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THE BEST REISSUES OF 2022
Against The Odds 1974-1982
This month’s cover stars magnificently put their house in order with this bumper 8-CD survey of their first act: six complete albums; 36 unreleased tracks; unseen pics and ephemera. The space between punk and pop navigated with unique style.
Pages 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80
THERE’S NO OTHER
FUSING ART AND PUNK AND CLASSIC POP IN THEIR LOWER EAST SIDE CRUCIBLE, BLONDIE BECAME A POSTER ON THE WORLD’S BEDROOM WALL, UNIQUELY ICONIC. BUT AS THEIR REVELATORY 2022 BOX SET REVEALED, THEY WERE A BAND FOR ALL SEASONS, WITH STRENGTHS THEIR FAME OBSCURED AND, PERHAPS, ULTIMATELY UNDERMINED. “WE WERE OUR OWN WORST ENEMY ONCE WE GOT SUCCESS,” THEY TELL TOM DOYLE.
PORTRAIT BY MICK ROCK.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, 1977. BACKSTAGE at the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Strip, there was a knock on Blondie’s dressing room door. Outside stood two bodyguards flanking a long-haired and bearded Phil Spector. The fabled producer was dressed in black, wearing Gradient Aviator shades and a cape, a crucifix dangling from his neck, and two badges pinned to the lapel of his suit jacket. One bored his sonic motto, “Back To Mono”. The other, “In The Flesh”, the title of the New York band’s distinctly Spector-esque second single, released the previous year.
“He practically locked us in the dressing room and sort of lectured us at length,” remembers Blondie’s then-bassist Gary Lachman (AKA Valentine).
“I guess it was already common knowledge that he was kind of out of his mind,” notes drummer Clem Burke.
“He was fucking nuts,” flatly states guitarist Chris Stein, who recalls that after Spector tried to entice his partner, the group’s luminous singer Debbie Harry, into his limousine, the band warily accepted the unhinged producer’s invitation to follow him up to his walled-off Beverly Hills mansion.
“He answered the door to his house with a [Colt]. 45 in one hand and a bottle of Manischewitz wine in the other hand,” Stein remembers. “The whole time he spoke in a WC Fields voice.”
Inside, Spector blasted out rough mixes from the album he was working on, Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies’ Man, before coaxing Harry to sit alongside him at the piano and sing Be My Baby and other Ronettes hits. At one point, he pointed his gun into her thigh-length leather boot and exclaimed “Bang, bang!”
“It was a little intimidating being there,” says Harry, with no little understatement. There was talk that night of Spector perhaps producing the next Blondie album. But these weird scenes rightly set off alarm bells.
“We’re really lucky we avoided Phil, is all I can say,” concludes Stein, drily.
While superficially a band of scrappy Lower East Side proto-punks, Blondie had already tapped into their ’60s girl-group influences. Debut single X Offender, released in June 1976, may have been a lurid street tale of a hooker falling for the cop who arrests her, but it opened with a Shangri-Las-echoing spoken-word introduction from Debbie Harry (“I saw you standing on the corner/You looked so big and fine”), before its propulsive pop thrills rushed in. Elsewhere, Blondie made their love of the Brill Building songwriting tradition explicit on their debut by featuring, on In The Flesh, the cooing backing vocals of Ellie Greenwich, co-writer (with Jeff Barry and George ‘Shadow’ Morton) of Leader Of The Pack.
Meanwhile, the producer of their debut long-player was Richard Gottehrer, writer of 1963 hit My Boyfriend’s Back for The Angels – a song Harry had loved as a teenager. The location for these first album sessions was half a world away from the scuzzy CBGB habitat where the group had honed their repertoire. Plaza Sound Studios, in midtown Manhattan, sat on the top floor above Radio City Music Hall and was a high-end facility. The members of Blondie were tickled to find themselves sharing the elevator with dancers from Radio City’s high-kicking star attraction, the Rockettes. It was perhaps the first indication that a band that had formed on the dirty, dangerous streets of lower Manhattan were destined for a far brighter and starrier future.
“It was fun to just travel uptown,” reckons Clem Burke. “Because we never went above 14th Street prior to that.”
