Where To Start With... - May 4, 2017

Where To Start With... Blondie
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Where To Start With... Blondie

Formed in New York in 1974, Blondie first emerged as part of the same punk scene that included bands like The Ramones, Television and Talking Heads, becoming a regular fixture at New York City venues like Max's Kansas City and CBGB's.

Never quite as hard-edged as some of their contemporaries, Blondie's sound blended elements of punk and new wave with a knack for radio-friendly melodies that had more in common with the music of Phil Spector than with that of contemporaries like The Fleshtones or The Cramps. But aside from their music, the thing that made them stand apart from the other bands on the scene was their singer, Debbie Harry.

Looking more like a punk-rock Marilyn Monroe than anything you'd associate with the dingy environment at CBGB's, Harry's photogenic looks not only marked her out as a potential star, they also gave the band their name; reportedly Harry would often be cat-called by truck drivers with the phrase 'hey, Blondie', and the moniker stuck. Furthermore, Chris Stein also explained in a BBC documentary about the band, One Way or Another, that their first record deal with New York-based label Private Stock came as the result of a centre-page spread in Punk magazine featuring Harry in leather hotpants, which caught the eye of the label's founder Larry Uttal.

Their self-titled debut wasn't a commercial success, but it caught the ear of Chris Wright and Terry Ellis of UK-based label Chrysalis, who bought the band out of their contract and released a string of albums that would transform the band from punk scene outsiders to one of the most successful female-fronted bands on the planet, eventually selling upwards of 30 million albums worldwide.

Despite their commercial success, deteriorating relationships between band members eventually led to their split in 1982 and it would be more than fifteen years before they reunited for 1997's No Exit, which yielded another Number One hit with 'Maria'. Their output since has been patchy, but in January this year the band announced a new album featuring a list of collaborators including Johnny Marr, Sia, The Strokes' Nick Valensi, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and Charli XCX.

The new album, Pollinator, is produced by John Congleton, whose recent list of credits includes St. Vincent and John Grant, and its lead-off single 'Fun' is one of the best things they've released in years. In the tradition of songs like 'Heart of Glass' and 'Atomic', this an uptempo number aimed squarely at the dancefloor and it's a very promising indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the album. 'Long Time' and 'My Monster' are other good examples, both sounding very much like a version of Blondie for the 21st Century, while the Charli XCX-penned 'Gravity' is another highlight.

You can find the video for 'Fun' below, beneath that we've picked five highlights from the band's career...

 

 


'X-Offender'

Although it was the band's first single and the opening salvo from their eponymous debut album, Blondie's early commercial success arrived in a manner that the band hadn't intended or anticipated. Having sent videos for both the single and its b-side, 'In the Flesh', to the producers of Australian TV show Countdown, one of the show's producers, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, reportedly played the b-side by mistake. To the band's surprise, it gave them their first No.1 single in Australia. Guitarist Chris Stein has since speculated that it probably wasn't an accident and 'X-Offender' was too edgy for the show, opting to play its b-side ballad instead, but for our our money the A-side is still the better song.

 

'Heart of Glass'

Having signed to UK-based label Chrysalis for their second album Plastic Letters, Blondie continued to build on their early success, more so in the UK than in the U.S., enjoying hits with songs like '(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear' and a reworked cover version of Randy and the Rainbows' 'Denis', but it was their third album, Parallel Lines, that really took their careers to the next level. The album yielded several hits including 'One Way or Another' and their cover of The Nerves' 'Hanging On The Telephone', but by far the biggest was this disco-inspired number, which saw the band top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic for the first time.

 

'Atomic'

Featured on the band's fourth album Eat to the Beat, 'Atomic' in one of the record's highlights and, like 'Heart of Glass', fuses together elements of rock, pop and disco to create something that sounds completely unique to Blondie. It has since featured in several film soundtracks, most notably in the nightclub scene in Trainspotting, as well as one the soundtrack fro Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

 

'Rapture'

Always keen to experiment with blending different styles and genres, by the time of their fifth album, 1980's Autoamerican, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein had been hanging out with figures from New York's emerging hip-hop scene, including graffiti artist and rapper Fab Five Freddy, who began introducing the pair to block parties in the city's Bronx neighbourhood. As a result, Chris Stein began working on a riff inspired by Chic's 'Good Times', a popular choice for DJs at the time, including Grandmaster Flash, one of several figures who gets a name-check in Debbie Harry's rap that appears in the second half of the song. Yes, OK, her rapping skills could use a little work, but it's still a great song and Blondie were one of the few bands drawing attention to the hip-hop scene, which won them plenty of kudos from the likes of KRS-One, who later sampled the tune.

 

'Maria'

Our final pick is this track from their 1999 comeback album No Exit, which gave the band their sixth chart-topping single in the UK almost exactly 20 years on from their first, 'Heart of Glass', and made them the first and only American band to have Number One singles in the UK in three consecutive decades.

Pollinator
Pollinator Blondie

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