Forty-three years ago, in September 1978, a rock album was released that revolutionized the music industry. The group Blondie released their third studio album “Parallel Lines”. The disc contained songs blending different genres of music and ushered in Dance Rock as a new category. The smash number one single Heart of Glass can still be heard on the radio to this day. The song has held up over the years just as well as the band’s lead singer Debbie Harry.
I discovered Blondie in March of 1978 when their second album “Plastic Letters” was released. I was a huge New Wave music fan in the late 1970’s. My top-forty taste in music put my favorite songs somewhere between Disco and Hard Rock. My eclectic playlist included everything from Abba to Zeppelin, with lots of obscure groups in between.
Blondie’s Plastic Letters album had it all – songs about the Bermuda Triangle “Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)”, secret agents “Contact in Red Square” and life after death “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear”. I was instantly hooked by the quirky lyrics and crunchy beats. I ran to Strawberry’s music store to nab a copy of the group’s first album, 1976’s self-titled “Blondie”. Rolling Stone magazine music critic Ken Tucker called the album “a playful exploration of Sixties pop interlaced with trendy nihilism” and he noted that all the songs “work on at least two levels: as peppy but rough pop, and as distanced, artless avant-rock”. Whatever that sound was, it worked for me. I finally had a musical group I could call my own.
These early albums were an integral part of my college days. The group’s music echoed my fashion sense – unkempt hair, suit jackets, skinny ties and sneakers. I was an art major so I felt right at home with anything avant-garde. Among the trendy pins on my lapel, was a button stating “Blondie is a Group”. I wanted people to know that I knew that Blondie wasn’t the lead singer. Blondie was the band’s name. I was in with the in-crowd for sure.
My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I saw Blondie in concert at the Orpheum Theater in 1979 just as the group was reaching new heights of popularity. The song Heart of Glass was burning up the charts and would soon gain the number one slot.
I was fascinated with Debbie Harry. Her punked-out glam look made her stand out from the crowd. Her hobnobbing with Andy Warhol made me like her even more. That and the fact she speculated she was the love child of Marilyn Monroe and JFK. I was captivated by her vocal range which ran the gamut between a sexy growl and an ethereal whisper. This woman could sing anything from rock, folk, jazz, and the classics. Every song on every album had a different sound. I wasn’t surprised to learn the group was influenced by David Bowie, a master musical chameleon himself.
Between musical releases, Debbie Harry made television and movie appearances. As a guest on The Muppet Show in 1981, she sang The Rainbow Connection with Kermit the Frog. She also landed a disturbing movie role in David Cronenberg’s prescient film Videodrome in 1983.
Debbie’s autobiography entitled Face It, published in 2019, filled in gaps of the years when the band wasn’t recording music. Debbie Harry’s boyfriend, lead guitarist Chris Stein, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, pemphigus vulgaris, in 1983 which put him out of commission for years. He recovered and the band continued to release albums sporadically over the next few decades.
I saw the band play live a few more times over the years. The most memorable performance was in 2005 at the Bank of America Waterfront Pavilion as the tail end of hurricane Katrina descended upon Boston. Heavy rains forced concertgoers to huddle in the only dry area in the middle of the wind-swept venue. Outdoor tent seating wasn’t ideal during torrential downpours, but it made for a unique spirit of camaraderie among the fans in attendance.
In 2018, my son took me to see Blondie at the Mohegan Sun casino for my birthday. He also thought it would be fun for us to rush to the front of the stage within arms length of the band before security made us return to our seats.
The bands latest album, Vivir En La Habana, is a live concert recorded in 2019 during a trip to Cuba. They performed their songs with a Latin flair incorporating Cuban musicians into the mix. A documentary of the groundbreaking tour is forthcoming. I can’t wait to experience it.
I would love to see the band play live again. Debbie Harry, now in her mid-70’s, seems to have boundless energy. I continue to scan their concert tour calendar with a watchful eye waiting for an announcement of a return to the Boston area. Until then, I’ll play my favorite selections from my album collection, not only from the band but from Debbie Harry’s extensive solo releases as well.
I no longer have my punk rock lapel pin that says Blondie Is A Group. It’s out of date anyway. After all this time, the group is much more than a rock-and-roll band to me. Blondie’s music is the soundtrack of my life.