BLONDIE WERE VERY MUCH A DOWNTOWN NEW York band. In their loft at 266 Bowery, lived in by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, along with a lodging Gary Lachman, they’d developed their idiosyncratic sound in intensive rehearsals that threw together the loose three-chord sashay of the New York Dolls with ’60s R&B and bubblegum pop. It wasn’t, however, the most salubrious of settings.
“It was three floors above a liquor store and a restaurant supply place,” recalls Lachman, a London resident since 1996. “Someone had ingeniously tapped into their sources of electricity, so we didn’t have an electricity bill. Debbie’s cats peed everywhere, so it smelled like cats piss, and we all had this kind of kitschy magic stuff… upside down crucifixes, and pentagrams.”
Harry and Stein had met in 1973 when they were in raucous glam rock/cabaret band The Stilettoes, before peeling off to form their own group, Angel And The Snake, which morphed into Blondie. Bayonne, New Jersey-born Clem Burke had joined as drummer in ’75, though performed only one gig at CBGB before bassist Fred Smith quit to join Television.
Straight away, Blondie were in a flux. Debbie Harry credits Burke’s cheerleading enthusiasm as the force that convinced her not to give up on the group. “He really wanted to get out of New Jersey,” she quips.
“He was calling and saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,'” Stein remembers.
“I tried to get people motivated,” says the drummer today, speaking to MOJO in his LA studio. “I thought there was definitely something there, with the songs, and of course, Debbie’s charisma and talent was obvious to me. We all had a common aesthetic, whether it be the New York Dolls, or the Velvet Underground, or the Shangri-Las. So we had a commonality amongst our musical influences, which was really not the norm at the time.”
“We tried to sort of illuminate all the different possibilities,” says Harry. “It wasn’t like it was one person’s idea of what a band should sound like. It was really a group effort.”
Among the earliest studio recordings featured in 2022’s vast Blondie box set, Against The Odds 1974-1982, are five songs committed to eight-track tape in a basement in Queens during the baking New York summer of 1975. These reveal the range of their inspirations and aspirations: a funky early run at Heart Of Glass (written in ’74 as The Disco Song and retitled Once I Had A Love), a confident stab at the Shangri-Las’ Out In The Streets, and Harry’s mission statement Platinum Blonde (“I wanna be a platinum blonde/Just like all the sexy stars”). The latter song was, however, dumped by the band.
“Debbie, would you say that maybe it was a little obvious?” Stein asks Harry; the pair are connected to MOJO via Zoom, Stein at his place in upstate New York, Harry in New Jersey. “Kind of an overstatement?”
In Gary Lachman’s mind, Blondie’s career really took off with their appearance on August 1, 1975, at the CBGB Rock Festival, where they played in between Talking Heads and headliners the Ramones. “I guess it was, ‘Here we are… the scene,'” says the bassist. With the addition of keyboard player Jimmy Destri, the line-up was complete. “We got Jimmy,” Lachman says, “and that’s when that more or less conscious ’60s retro sound came together with the Farfisa [organ].”
Further confirmation that Blondie were on the right track came when Clem Burke returned from a trip to London in the winter of ’75 with a copy of Dr. Feelgood’s second album, Malpractice. It soundtracked a welcome home party thrown in his honour in the Blondie loft.
“Everyone who was anyone was there,” Lachman recalls. “The Ramones and the Heartbreakers. The Dr. Feelgood album was a big hit, being just stripped-down pub rock. This was before punk, the Sex Pistols or anything.”
“I related to what was going on in London,” says Burke. “Especially with the Feelgoods, who kind of dressed like Blondie. Y’know, Wilko [Johnson] in the black suit and all that.”
BLONDIE’S FIRST TRIP TO THE UK SAW THEM landing in London in the spring of 1977 to tour their debut album. Even at their first show, at the Village Bowl in Bournemouth on May 20, it was immediately clear to the band that British punk was a far more physical affair than its more cerebral New York counterpart. Harry, for one, was delighted to see the audience break out in a riot of pogoing.
“There was more of a tribal feel,” she says. “One of our early intentions was always to have people dancing. Up and on their feet, instead of sitting there being, y’know, erudite or whatever. That added to the excitement for us.”
But, back in New York at Plaza Sound in the summer of ’77, making their second album, Plastic Letters, the mood within the band turned darker. Gary Lachman had expressed a desire to break off from Blondie and form his own band following the sessions. In the end, the management pushed him out before he’d played a note.
