EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER COVER + REGULAR COVER
They say that good things come to those who wait – and that’s certainly true when it comes to the much-anticipated new Blondie boxset. It’s been on our radar for the best part of four years and we’ve been checking in constantly with the band’s label like an impatient kid in the backseat on a particularly long family road trip (“Are we there yet!?”).
The reason for our fevered excitement is obvious. Blondie are, after all, the kind of band that are the living embodiment of the Classic Pop ethos – a little bit of what you fancy does you good. They might have sprung from New York’s very insular CBGB scene but this was an outfit who defiantly looked outwards and delighted in skipping across genres with wild abandon. Pop was at the very core but over the years they’ve dipped into everything from new wave, punk and disco to reggae and hip-hop.
Such is the dominance of their iconic frontwoman Debbie Harry on their brand that it’s easy to overlook the musicality of the rest of her bandmates. Pointedly, Chris Stein used to wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo ‘Blondie Is A Group!’. We have every sympathy, Chris. Imagine trying to assert your own identity in a band when your lead singer is so iconic that she becomes immortalised in an Andy Warhol portrait.
Blondie’s delicate chemistry has endured down the years, though, so as we talk to Debbie, Chris and Clem Burke for this issue’s in-depth cover feature about their storied history we simultaneously catch the group in the first flush of laying down ideas in the recording studio for the next album. Tantalisingly, perhaps the best is yet to come (and, fingers crossed we won’t have to wait four years for its release).
Steve Harnell, Editor
1 “This really doesn’t get enough credit for popularising hip-hop in the early 80s. It wasn’t just about the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash.”
2 “The fact Blondie made such a mighty song for American Gigolo, rather than put it on any album, shows just how much great pop they were knocking out on a weekly basis.”
3 “A driving mash-up of New York City New Wave and Italo Disco with a great Debs vocal.”
4 “The soundtrack to one of my favourite ever memories – Debbie Harry high-fiving me for rapping the “Fab 5 Freddie…” part back to her verbatim from the front row of a Blondie gig.”
5 “A latter-day Blondie hit that is even better than Maria.”
6 “Debbie’s silky-smooth vocals and splash of French take the song to a whole new level.”
7 “Notable for a thunderous performance by Clem Burke and its beautifully quaint lyrical reference to tea drinking.”
8 “Sinister post-disco grooves and waterfalling harmonies combine for peak dance floor bliss.”
Special Limited Edition
Remastered by Abbey Road from the original 1/4″ Production Tape
2LP 180gm Crystal Clear Vinyl
Chris Stein Art Print
Includes Bonus Remixes 12″
Released 14th October 2022
Pages 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
“INNOVATION IS PROBABLY OUR GREATEST STRENGTH”
GENERALLY A BAND DETERMINED TO LOOK FORWARD, EVEN BLONDIE CAN’T HELP REVISITING THEIR PAST WHEN FACED WITH A LONG-PLANNED, GIGANTIC BOXSET MARKING THEIR IMPERIAL FIRST PHASE. WITH DEBBIE HARRY, CHRIS STEIN AND CLEM BURKE IN UNUSUALLY REFLECTIVE MOOD, THEY REVEAL THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN POP AND PUNK, HOW THEY COULD HAVE KEPT GOING LONGER – AND RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH ORSON WELLES…
Initially scheduled for release four years ago, Blondie’s first major boxset, Against The Odds, is literally one of the biggest collections Classic Pop has ever encountered. Our postman hasn’t stopped scowling since having to lug it from the van. The set comprises 10 vinyl albums, two singles and two hardback books, with even the cardboard mailing parcel unique: it’s got a monochrome vintage photo of Debbie Harry stamped on the inside.
No wonder even Blondie’s usually deadpan guitarist Chris Stein is animated discussing the venture. “It looks amazing,” he enthuses. “I didn’t realise just how grand that boxset was going to be as a physical reality.” A pause, as Chris tries to think how to summarise the compendium of his band’s golden first phase. “It weighs 18 pounds,” the guitarist breathes, in the awed tones of a fisherman on his greatest catch. “It’s very impressive.”
