Blondie was the most commercially successful band to emerge from the much-vaunted punk/new wave movement of the late '70s. The group was formed in New York City in August 1974 by singer Deborah Harry and guitarist Chris Stein.
Blondie is an American rock band, founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. The band was a pioneer in the early American new wave and punk scenes of the mid-1970s. Their first two albums contained strong elements of these genres, and although successful in the United Kingdom and Australia, Blondie was regarded as an underground band in the United States until the release of Parallel Lines in 1978. Over the next three years, the band achieved several hit singles and became noted for its eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop, rap, and reggae, while retaining a basic style as a new wave band.
Blondie broke up after the release of their sixth studio album The Hunter in 1982. Debbie Harry continued to pursue a solo career with varied results after taking a few years off to care for partner Chris Stein, who was diagnosed with pemphigus, a rare autoimmune disease of the skin.
The band reformed in 1997, achieving renewed success and a number one single in the United Kingdom with "Maria" in 1999. The group toured and performed throughout the world during the following years, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Blondie has sold 40 million records worldwide and is still active today, with a new album, Panic of Girls, planned for release in 2010.
Early career (1975–1978)
In the early 1970s, Chris Stein moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Inspired by the burgeoning new music scene at the Mercer Arts Center, he sought to join a similar band. He joined The Stilettos in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with one of the band's vocalists, Debbie Harry, a former waitress and Playboy Bunny, Harry had been a member of the folk-rock band, The Wind in the Willows, in the late 1960s. In 1974, Stein parted ways with The Stilettos and Elda Gentile, the band's originator. Stein and Harry formed a new band with drummer Billy O'Connor and bassist Fred Smith. By 1975, after some personnel turnover (including sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo on backing vocals), Stein and Harry were joined by drummer Clem Burke, keyboard player Jimmy Destri and bass player Gary Valentine. Originally billed as Angel and the Snake, They renamed themselves Blondie in late 1975. The name derived from comments made by truck drivers who catcalled "Hey, Blondie" to Harry as they drove by. Later, band members were bemused to learn that the name was shared by Adolf Hitler's dog Blondi, a fact acknowledged in parody when, in 1997, they semi-anonymously contributed a cover of "Ordinary Bummer" to the Iggy Pop tribute album We Will Fall under the pseudonym 'Adolph's Dog'. Blondie became regulars at Max's Kansas City and CBGB. They got their first record deal with Private Stock Records in early 1976 and released their debut single "X-Offender" on June 17, 1976. Their debut album Blondie (AUS #14, UK #75) was issued in December 1976. In September 1977, Blondie bought back its contract with Private Stock and then signed with Chrysalis Records. The first album was re-released on the new label in October 1977. Rolling Stone's review of the debut album observed the eclectic nature of the group's music, comparing it to Phil Spector and The Who, and commented that the album's two strengths were Richard Gottehrer's production and the persona of Deborah Harry, saying she performed with "utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she's portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending." It also noted that Harry was the "possessor of a bombshell zombie's voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song".
The band's first commercial success occurred in Australia in 1977, when the music television program Countdown mistakenly played their video "In the Flesh", which was the B-side of their current single "X-Offender". Jimmy Destri later credited the show's Molly Meldrum for their initial success, commenting that "we still thank him to this day" for playing the wrong song. In a 1998 interview, drummer Clem Burke recalled seeing the episode in which the wrong song was played, but he and Chris Stein suggested that it may have been a deliberate subterfuge on the part of Meldrum. Stein asserted that "X-Offender" was "too crazy and aggressive ", while "In the Flesh" was "not representative of any punk sensibility. Over the years, I've thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That's all." In retrospect, Burke described "In the Flesh" as "a forerunner to the power ballad". Both the single and album reached the Australian top five in October 1977, and a subsequent double-A release of "X-Offender" and "Rip Her to Shreds" was also popular. A successful Australian tour followed in December, though it was marred by an incident in Brisbane when disappointed fans almost rioted after Harry canceled a performance, due to illness. In February 1978, Blondie released their second album, Plastic Letters (UK #10, US #78). The album was recorded as a four-piece band because Gary Valentine left the band. Plastic Letters was promoted extensively throughout Europe and Asia by Chrysalis Records. The album's first single, "Denis", was a cover version of Randy and the Rainbows' 1963 hit. It reached number two on the British singles charts, while both the album and its second single, "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear", reached the British top ten. Chart success, along with a successful 1978 UK tour, including a gig at London's Roundhouse, made Blondie one of the first American new wave bands to achieve mainstream success in the United Kingdom. By this time, Gary Valentine had been replaced by Frank Infante (guitar, bass guitar), and shortly after that Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) joined, expanding the band to a six-piece for the first time. Mainstream success (1978–1981)
Parallel Lines (UK #1, US #6) Blondie's third album, produced by Mike Chapman, became the group's most successful effort, selling 20 million copies worldwide The album's first two singles were "Picture This" (UK #12) and "Hanging on the Telephone" (UK #5).