“I was young, and I was headstrong,” Lachman says. “I got a call from Peter Leeds, who was the manager at the time, telling me my services were no longer required.” Even so, Clem Burke pushed the Lachman-less Blondie to record the Lachman-penned (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear, a brilliant, chiming pop song with a bizarre topic: telepathy.
“It was about these psychic experiences I was having with my girlfriend at the time,” explains the bassist. “We were having shared dreams and, when I was on tour, we would each know when the other one wanted to phone.”
Chris Stein remembers the recording of Plastic Letters – the first album to feature second guitarist Frank Infante, also doubling on bass – as being more fraught than its predecessor. “It was a little more angsty. There was always a lot of tension in the band and crazy bullshit going on… egos flying about. I certainly was not the least of it. Everybody was egomaniacal about their roles. But I always thought the tension made for a good result.”
“Yeah,” Harry adds. “Chris has always liked chaos.”
A new bassist for Blondie was found in Los Angeles. British-born Nigel Harrison was living in California and playing in The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s short-lived band Nite City when he was tipped off that the group were looking for a sixth member. After sneaking a cassette recorder down the front of his trousers when he went to see the band perform at the Whisky A Go Go, he went home and learned Infante’s parts note-for-note.
“They didn’t know I’d taped the show,” chuckles Harrison, on the phone from Italy. “So I said, ‘Why don’t you just do the first few songs of the set from last night?’ The first song was X Offender. Debbie gave me a wink. I think they were stressed out, like, ‘How are we going to find someone?’ That’s how I got the job.”
A mere four months later, Harrison was back in his homeland, performing with Blondie for millions of viewers on Top Of The Pops. Denis, their gender-flipped cover of US doo-wop band Randy & The Rainbows’ 1963 single Denise, was to be their first UK hit, reaching Number 2. It was a star-making performance for Debbie Harry in particular: a post-punk Marilyn Monroe in a red shirt-cum-mini dress, gazing into the lens with cool insouciance.
“Growing up in England,” Harrison says, “I knew how powerful Top Of The Pops was. I said to Debbie, ‘Everything’s gonna change from now on.’ The song was already brewing on the radio. But once we did Top Of The Pops, and seeing how stunning she was, there was no turning back.”
CHRIS STEIN CAN’T DECIDE WHETHER BLONDIE’S next (and pivotal) producer, Mike Chapman, was there George Martin, or their Stanley Kubrick. “He really guided everything into shape,” says the guitarist. “He was like the director of the movie.”
Australian-born Chapman, the co-writer (with Nicky Chinn) of a raft of glam pop hits for The Sweet (Ballroom Blitz), Mud (Tiger Feet) and Suzi Quatro (Devil Gate Drive) had relocated from the UK to America and was seeking new musical adventures, leading him to Blondie. “He seized the opportunity,” says Burke, “and saw the potential to take the band further.”
Chapman flew to New York in the summer of ’78 to begin working with Blonde at The Record Plant on the album they would call Parallel Lines. Along with bringing his pop nous, he proved himself to be a freewheeling individual who liked to party just as much as the band.
“We were crazy in those days,” relates Chapman from his current home in London. “There was a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs, and I was indulging in all those things to excess. That was the ’70s (laughs). But they had all the right ingredients for the songs. It was tough going at first because they were a bit all over the place and had never really had any discipline. So, it was quite a bumpy start.”
Chapman pushed Blondie hard, employing a Kubrickian method of forcing them to do take after take until he felt they’d achieved perfection. This approach irked Nigel Harrison in particular, his fuse blowing when recording the punky, if tricksily chords 11:59.
“Suddenly, we’re on take 18, and I go, ‘For fuck’s sake, Mile! How many times do you want us to do it?’ So there was a showdown. After take number 22, I was like, ‘Fuck it, this is insane.'”
“It almost came to blows,” Chapman laughs. “He’d had enough of me telling him what to play. He said, ‘I’m gonna do it my way.’ And after about an hour of doing it his way, we did it our way. And it worked.”