However, Chris isn’t totally delirious when discussing the boxset compiling Blondie’s first eight years, when they went from trashy upstarts viewed as also-rans in New York’s thriving underground 70s scene to the most glamorous, sophisticated band of theirs and pretty much anyone else’s era, making a succession of stunning singles every bit as cool as their image. The press release of Against The Odds states that the boxset’s 50+ extra tracks were mostly sourced from demo tapes Chris had kept in his barn in upstate New York. It’s that info which Stein disputes. “I don’t know how the word ‘barn’ has got out there, I don’t have a barn: the tapes were in a garage next to my studio. In my eyes, a barn is a much draughtier affair.”
It’s at this point that Debbie Harry joins proceedings. She’s missed the first two minutes of our conference call, because, well, she’s Debbie Harry. She’s warm, inquisitive about people and laughs a lot, a delighted and uncontrolled burst as infectious as her vocals. But also: you’re talking to Actual Debbie Harry. Don’t mess this up, now.
Debbie doesn’t introduce herself, instead immediately out to make mischief with her eternal right-hand ally. “Yeah, but what you’re talking about could be a barn,” Harry points out, to Stein’s frustration. “No it’s not!” he exclaims. “What I’ve got is sealed off and temperature controlled.” Debbie responds” “Sure, but some of those modern barns are really well designed, you know?” It’s at this point that Chris – friendly, jokey, but also with the imperious air of a man who knows full well he’s been one of the coolest people in New York for 45 years and counting – admits defeat. “I guess so,” he mutters. “I just picture barns with grass, straw and cracks in the wall. My image of a ‘barn’ is different to yours.”
And that’s Classic Pop’s introduction to one of the great partnerships in pop: good-natured bickering about barns. It’s not all drug-fuelled mayhem and hanging out with Talking Heads. Though, sure, that comes into play in their story, too. In the book about the band’s history inside the boxset, Debbie says the character of Blondie was clear from the start: if Blondie was falling from the top of the Empire State Building, she’d want to have fun on the way down. Does that still apply 48 years later? “Yeah, sure!” she says, before another laugh whose sound suggests everything might be OK in life after all. “Having a sense of humour about who you are is the ideal outlook on life. It’s self preservation at its highest. That and a certain sophistication have always been there in Blondie.” Chris adds: “You have to see life as amusing, otherwise it just gets grim. I’m always amused, even as America slides into mediocre fascism. I’m hard-pressed to know who’s doing a better job of that, us or the UK. It’s ‘hold my beer,’ as they say.”
Despair at Western politics aside, Blondie can afford to laugh at themselves now. When they started, any self-mockery was more about gallows humour. Before their pugnacious self-titled 1976 album, the group were more of a stepping stone to cult stardom elsewhere than valued for their own merits. Second guitarist Ivan Král quickly left for Patti Smith’s band, then bassist Fred Smith departed to join Television.
It was new drummer Clem Burke who stopped Blondie falling apart. Talking to Classic Pop the day after Grayson Perry hosts a ceremony granting Blondie a fellowship to London’s St Martin’s School Of Art, Clem, an affable, perennial optimist explains: “If you’re in a band, you need a vision to believe in.” It’s easy to see why people would want to join any band of Clem’s. As a drummer, I’d been looking for a David Bowie or a Jim Morrison as the frontperson in my band. When I met Debbie, I knew she was my Bowie, my Morrison. She was super-talented, obviously glamorous. I had no problem in seeing the magic that could be there in Blondie.”
Clem suggested his old schoolfriend Gary Valentine and pal Frank Infante as Blondie’s new bassist and guitarist respectively. Soon after, looking for a pianist to further their retro sound to stand out from the punk crowd, Blondie instead met keyboardist Jimmy Destri, as Gary was friends with Jimmy’s sister. “A lot of things happened by accident,” laughs Burke. “At the time, you think everything is going according to the pre-ordained vision of success that you have in your head when you’re 20. The New York scene was enigmatic, but also very insular. That whole scene consisted of maybe 100 people, about 85 of whom were in bands. But all of those bands were interesting, and we could see things in one another. We’d cover songs by Television or Ramones before they’d even been recorded. Crucially, we could make mistakes in public, finding our way at those early shows. Even at the time, I saw the CBGB’s club as our version of the Cavern where The Beatles started.”