"Heart of Glass" was their first U.S. hit. The disco-infused track topped the U.S. charts in April 1979. It was a reworking of a rock and reggae-infused song that the group had performed since its formation, updated with strong elements of disco music. Clem Burke later said the revamped version was inspired partly by Kraftwerk and partly by the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", whose drum beat Burke tried to emulate. He and Stein gave Jimmy Destri much of the credit for the final result, noting that Destri's appreciation of technology had led him to introduce synthesizers and to rework the keyboard sections. Although some members of the British music press condemned Blondie for "selling out", the song became a success, worldwide. Selling more than a million copies and garnering major airplay, the single reached number one in many countries including the U.S., where Blondie had previously been considered an "underground" band. The song was accompanied by a music video that showcased Debbie Harry's hard-edged and playfully sexual persona, and she began to attain a celebrity status that set her apart from the other band members, who were largely ignored by the media. Blondie's next single in the U.S. was a more aggressive rock song, "One Way or Another" (US #24), which became their second hit single in the United States. Meanwhile, in the UK, an alternate single choice, "Sunday Girl", became a #1 hit. Parallel Lines is ranked #140 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest albums of all time. In June 1979, Blondie, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Their fourth album, Eat to the Beat (UK #1, US #17), released in October 1979, was well-received by critics as a suitable follow-up to Parallel Lines, but in the U.S., its singles failed to achieve the same level of success as in the UK, where "Atomic" (UK #1, US #39) reached number one, "Dreaming" (UK #2, US #27) reached number two, and "Union City Blue" (UK #13) charted in the top 20. Blondie's next single, the Grammy-nominated "Call Me" was the result of Debbie Harry's collaboration with the Italian songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been responsible for Donna Summer's biggest hits. This track was not included on any Blondie studio album; rather, it was the title theme of the soundtrack for the film American Gigolo. Released in February 1980, "Call Me" spent six weeks at #1 in the U.S. and Canada, reached #1 in the U.K. and became a hit throughout the world. The song is the band's biggest selling single in the U.S. (over a million copies sold - gold status) and was Billboard magazine's #1 single of 1980.
In November 1980, Blondie's fifth studio album, Autoamerican (UK #3, US #7) was released and contained two more #1 US hits: the reggae-styled "The Tide Is High", a cover version of a 1967 song by The Paragons, and the rap-flavored "Rapture", which was one of the earliest songs containing elements of rap vocals to reach number one in the U.S., sweeping the world by storm. "Rapture" would be the band's only single to achieve a higher chart position on the U.S. charts than in the UK, where it peaked at #5. Autoamerican was a departure from previous Blondie records, featuring less new wave and rock in favor of stylistic experiments, including acoustic jazz: "Faces", and from an early Broadway show, "Camelot", came "Follow me". As the title somewhat suggested, a recurring general theme of the album was the car as a subject; obvious for example in the song "T-birds", referring to the Ford Thunderbird, and Debbie's spoken intro after the first instrumental track, "Europa". Autoamerican was, however, not generally well-received by critics.
In October 1981, Chrysalis Records released The Best of Blondie (UK #4, US #30), the group's first greatest hits compilation.