As much as Parallel Lines was to prove a gold standard pop album, it was also an adventure in sound. The brooding Fade Away And Radiate, as murkily atmospheric as any Berlin-era Bowie track, featured a guesting Robert Fripp in a buzzing guitar cameo. “He was not only an outstanding musician,” says Harry, “but he was just a gent.”
The recording of Fade Away And Radiate also coincided with a surprise visit to the Record Plant by Ronnie Spector, one of Debbie Harry’s formative heroes. “Debbie was out at the mike,” Chapman recalls. “She said to me (whispers through gritted teeth), ‘I can’t sing in front of Ronnie Spector. I can’t do it.’ I said, ‘You can do it, honey. Get out there and show her your real stuff.'”
“Debbie was doing the a cappella thing [at the start of] Fade Away And Radiate,” says Harrison. “She could see Ronnie Spector’s silhouette through the studio glass… which is pretty heavy, really.”
“She had to take a couple of deep breaths,” Chapman adds, “but she sang the song beautifully. Ronnie was sitting there, going, ‘Oh my God, what a voice she’s got.'”
BUT THE GREATEST BREAKTHROUGH for Chapman and Blondie in their research and development department was Heart Of Glass, the demo of which Stein had played to the producer almost as an afterthought. Harry had expressed to Chapman her love for Donna Summer’s Giorgio Moroder-produced electronic disco wonder, I Feel Love.
“I said, ‘OK, well, then let’s take a bit of that approach,'” Chapman remembers. “Blondie were always, apart from a fight or two, up for experimental sessions. But that was the early days of trying to sync machines with people.”
The main difficulty came when Chapman realised that the sequencer driving the circular synth pulse of Heart Of Glass kept slipping out of time, requiring many punch-ins on the master tape, as Clem Burke thumped away at the four-on-the-floor bass drum part to keep time. “I wasn’t a big champion of Heart Of Glass,” Burke admits.
“Clem had to go in there and just put the bass drum on, like, boom boom boom boom,” Harrison recalls. “I was sitting there smoking a cigarette and thinking, ‘He’s hating it.’ He was like, ‘What the fuck are we doing?’ It was like a Meccano set, this whole assembly thing. But I don’t think anyone, including Mike, had any idea it was going to be the hit it was.”
Although buried deep on side two of Parallel Lines, when released as a single in January 1979 Heart Of Glass became Blondie’s international break-through smash. “Chapman flew to Italy just to tell us that Heart Of Glass had gone to Number 1 in the States,” Stein remembers. “It was very moving, y’know.”
“They were part of my life,” the producer says of this grand gesture. “I was so into the project that nothing was too much trouble.”
Thanks to the success of Parallel Lines, and the intensive touring it entailed, by the time Blondie re-entered the studio to make their next album, 1979’s Eat To The Beat, the band were brimming with confidence and very much on top of their game. So much so that Mike Chapman approached producing the record in a very different way. Out went endless takes, in came spontaneity.
For instance, Clem Burke’s thunderous, Keith Moon-like drumming on Dreaming was recorded in one take. “I think Mike used reverse psychology on me,” says Burke. “We were just running through the song and that’s why I was playing so over-the-top on it. Then, after the take, Mike said that was it. It was quite surprising because it was the antithesis of his approach on Parallel Lines.”
“I just had the [tape] machine running all the time,” says Chapman. “I captured everything I could.”
Eat To The Beat spotlit Blondie as a rock band, while still yielding sterling hits in the form of Harry and Stein’s Dreaming, the Ennio Morricone-goes-disco vibes of Atomic and the soaring, Springsteen-esque Union City Blue which (like One Way Or Another on Parallel Lines) was a Debbie Harry/Nigel Harrison co-write. Both Union City Blue and Atomic (Harry/Destri) highlighted how different members, or groupings of members, brought different flavours to the band’s biggest songs.
“I would have a cassette of, like, four or five ideas, and give it to Mike,” says Harrison. “He would listen to everything and then go, ‘OK, those first two,’ and give them to Debbie. It wasn’t like anyone was sitting around the campfire writing songs. But I knew once we fired up Union City Blue, it felt good.”
Come the end of 1979, with Dreaming sitting at Number 2 in the UK chart, the band stumbled into full-blown Blondiemania. Appearing for a record signing at the Our Price store in Kensington, they were mobbed.