Second album Plastic Letters is where Blondie’s pop ethos starts falling into place. It’s largely as rough and ready as its predecessor, but it also contains the absurdly catchy Denis and (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear. Those first two albums were produced by Richard Gottehrer, previously a songwriter at the Brill Building alongside Carole King, where he penned hits including Hang On Sloopy and future Bow Wow Wow smash I Want Candy. “Richard was more of a jazz producer than a pop guy,” states Harry. “He really liked finding a band’s live sound.” Stein agrees, adding: “We’d do four or five takes and Richard would choose the best one. He didn’t push us much beyond that. Those first two albums are semi-live.” Burke points out: “Richard focused in on what he thought could be singles: X Offender, Denis. The idea was to have a hit, then thrash out the rest of the songs to fill out the album. Those first two records are great, but some of it is better produced than the rest.”
The contrast between the carefree Denis and the attitudinal punk of most of Plastic Letters established an unpredictability that has carried on throughout Blondie’s career. To the public, it was thrilling that they couldn’t guess what their next single would sound like. To critics who needed to categorise a band, being too pop for punk and too punk for pop was more problematic. “All those significations about punk, pop or reggae, they were always more relevant to their time period than the style of the music itself,” reasons Debbie. “When it was happening, the punk scene embodied a lot of different styles and a lot of different types of music. It was only later that ‘punk’ came to represent a particular kind of music. What we were called was always down to whatever time period we were in, more than the music we made.” Another laugh. “We always seemed to be the exception to any scene’s particular rules.” Chris joins in the laughter, noting: “Whether we cared what we were called depended on how much we cared about the media at any one time. We always called ourselves a pop band.”
Burke adds that Blondie thrives on sowing confusion: “Our musical palette is very broad. Besides, 50% of people think Blondie is Debbie. And in a way, she is Blondie, but it’s the band, too. There’s a lot of that type of confusion with us. One of our strongest redeeming values is that no-one knows what to make of us.”
Blondie’s then-manager Peter Leeds was a divisive figure, happy to heighten the perception that everyone in the band was disposable except Debbie. But Clem accepts Peter was also canny enough not to let Blondie be defined by scenes. “We were asked to support the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy Tour,” the drummer reveals. “Our manager, probably very wisely, turned it down because he said the Pistols were too associated with punk rock. He had us shy away from that label as much as possible, telling me not to accept a Drummer Of The Year award from a punk magazine. But we were punk, in terms of being outside of society and not following the rules.”
The clearest move away from punk came with third album Parallel Lines, an all-time classic featuring Heart Of Glass and One Way Or Another and housed in photographer Edo Bertoglio’s iconic sleeve that embodied Blondie’s defiance. The band’s songwriting had outgrown Richard Gottehrer. For a more streamlined approach, they turned to Mike Chapman who, together with Nicky Chinn, was responsible for defining 70s glam as producer for The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro.
“We liked Tiger Feet as much as we liked The Velvet Underground,” notes Clem. “We were into bubblegum music, and the Ramones said The Bay City Rollers influenced Blitzkrieg Bop. But don’t forget, those big songs Mike produced that went to No. 1 in the UK, none of them meant anything in the States. Nobody knew who The Sweet or Suzi Quatro were back home. It meant we were looking outside the box in working with Mike: we’d have a headstart in Europe, but the sound would take people by surprise in the States.”