Hiatus, The Hunter, and breakup (1981–1982)
Following their success of 1978-80, Blondie took a brief break in 1981. That year, Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri both released solo albums; Stein helped out with Harry's album Koo Koo (UK #6, US #28) and Burke with Destri's Heart on a Wall. Frank Infante sued the band regarding a lack of involvement during the Autoamerican sessions; it was settled out of court, and Infante remained in the band (though Harry has subsequently said Infante was not on the next LP).
The band reconvened in 1981 to record and release (in 1982) The Hunter (UK #9, US #33). In contrast to their earlier commercial and critical successes, The Hunter was poorly received and failed to hit the top 20 in the U.S. The album did have two moderate hit singles: "Island of Lost Souls" (#11 UK, #37 US) and "War Child" (#39 UK).
The Hunter also included a song entitled "For Your Eyes Only" which shares its title with a 1981 James Bond film. This song was originally written on spec to be the film's opening-title theme. However, the producers chose another song by the same name, composed by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson. Blondie was offered the chance to perform Conti and Leeson's song, but they turned the offer down. Sheena Easton's rendition of Conti and Leeson's theme song became a top-ten single worldwide.
With tensions within the band on the rise due to the commercial decline and the constant press focus on Harry to the exclusion of the other band members, events reached a breaking point when Stein was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness pemphigus. Blondie band members received a letter to tell them not to rely on any more money from the bank, as there was only $25,000 left in their account. Their managers had completely wiped them out, and as a result of this and of drug use, mismanagement, tension in the band, and Chris Stein's worsening illness, Blondie canceled their tour plans early and announced their break-up in August 1982.
Stein and Harry, still a couple at the time, stayed together and retreated from the public spotlight for a few years, with the exception of the minor single releases "Rush Rush" (1983, from the film Scarface) and 1985's dance track "Feel The Spin". Harry was forced to sell the couple's five-story mansion to pay off debts that the band had run up, Stein owed in excess of $1 million, and drug use was becoming an increasing concern for Debbie and Chris. Debbie decided to call off her intimate relationship to Stein and moved downtown. She stated in a 2006 interview that she felt she was having a sort of breakdown due to all the stress. After Stein recovered from his illness, Harry resumed her solo career with a new album (Rockbird) in 1986, with active participation from Stein. Meanwhile, Burke became a much-in-demand session drummer, playing for a time with the Eurythmics, and Destri maintained an active career as a producer and session musician.
A remix album entitled Once More into the Bleach was released in 1988, and featured remixes of classic Blondie tracks and material from Harry's solo career.
Reformation and No Exit (1997–2004)
During the 1980s and 1990s, Blondie's past work began to be recognized again by a new generation of fans and artists including Madonna and Gwen Stefani. Chrysalis/EMI Records also released several compilations and collections of remixed versions of some of its biggest hits.
Harry continued her successful solo career after the band broke up, which helped keep the band in the public eye. In 1990, she reunited with Stein and Burke for a summer tour of mid-sized venues, as part of an "Escape from New York" package with Jerry Harrison, the Tom Tom Club and the Ramones. Blondie reunited and recorded some material in 1996, but did not tour together again until May 31, 1997, when they played the HFStival at R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, DC.
In 1996, Stein and Harry began the process of reuniting Blondie and contacted original members Burke, Destri, and Valentine, who had by this time moved to London and become a full-time writer under his real name Gary Lachman; his New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation (2002) is a memoir of his years with the band. Former members Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante did not participate in the reunion, and they unsuccessfully sued to prevent the reunion under the name Blondie.
In 1997, the original five-piece band reformed, including Valentine on bass, did three live performances, all at outdoor festivals sponsored by local radio stations. An international tour in late 1998 and early 1999 followed.
A new album, No Exit (UK #3, US #18), was released in February 1999 and was described by Jimmy Destri as "15 songs about nothing". The band was now officially a four-piece, consisting of Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri; Valentine did not play on the album, although he did co-write two tracks. Session musicians Leigh Foxx (bass) and Paul Carbonara (guitar) played on this and subsequent Blondie releases. Foxx had been in Harry's backing band as early as her January 17, 1987 musical guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, later touring with her on the 1990 "Escape from New York" tour before both became members of the reformed band's formal lineup in 1997.