“The cops were there, and they had to shut the street down,” Stein marvels. “A year or so earlier, we had gone to Our Price for the same autograph signing thing and hundreds of people showed up. The second time we did it, it was thousands.”
“We weren’t the Stones of The Beatles, who probably had that happen every single time they appeared in public,” Harry points out. “So, for us, it was really a moment.”
“It was just insanity,” says Harrison. “I was stuck in this crowd. It was like every fantasy of being a pop star.”
“It was all going according to plan as far as I was concerned,” Burke laughs. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it.'”
BUT THEN, FOR BLONDIE, THINGS STARTED TO get tougher, the direction forward less clear. Having made two albums in New York, the band agreed to meet Mike Chapman on his home territory for the recording of 1980’s Autoamerican. They flew into a Los Angeles that, even to Lower East Side habitués, seemed edgy.
“It was the Wild West,” says Stein. “We landed and the hills around the Hollywood sign were on fire.”
“We were at these short-term apartments called the Oakwood,” says Burke. “One night there was a shooting in the parking lot, so we left and went to the Chateau Marmont. That was a bit more glamorous.”
In LA, working at United Western Recorders – the legendary studio that had birthed key records by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys – the intra-band-grievances that had been bubbling began to spill over. “Everyone was string-headed and stubborn,” Harrison says. “There was always underlying tension constantly, between Jimmy and Clem, and Debbie and Chris, even. Y’know, all of us.”
“It was unmanageable,” says Chapman. “It truly was. There were attorneys and managers and all sorts of weirdos coming and going from the studio. Just getting their attention and their focus at times was terribly hard, ‘cos they had problems with each other within the band. And all those little problems sort of turned into rather large problems. They weren’t listening to each other.”
It didn’t help that Autoamerican was by far Blondie’s most ambitious musical project, involving a parade of name session musicians including saxophonist Tom Scott (Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits), double bassist Ray Brown (Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald) and The Turtles/Flo & Eddie’s Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. The album opened with Stein’s orchestral opus Europa, moved through the ’40s jazz of Here’s Looking At You and ended with a big musical theatre closer, a cover of Follow Me from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot.
Not everyone in the band seemed to be digging this particular brand of eclecticism. At the very end of the latter song, just as the track is fading out, Clem Burke can be heard muttering, “You’re not really gonna put this on the album, are you?”
“I thought, Well, he’s got to listen to that now for the rest of his life,” Mike Chapman laughs. “You shouldn’t have said it, mate.”
“I’m a rock’n’roller at heart,” Burke states in his defence. “Y’know, I would have been happy to carry on with ‘Oh Denis, ooh be doo.’ But Autoamerican is actually my favourite record now. I really think it stands up as an entire album.”
Eight tracks into Autoamerican lay Rapture, Blondie’s ground-breaking meld of rock and hip-hop. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein had witnessed the evolution of rap first-hand on the streets of the Bronx in 1978.
“It was just super-exciting,” Stein says. “The DJs would switch, and the MCs would switch, and it was non-stop. This whole group of kids literally finding their voice.”
“It was very much like a happening or a be-in from the ’60s,” adds Harry. “A lot of it was really big ego tripping. It was kind of amazing.”
Following its January 1981 release, Rapture was absorbed back into hip-hop culture when Grandmaster Flash scratched it into the sonic collage that was… On The Wheels Of Steel (along with Chic’s Good Times and Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust). Having been the key participants in punk, Blondie were helping to grow the commercial fortunes of rap.
The band then went on a sabbatical that saw Harry release her Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards-produced solo album, KooKoo. By the time Blondie regrouped in December ’81 at The Hit Factory in Manhattan, focus and momentum had been lost. Harry has said that it was a case of “problems converging” and “a lot of things crumbling at the same time” as the band made their final album of the 1980s, The Hunter.
“It was wintertime in New York,” says Harrison. “Drugs, dark times.”
“It was a very, very hard record to make, because it was obvious that Blondie was falling apart,” says Chapman. “The Hunter was a very, very sad and somewhat depressing record to work on. They never knew how to negotiate. These are not people who negotiate… they just yell and scream (laughs).”