“Mike was great,” reflects Stein. “One of the key things I learned from him was how to repeat something and still keep it fresh. Knowing that repetition is worthwhile is a skill you need in pretty much every artform, like Stanley Kubrick directing 40 takes for a scene in a movie.” That meticulous approach jarred with Debbie, who labelled the producer “a dictator,” but she acknowledges now that the discipline paid off. “Mike occasionally drove me crazy, but that’s a pretty short trip,” she chuckles. “I had a hard time doing a lot of takes, but I learned a lot from Mike, too. I learned to listen more carefully, which is invaluable in acting as well, where listening is more important than your own portrayal. And Mike recognised that singing and playing an instrument need to be treated differently. An instrument won’t wear out of get tired, but a voice will. He wouldn’t make me sing something over and over for an hour straight, which he might make Chris or Clem do. So there was still a lot of spontaneity in my vocals, no matter what I might have said otherwise at the time.”
Blondie insist that, though Mike streamlined their sound, they weren’t out to turn themselves into a pop juggernaut. Stein explains: “The songwriting horizons have always been the same. The conglomerate of Blondie has always had the approach that anything goes. That’s been true from when we started up until now.” Burke reasons: “We’ve always thought we were being experimental. There was a backlash against Heart Of Glass, because we were supposedly ‘going disco’, but we were just trying to see if we could merge Donna Summer with Kraftwerk. Sure, we thought Heart Of Glass was a great song, but we buried it. In the days when bands put the songs most likely to be a hit at the start of an album to impress a DJ dropping the needle on a record, we put Heart Of Glass as the 10th song on Parallel Lines.”
Follow-up album Eat To The Beat features the timeless Union City Blue, but even Mike Chapman wasn’t able to force as much of a cohesive record from his charges. In the boxset’s book, the producer says Blondie’s fourth LP was “chaotic,” stating drugs were beginning to infiltrate the band. “Mike is kinda right,” considers Chris. “At the same time, everything was chaotic about Blondie. There was always tension and insanity, and that made for good records.” Debbie adds: “Tension and chaos keeps people on their toes. It gives you drive, but there’s positives and negatives when you live your life like that. Musically, it worked out well for us, but there are so many things that influence a band which have nothing to do with music.”
By fifth album Autoamerican, Blondie were seeing in a new decade with a change of approach. The quintessential New York band decamped to Hollywood, working at United Western studios, where Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley recorded, as well as The Beach Boys making Pet Sounds. “Mike lived in L.A.,” explains Debbie. “After two albums where he’d come to New York, it was time to meet Mike halfway. Also, it meant we could socialise with a totally different crowd to our regular crew in New York.” Chris continues Debbie’s theme, noting: “United Western had lobby rooms with glass doors, which were great for watching people walk by on the strip. If you got stuck with anything, you could relax by seeing all the crazy bullshit happening on the street outside.”
The studio was also good value for star spotting. A fan of the sitcom Three’s Company, Debbie was delighted to bump into its star Suzanne Somers. “I don’t know why Suzanne Somers was in a recording studio, but she brushed past me one day in the corridor,” recalls Harry. “I thought: ‘Oh wow, she looks good!'”
Chris less fondly remembers cheesy crooner Perry Como, growling: “Perry fucking Como was in there.” This is news to Debbie, who interrupts, asking: “Perry Como? Was he?” Chris responds: “Yeah, he was doing some fucking choir bullshit while we were trying to record The Tide Is High.”
If the generation gap between Some Enchanted Evening and The Tide Is High wasn’t enough of a headmelt, a further contrast was provided by another studio resident. United Western is where Orson Welles recorded voiceovers for his commercials for wine producers Paul Masson California. “I tried to squeeze past Orson Welles in the studio hallway,” remembers Stein. “He was so gigantic by that point, that was hard to do. I don’t think we interacted with him beyond nodding.” Debbie interrupts, remembering her own moment with the director. “No, that’s not right,” she tells Chris. “Don’t you remember, I had my little autograph book at that time? It was in the shape of a snubnose revolver. I pointed it at Orson Welles and told him (adopts stern voice): ‘Give me your autograph!'” Debbie got her signature.