No Exit reached number three on the UK charts, and the first single, "Maria", which Destri had written thinking about his high school days, became Blondie's sixth UK number one single exactly 20 years after their first chart-topper, "Heart of Glass", giving the band the distinction of being one of only two American acts to reach number one in the UK singles charts in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (the other being Michael Jackson who had no.1 hits with The Jacksons and solo in the same decades). The reformed band released the follow-up album The Curse of Blondie (UK #36, US #160) in October 2003. Curse proved to be Blondie's lowest-charting album since their debut in 1976, although the single "Good Boys" managed to reach number 12 on the UK charts. In 2004, Jimmy Destri retired from touring, leaving only Harry, Stein and Burke (from the original line-up) appearing at live shows, though Destri continued to work as a member of the band in the studio.
Legacy and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (2006)
By 1982, the year the band broke up, Blondie had released six studio albums, each exhibiting a stylistic progression from the last. The band is known not only for the striking stage persona and vocal performances of Harry but also for incorporating elements in their work from numerous subgenres of popular music, reaching from their punk roots to embrace New Wave, disco, and hip hop.
In March 2006, Blondie, following an introductory speech by Shirley Manson of Garbage, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seven members were invited to the ceremony, which led to an on-stage spat between the extant group and their former bandmates, Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who asked during the live broadcast of the ceremony to be allowed to perform with the group, a request refused by Harry. On May 22, 2006, Blondie was inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame at Guitar Center on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. New inductees are voted on by previous Rock Walk inductees.
Parallel Lines 30th anniversary tour and Panic of Girls (2008–present)
On June 5, 2008, Blondie commenced a world tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Parallel Lines with a concert at Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, Maryland. The tour covered some Eastern and Midwestern US cities throughout the month of June. In July, the tour took the band overseas to Israel, the UK, Russia, Europe and Scandinavia, wrapping up on August 2, 2008 at Rockefeller in Oslo, Norway.
Clem Burke and Paul Carbonara both recently told interviewers that the band is working on another record, which would be their first new album since the release of The Curse of Blondie in 2003. Carbonara described it as "a real Blondie record."
Blondie undertook a North American tour of mid-sized venues with Pat Benatar and The Donnas in the summer of 2009. Following the tour, in October, the band began recording sessions for their ninth studio album with producer Jeff Saltzman in Woodstock, New York. In December 2009, the band released the song "We Three Kings" to coincide with the Christmas holiday. The new album, to be titled Panic of Girls, which was being mixed at the time, was said to follow in 2010. Chris Stein stated that Dutch artist Chris Berens will provide the cover art. In April 2010, it was announced that guitarist Paul Carbonara had amicably left Blondie to pursue other projects and was replaced by Tommy Kessler. Panic of Girls is tentatively set to be released in December 2010.
In June 2010, Blondie began the first leg of a world tour named "Endangered Species Tour", which covered the United Kingdom and Ireland. The set lists featured both classics and new material from the forthcoming Panic of Girls. After a break in July the tour will resume in August and cover the United States and Canada over a course of six weeks. Blondie is then set to take the "Endangered Species Tour" to Australia and New Zealand in November and December.
* Debbie (Deborah) Harry – lead vocals (1975–1982, 1997–present) * Chris Stein – guitar, bass (1975–1982, 1997–present) * Clem Burke – drums, percussion, backing vocals (1975–1982, 1997–present) * Leigh Foxx – bass (1997–present) * Matt Katz-Bohen – keyboards, piano, organ (2008–present) * Tommy Kessler – guitar (2010–present) * Jimmy Destri – keyboards, piano, synthesizer, organ, backing vocals (1975–1982, 1997–present) – not touring since 2003
* Gary Valentine – bass, guitar (1975–1977) * Frank Infante – guitar, bass, backing vocals (1977–1982) * Nigel Harrison – bass (1977–1982) * Eddie Martinez – guitar (1982) * Kevin Patrick (Kevin Topping) – keyboards, piano (2004–2007) * Paul Carbonara – guitar (1997–2010)
* Blondie (1976) * Plastic Letters (1978) * Parallel Lines (1978) * Eat to the Beat (1979) * Autoamerican (1980) * The Hunter (1982) * No Exit (1999) * The Curse of Blondie (2003) * Panic of Girls (2010, to be released)