South Yorkshire – Edition 49
Delighting UK audiences since the 70’s
DEBBIE Harry has been delighting UK audiences in the same way that she first did 50 years ago – with a mixture of talent and charisma.
The Blondie star is unbelievably now 72 and still looks like the startling singer who first crashed into the public consciousness in the early 1970s.
Her career is the stuff of films. In fact, glamorous Malin Akerman did play her in a film about seminal punk club CBGB. But any director would struggle to cover the broad spread of events, achievements and milestones in her life so far.
She was born Angela Tremble in Miami, Florida but at three months was adopted by Catherine and Richard Smith Harry and raised in Hawthorne, New Jersey.
In the 1960s, she worked as a Playboy Bunny and hung out at Max’s Kansas City, a famous nightspot frequented by pop artist Andy Warhol. Her professional singing career began in 1968 as a backing singer with a folk band which later broke up but in 1973, she met Chris Stein who became her longtime boyfriend.
They were both in a group called the Stilletoes. Then, together, they created punk rock/New Wave group Blondie in 1974. It was originally called Angel and the Snake but eventually took its name from all the catcalls numerous truck-drivers would yell out to Debbie in the street.
Her bleached blonde hair, sparkling green eyes, photogenic face and seductive voice teamed with a series of catchy songs – mostly co-written by her – quickly became a successful formula for the group. They swiftly transcended the cult elitism of punk to enjoy mainstream hits in the US and UK, with Debbie taking on iconic status during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
She had always wanted to be an underground artist and her new role satisfied her. As she later recalled: “That was what I always felt was the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll, it was entertainment and showbiz yet it had the idea of the voice of the people. It had an essence to it which was socially motivated.
“Not that I want to change the world, you know? But it was sort of relevant to real life. It involved the real essence of poetry or the real essence of fine art. But it was also entertainment. That was the real vitality.”
Whatever the formula, Blondie and Debbie Harry proved to be a major success with the record-buying public, sending hit singles like Heart of Glass, Picture This, Sunday Girl, Hanging on the Telephone, Call Me and the Tide is High soaring up the charts.
Like many groups do, however, Blondie broke up in 1982. Debbie took a few years out to care for Chris Stein, who had been diagnosed with a rare auto-immune skin disease, then she moved onto a solo career.
This allowed her not only to record solo albums but to take up a film and TV career which saw her become a highly visible star. She played a female wrestler in Teaneck Tanzi on Broadway and even dyed her hair red for her role as James Woods’ masochistic girlfriend in the film Videodrome.
Blondie re-formed in 1997 and achieved renewed success and a No. 1 single in the UK with Maria in 1999 – exactly 20 years after the group’s first UK No. 1 single with Heart of Glass. They sold more than 40 million albums over the years.
The group has toured extensively and regularly throughout the world ever since and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Their 11th studio album, Pollinator, was released in May this year. The title is not a random choice. Debbie has long been associated with a variety of good causes and has put on many benefit shows for AIDS charities as well as being outspoken on various subjects.
She is currently running Blondie’s BEE Connected Campaign to raise awareness of the decline in the bee population by promoting organisations dedicated to conserving and improving the health of pollinators through education, consumer empowerment and political activation.
The British public clearly still has an appetite for both Blondie and its music, and they are certainly still fascinated by Debbie Harry. She once said: “The only person I really believe in is me”. And perhaps it is that unique element of her that has so caught the attention of her fans over the years and is now bemusing a new generation.
Well, she is unusual. After all, not everyone can be immortalised as a Barbie Doll as she was – and still be wowing the concert crowds in her 70s.