As enjoyable as their starry encounters were, Blondie were poleaxed when their label Chrysalis, declared Autoamerican didn’t have any hits. This, let’s be clear, is an album containing The Tide Is High and Rapture. Record companies, eh? “By that point, we’d stopped guessing what was going to be a hit,” laughs Clem. “I don’t think even our record company knew what to make of us. In the States, we’ve had three No. 1 singles: Heart Of Glass, The Tide Is High and Rapture. That’s a dance song, a reggae song and, for want of a better term, a hip-hop song. You can’t get three more different songs. Innovation is probably our greatest strength, but at the time we thought we were just playing around.”
Nowhere was the playing around/innovation axis better explored than Rapture, the global smash credited with introducing hip-hop to the mainstream. Chris was especially excited by its potential: “We’d only heard a couple of songs on the radio, like Rapper’s Delight. Then we started seeing some of the live hip-hop shows. Being exposed to all that was such an eye-opener. It was just so great.” Debbie agrees, but adds a caveat: “I only did one vocal take for Rapture. That was fine for the melody, but I’d have preferred more time on the rap. What was new about Rapture is that we approached it like a normal piece of music, at a time when rap relied on beats and samples and didn’t have its own ‘songs’.”
It’s that frustration at not perfecting something which Harry notes of the boxset’s bonus material: “In those old demos, I hear bits and think: ‘Hey, that’s really good!’ I’d like to develop some of those parts. But you always want to revise things once you get a different perspective. The exciting aspect for me is that it goes alongside a particular era and state of mind. If I hear something that could be improved on? Well, that’s all shoulda, woulda, coulda, right? I mean, Rapture did pretty good anyway.”
Even someone as laidback about their past as Debbie admits the final album from Blondie Mk.1 was a missed opportunity. 1982’s The Hunter, which closes the boxset was recorded after Debbie and Jimmy Destri made solo albums, while Chris went on to further his hip-hop adventure by curating the soundtrack to rap film Wild Style. Coming back to the group, none of the six Blondies could work out what The Hunter should be. “There was a lot of frustration within the band,” admits Chris. “There was a lot of drug abuse by then, all sorts of shit. But, all things considered, there are some great songs like English Boys on that record.”
Referring to the album’s none-more-1982 sleeve, Chris sighs: “The concept was to present the band as half-human, half-animal. But we didn’t get proper support and the cover just didn’t get done properly. If The Hunter had a better cover, it would have been a lot more successful.” Clem adds: “Our biggest mistake was taking too much time off after Autoamerican. We hadn’t got to the point we needed, even though we thought we had.”
It would be 17 years before Blondie returned, sharp as ever on 1999’s No Exit. There have been five albums from the new incarnation: a sixth will follow in spring. “Debbie doesn’t like looking back,” notes Clem. “It’s so much better for Blondie that the boxset is out when we’ve just done a great UK arena tour and have finished the basic tracks for a new record. It’s got a few classic pop songs on, but it’s pretty eclectic. That’s what Blondie has always been about.”
Inevitably, it’s Debbie who has the final word. “In Blondie’s historic way, we’re reaching into areas that are outside our norm. This new record? It isn’t straight-line pop.” Refusing to take the obvious route is about the only predictable aspect of Blondie’s career. Here’s to more classics from everyone’s favourite disco-rap-reggae-punk-pop heroes.
Blondie’s Against The Odds: 1974-1982 boxset is released on 26 August and reviewed on page 86. Debbie Harry’s solo album KooKoo is reissued on 14 October. Giger: Debbie Harry Species is published on 17th October. Debbie Harry And Chris Stein In Conversation tours from 1-8 November.
BEATLE BOOTS AND BOWIE
Following Debbie Harry’s 2019 autobiography Face It, Clem Burke began writing his own memoir during lockdown. “I started tidying my pantry during the pandemic,” jokes Burke. “Once I’d sorted the pots and pans, I got to my archives and thought that I should do a book about them.”
The drummer has unearthed plenty of long-forgotten ticket stubs, backstage passes for tours with David Bowie and The Kinks and other ephemera. He recalls: “When I first came to London, me and Chris had custom boots made by Anello & Davide, the firm who made the so-called Beatle boots. I remember measuring Chris’ feet for them, and found the receipt for our fancy custom boots from Oxford Street, for a whole £10. The book will be full of little moments like that.”