The resulting album was Blondie’s weakest. Even today, the calypso pop of Island Of Lost Souls (UK Number 11, US Number 37) sounds strangely listless, while wobblily retracing the Heart Of Glass blueprint on War Child effectively snuffed the band’s singles career when it struggled to Number 39 in Britain.
For his part, Chris Stein considers The Hunter to be “a little light… it could use a couple of heavier elements”. Harry instantly agrees and adds, “It’s so funny, because that whole theme of not being exactly what we intended, or what we were capable of, becomes very explicit in the cover art.”
“Oh, the cover sucks,” Stein reckons. “It’s just a non-event. We were supposed to get one of these great makeup guys, and everybody would be half animals and half human. We just couldn’t get it together. The record company couldn’t figure out how to pull it off for us, y’know.”
In the end, Blondie fizzled out, and broke up in 1982. Their fate was sealed when Stein became acutely ill after developing pemphigus vulgaris, an autoimmune disease causing chronic blistering of the skin.
“It hit me hard that the band was no more,” Burke admits. “I mean, I was kind of washed up at 26. We were our own worst enemy once we got success, in a lot of ways.”
SINCE RE-FORMING IN 1996 (WITH HARRY/STEIN/Burke/Destri as their core), Blondie have enjoyed a second act that first involved a comeback UK Number 1 hit (their sixth) with ’99’s Destri-written Maria and has continued through years of arena-level touring.
“Musically, there was a dynamic there that still existed,” says Burke. “And it sounded like Blondie. So, we kind of went from there with it, and added a few different people.”
In 2006, however, the ongoing enmities between Blondie members past and present caused an ugly scene on-stage in New York when the group were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Disgruntled ex-guitarist Frank Infante announced into the microphone, “One thing that could really make it better is if we could actually perform for you tonight. But for some reason some of us are not allowed to do that. I’d like to play… Debbie, is that allowed?”
“I wanted to run away,” says Nigel Harrison. “My heart was beating so fast, I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna faint here… this is a fucking disaster.'”
“It was one of those moments where nobody could figure out whether it was a joke or not,” says Gary Lachman. “The place did go quiet. It’s a shame that it turned into something like that. But there you go. I mean, Blondie was a dysfunctional family.”
Accordingly, perhaps, Blondie’s line-up has shapeshifter in recent decades. Jimmy Destri quit for good in 2004, and Chris Stein has this year been forced to stop touring with the band due to the energy-sapping side effects of the medication treating his heart arrhythmia.
“I’m not writing it off,” Stein says of a potential future return to the stage with Blondie. “I’m just dealing with some health bullshit at the moment.”
“Maybe,” says Harry, “we’ll figure out a way for Chris to play, but not travel.”
With a new album in the can (produced, like 2017’s Pollinator, by John Congleton) and due for release in 2023, Blondie are keen to look forwards. But compiling the material on the new box set has inevitably forced them to reconsider the dizzying highs and plunging lows of their past.
“I think, oddly enough, I was happiest in the very early days,” Debbie Harry concludes. “When everything was new and sort of a challenge and we were, y’know, scuffling about, I was kind of happy. But then the workload became pretty intense, covering many continents. There was a lot of demand. It was rigorous and didn’t really give you a chance to step back and collect yourself. We were at the head of this projectile.”
ATTACK OF THE GIANT BOX SET
BEHIND THE ARCHIVE-DIVING FEAT OF 2022 WITH CHRIS STEIN AND STEVE ROSENTHAL.
DOWN THE YEARS, Chris Stein has been the one Blondie member who archived the band’s master and demo tapes – although not always successfully. When Steve Rosenthal of New York’s Magic Shop Archive & Restoration Studios was brought in to help curate the 36 previously unreleased tracks featured on Against The Odds 1974-1982, Stein warned him that some of the tapes had literally been underwater.
“It was force majeure,” the guitarist tells MOJO. “When I was in Manhattan, the fucking space flooded. Same thing upstate where they were in my garage. The pipes broke from being frozen one winter and I had a flood.”
Nonetheless, when Rosenthal drove up to Stein’s current home near Woodstock, he was amazed by what he found in the garage. “Analogue tape is a very resilient format,” he stresses. “But we wore gloves and masks because there was white mould on all the tapes. It was really a smorgasbord of different formats – tapes, cassettes, CDs.”
