subsequently mean something entirely different to a later generation). Sell-out UK tours sent Blondie's profile reeling, the press went mad & Mike Chapman was brought in to cement the groups grip on chartland with his production of "Parallel Lines", their biggest selling release. The album boasted some of their strongest singles to date with "Sunday Girl", "Hanging On The Telephone" & "Picture This", but in truth much of the magic had already evaporated - too much too soon, as Terry Hall might have pointed out at the time.

"Heart Of Glass" typified this malaise, the band had embraced the sound of disco that they'd (allegedly) hated so much back in 1976 & all bets were off. Much maligned in later years for failing to die when they were shot, Blondie limped on for far too long until tragic illness reduced the unfortunate Stein to a hospital bed where he spent much of the decade recovering (with Debbie by his side).

If Blondie achieved anything, they changed the way we felt about female fronted bands. They paved the way for many far less talented than themselves. They were short & they were sweet - "Blondie" & "Plastic Letters" are ample evidence of this. Both are now available, once again, in digitally re-mastered editions including unreleased cuts & demos as part of Chrysalis re-evaluation of it's catalogue. Anyone interested in the development of punk rock should mark these down as essential purchases;

"From the most successful band of the punk/new wave movement", says the sticker on the sleeve. Nah, they were much more important than that - for a little while, anyway.

Evan Halshaw

contact - the needle & the damage done