Clem’s other project is writing an album with Debbie and Andy Harris – aka the Londoners behind The Bootleg Blondie. Burke toured with the tribute band in 2019, and has taken their friendship a stage further, revealing: “Controversial as touring with the Bootlegs was, I really enjoyed it. We’ve written 42 songs together, everything in style from big band to Steve Marriott. I’ve been co-producing with Debbie and Andy in Lewisham. In an ideal world, what we’re writing would become a West End musical, but I’ll need to phone Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber to see if they’ll allow us a venue for that first.”
PISTOL’S AT THE READY
Harking back to the days when they were asked to open for the Sex Pistols, the bassist on Blondie’s recent tour in April was Glen Matlock. The ex-Pistol stepped in when health concerns meant Blondie bassist Leigh Foxx was unable to tour. Clem Burke reveals: “I’m friends with all of the Pistols, except John Lydon. I’ve known Glen for years and, when Leigh was unable to travel, Glen was at the top of a shortlist of three potential replacements. It was at short notice, only eight or nine days, but Glen is a mate that I can rely on. He couldn’t make our warm-up show on the tour, so his first time playing with Blondie was to 15,000 people at Glasgow Hydro.”
Matlock is now playing bass on Blondie’s next album while Leigh continues to recuperate. Chris Stein explained: “Glen has been just great. Unlike Pollinator, we’re mostly keeping this album in-house: it’s just the band and Glen playing on it. He’s fitted right in.”
Having previously recruited Gary Valentine and Frank Infante to Blondie’s ranks, Clem is pleased to act as the talent spotter again. “I seem to get along with people musically as well as being mates with them,” Burke explains. “Every once in a while, it’s a knack that’s needed in the band. I guess it’s a combination of intuitiveness and a friendship with a lot of musicians. It probably helps that I have a one-dimensional attitude to pop music. It’s always been good to me and it’s my social world. I’m still a fanboy.”
KOO, WHAT A SCORCHER
In the gap between Autoamerican and The Hunter, Debbie Harry released her debut solo album, KooKoo. Produced by Chic duo Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the LP was an inspired blend of disco, funk and rock which Chic would later hone on productions for David Bowie, Duran Duran and Robert Palmer.
But its cover, designed by Alien artist HR Giger, was banned by the London Underground for its imagery of Debbie with acupuncture needles through her face. KooKoo is reissued in October including remixes, and Harry notes: “I’m so pleased KooKoo is coming out again, as I feel the album was never really out there in the first place. There’s a lot of great music on that record and I think it was ahead of its time. Nile and Bernard were wonderful producers, who later had a more successful confluence working with other artists.”
The album baffled critics, but Debbie insists: “The press were the ones confused by KooKoo, not the fans. The fans never had a problem with the record. I still get fans asking me: ‘When will you play Under Arrest at a Blondie show?’ It was only the press and the decency patrol who were gunning for KooKoo.”
Alongside the album reissue, Chris Stein’s book of photos from the making of the album with Giger is published, Giger: Debbie Harry Species. Chris reflects: “I was very lucky to hook up with Giger. As with Mike Chapman, I learned a lot about being meticulous from Giger. I have a tremendous respect for his legacy. He was a terrific guy.”
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AN EVENING WITH
DEBBIE HARRY & CHRIS STEIN IN CONVERSATION
MODERATED BY ROB ROTH
GLASGOW ROYAL CONCERT HALL
BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL
MANCHESTER BRIDGEWATER HALL
TOP 20 GIORGIO MORODER TRACKS
IN AN UNPARALLELED CAREER SPANNING OVER HALF A CENTURY, PEERLESS PRODUCER AND MUSIC MAKER GIORGIO MORODER HAS BEEN THE MASTERMIND BEHIND SOME OF THE MOST DAZZLING MOMENTS IN POP – WE GIVE THE BEST OF THEM A SPIN…
A multiple award-winner, 82-year-old Giorgio Moroder has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Blondie, David Bowie, Cher, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan and Freddie Mercury. Thanks to the Italian songwriter and producer’s ground-breaking collaborations with the likes of Donna Summer, The Three Degrees and Sparks, he’s been described as both the godfather of disco and the founder of EDM, but his name is equally synonymous with classic movie soundtracks and scores. In this career-spanning rundown, we pick out some of his finest and most influential work.
