Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



US new wave group formed by Deborah Harry (b 1 July '45, Miami), vocals, Chris Stein (b 5 Jan. '50, Brooklyn), guitar. Harry had recorded with Wind in the Willows '68 (LP now collector's item), combining music with stints as barmaid, beautician, Playboy bunny. Recruited Stein '73 for Stilettoes, group with three female singers doing girl-group covers; became Blondie '74 with Stilettoes rhythm section Fred Smith (bass), Billy O'Connor (drums). Made reputation at NYC punk club CBGB's, the scantily-clad peroxide-blonde Harry making a valuable visual impact. Smith left to join Television before first LP sessions; new rhythm section were Clem Burke (drums), Gary Valentine (bass) plus obligatory new-wave Farfisa organ provided by Jimmy Destri. That the album Blondie used cartoons, 'B'-movies, other ephemera as inspiration was appropriate, the band named after syndicated Chic Young comic strip. Contract bought from Private Stock label by Chrysalis for $500,000; their only success to date was no. 2 single in Australia ('In The Flesh') but the gamble paid off. Plastic Letters '78 saw band start to shed '60s overtones for up-to-date pop sheen, though hit 'Denis' had both: cover of 15-year-old hit by Randy and the Rainbows (originally 'Denise') reached no. 2 UK followed by no. 10 hit '(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear', still without top 40 hit in USA. Switch from prod. Richard Gottehrer to UK pop svengali Mike Chapman confirmed direction to mainstream pop. Most successful album Parallel Lines '78 incl. new (English) bassist Nigel Harrison, addition of guitarist Frank Infante (who had played on Letters), for four UK hits 'Picture This', 'Hanging On The Telephone', 'Sunday Girl', 'Heart Of Glass', the last two no. 1 in UK, voguishly disco-styled 'Glass' also no. 1 USA, their first top 40 entry there. Media attention was on Harry, with endorsement of designer jeans and other high-visibility money-spinning ideas. Eat To The Beat prod. by Chapman had three more UK top five hits but USA chart placings were disappointing. The album was released simultaneously with a video to capitalize on Harry's visual appeal as she branched into TV (The Muppet Show), films (Videodrome '82). The group wrangled as Harry and Stein called in Eurodisco prod. Giorgio Moroder; in the event he did only transatlantic no. 1 'Call Me'; Chapman returned for Autoamerican '80. The formula was wearing thin, but two USA no. 1 singles in 'The Tide Is High' (cover of Paragons' reggae hit), 'Rapture' (1 and 5 in UK). Harry pursued musical direction of mock-funk 'Rapture' in disappointing solo LP Koo-Koo '81 made with Chic; release of a Blondie Best Of album suggested the end; an Infante lawsuit alleging exclusion from group activities confirmed split between Harry/Stein and the others, most of whom had taken session work to fill time while Harry promoted herself. Contractual obligation dictated release of The Hunter '82 with USA/UK top 40 'Island Of Lost Souls'; it was a parody of former glories.

Stein formed Animal Records, Harrison and Burke formed Chequered Past with Harrison's former Silverhead colleague Michael Des Barres; Burke also drummed with Eurythmics. Destri made solo Heart On The Wall '82, went into production; Harry had dabbled in underground film, acted in Broadway flop Teaneck (Trafford) Tanzi. She retired '83 to nurse Stein through pemphigus vulgaris, a rare debilitating disease of genetic origin. New contract '85 with David Geffen; single 'Feel The Spin' co-written with its producer 'Jellybean' Benitez, heard in film Krush Groove '85; Stein recovered, wrote theme music for Andy Warhol cable-TV show Fifteen Minutes, worked on songs for her second solo LP Rockbird '86 incl. hit 'French Kissin' '. Her further solo albums incl. Def, Dumb And Blonde '89 and Debravation '93 on Sire. At its peak Blondie had epitomized post-punk new wave, competent tunesmiths whose image for the video age was right- time-right-place; the much-loved Harry became a good singer whose material was often not worthy of her. She had gone from Debbie to Deborah, then sang one song on the Jazz Passengers' In Love '94 on High Street, with Jeff Buckley, Mavis Staples and others; on tour '95 with the witty, self-referential group (led by saxophonist Roy Nathanson) as the Baroness von Swimmingbag, she had given up the peroxide and was singing as well as ever, able to handle whatever they threw at her (do ex-Blondies have more fun?). She also appeared on their next album Individually Twisted '97 on Essential (Elvis Costello also on board). Her TV work incl. episodes of Wiseguy; more film appearances incl. Union City, Roadie, Hairspray '88, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie '91, Heavy (with Liv Tyler, Shelley Winters and Evan Dando) and Drop Dead Rock (a music industry parody with Adam Ant), both '95. She and Blondie were re-forming '98 for an album/tour, this time hoping to keep the money.