All of the outtakes were freshly mixed by Rosenthal and his team. The most intensive restoration work was done on some 4-track home recordings made in Stein and Harry’s apartment between 1978-9. “They were really problematic,” he says of these rarities, which include an early sketch of Sunday Girl and a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire. “They were at the wrong speed. They werenkind of distorted. So, it was a really challenging thing to do.”
Rosenthal, meanwhile, singles out an outtake version of Detroit 442 from the Plastic Letters sessions as being sonically illustrative of the Blondie he remembers performing live in their early days. “I went to CBGB a whole bunch of times during that period,” he says. “That’s a track that to me represents what it sounded like.”
Overall, Rosenthal feels that the box offers the listener an insight into the step-by-step process of exactly how Blondie became Blondie. “We sort of take them for granted as this hit-making New York City icon group. But I think this pulls back the veil, and lets you see what it was like to get from CBGB to Madison Square Garden. You get to see the points along the journey, and the things that worked and things that were a little problematic. I really admire the fact that they were willing to open up this part of their lives to the public.”
Next, there’s the possibility of a Blondie live box set. “There’s still a lot of material,” says Stein, “and the tapes are all in a safer spot.”
I’M GONNA LOVE YOU TOO
THE TOP 10 LOST CUTS FROM AGAINST THE ODDS 1974-1982.
1 SEXY IDA (1974)
Newly mixed rehearsal recording from Performance Studios in New York reveals the nascent group taking a louche rock run at Ike & Tina Turner’s R&B 45 (released the same year). An early example of Blondie’s flair for making cover versions sound entirely their own.
2 PLATINUM BLONDE (1975)
Tongue-in-cheek glitter rocker, and the first lyric Debbie Harry ever wrote, sees her declaring her blonde ambition and namechecking Monroe, Mansfield and Harlow. Originally ended with the singer sighing, “I hope I get laid” (changed to “I hope I’m OK”).
3 SCENERY (1976)
Outtake from the band’s eponymous debut, written by Gary Lachman/Valentine and revealing the bassist’s penchant for ’60s pop, not least with his Byrds-y 12-string electric riff. Ditched from the final tracklist by producer Richard Gottehrer, who deemed it a bad fit.
4 MR SIGHTSEER (1978)
Home 4-track demo sonically imagining the Shangri-Las on a trip to Jamaica. The Roland beatbox (used on Heart Of Glass) pumps away gently, backing Chris Stein’s skanking chords. The result echoes Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s early recordings with a pre-famed Bob Marley.
5 MOONLIGHT DRIVE (1979)
Debbie does Jim in this storming, punky cover of The Doors’ 1967 cut from Strange Days. Harry had witnessed a Doors show at Fillmore East in ’68, but insists, “I wasn’t madly in love with Jim Morrison or a groupie type or anything.”
6 ONCE I HAD A LOVE (1978)
Early Mike Chapman-produced recording of Heart Of Glass at the Record Plant before the synths transformed the aural picture. Still pretty great in its scratchy post-punk funkiness. Clearly would have been a hit even in this straighter, electronic-free form.
7 SUNDAY GIRL (1978)
Blondie’s greatest bubblegum pop song (and second UK Number 1) essayed at home with drum machine, guitar drones and a semi-detached Debbie Harry vocal. Proof that the commercial highs of Parallel Lines weren’t all a result of Mike Chapman’s top-drawer production.
8 RING OF FIRE (1979)
Pulsing beatbox and chorus FX guitars fuel this speedy, Suicide-like zip through the 1963 Johnny Cash classic. Blondie later performed a different (straight-ahead rock) version when guesting in the Meat Loaf-starring 1980 film, Roadie.
9 YULETIDE THROWDOWN (1982)
A slowed-down version of Rapture backdrops this festive rap battle between Debbie Harry and Fab 5 Freddy (the pioneering New York hip-hopper/graffiti artist namechecked in the original track). A rarity created for a giveaway flexi-disc.
10 CALL ME (CHRIS STEIN MIX) (1982)
One of three instrumental mixes (along with War Child and Heart Of Glass) for what the Against The Odds linernotes enigmatically describe as “an unknown project that was never realised”. Strips the Giorgio Moroder-produced song down to its synths and comes across like something from a John Carpenter film soundtrack.