RUSH RUSH (1983)
Following the critical and commercial failure of their 1982 album, The Hunter, Blondie split, leaving Debbie Harry to pick up odd jobs in between caring for guitarist and then-boyfriend Chris Stein, who was suffering with a debilitating autoimmune disorder. One such project was cocaine-referencing single Rush Rush, part of Moroder’s soundtrack for Brian De Palma’s gangster classic, Scarface. It was unpopular in the UK, stalling at No. 87, but the Happy Mondays were sufficiently impressed to record a version for their often-overlooked 2007 LP, Uncle Dysfunktional.
CALL ME (1980)
Following 1978’s Grammy Award-winning Midnight Express soundtrack, Moroder was commissioned to score Paul Schrader’s 1980 movie, American Gigolo. Blondie, who’s embraced disco on Heart Of Glass and had covered I Feel Love live, were hired to perform the theme song. The band were rewarded with their second transatlantic No. 1 although much of the heavy lifting in the studio was done by Moroder’s close-knit coterie of musicians, including future Pet Shop Boys producer Harold Faltermeyer, who performed the incredible keyboard solo.
AGAINST THE ODDS: 1974-1982
BLONDIE’S LONG-DELAYED BOXSET IS WELL WORTH THE WAIT (AND THE WEIGHT), REACHING BEYOND THE GOLDEN HITS TO SHOW HOW INVENTIVE THE NEW YORKERS REALLY WERE
Although Parallel Lines often features in lists of all-time classic albums, there’s a perception around Blondie that, like Madness or Squeeze, they are more of a singles band. Blondie made iconic singles, but all you need is a hits compilation, because they were too dilettante to produce LPs worthy of those 45s.
The band aren’t bothered by the notion: Chris Stein told Classic Pop that TikTok has helped show you can cut songs into 30-second chunks and still make great art, so who cares how long your best work is? The guitarist can afford to be magnanimous. He knows Blondie continue to create sublime records, with Pollinator one of this century’s great pop LPs.
As for Blondie’s first incarnation? This gargantuan 18lb boxset, arriving four years after it was first announced, perfectly shows the hard work behind the glamour. Surely Blondie couldn’t look that cool and be one of New York’s most industrious bands? They were. Suck it up. Alongside the original six albums are four LPs of rarities and an illuminating eight-song 10″, Out In The Streets, comprising Blondie’s earliest demos. It includes The Disco Song, a functionally titled early version of Heart Of Glass. Blondie had it going on from the start, and most bands would have revisited the catchy Sexy Ida or The Thin Line.
The band could afford to forget such potential gems. Their biggest skill – which critics were suspicious of – was enthusiasm for anything exciting. Under Richard Gottehrer’s admittedly scrappy production, Blondie and Plastic Letters feature rock and roll, Wall Of Sound dramatics plus funk and disco, under the punk dynamic. Once Mike Chapman took over the reins as producer, the band had the discipline to hone their varied ideas. Parallel Lines’ successor Eat To The Beat is just as thrilling, albeit edgier in its streamlined chaos. Autoamerican might be even better than Parallel Lines, Blondie’s futurism meeting their pop nous head on to result in a dazzling diverse album.
After dispersing for assorted solo LPs, by The Hunter even Blondie couldn’t agree on what band they wanted to be anymore. Tellingly, there are few outtakes, but beyond its laughable artwork there’s a handful of classic pop moments. One patchy album out of six isn’t bad, and those rarities records – demos by the dozen, B-sides, unreleased songs – are excellent. There are two books, one telling Blondie’s story in honest, punchy fashion, the other a discography guide with sleeves to die for. It comes as a 10LP or 8 CD set, or with just the rarities on vinyl or CD for existing fans. As with Blondie’s music, this box is how it should be done.