From David Bowie to Johnny Cash: Debbie Harry & Blondie’s 10 best covers of all time
There aren’t many singers who we would give free rein to. Few and far between are the vocalists we’d allow to sing any song they wanted but Blondie’s Debbie Harry is certainly one of them. That’s because no matter the context of the track or the tune’s theme, Harry makes the track her own. To prove our point, we’re looking back at Debbie Harry and Blondie’s 10 greatest covers of all time, featuring some incredible artists, including David Bowie, Ramones, The Beatles and so many more.
We’ve always felt that the easiest way to tell if a band is truly timeless is to ask them to cover a song by another artist. If it’s a simple mimic and an adoring recreation then chances are the band will generally fall away soon enough. If the said artist takes the track to new heights, rips it up and starts again, putting their own spin on the song, then you’re on to a winner. Blondie is just a solid gold runner in this regard.
It’s safe to say that Blondie is a timeless band. If their return to the top of the charts with ‘Maria’ didn’t prove they were capable of fitting into any generation then these impeccable covers will confirm that Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke and are some of the best to do it. In fact, many would argue that the band only got better with time and, judging by the below, they may well be right.
Blondie and Debbie Harry are dab hands when it comes to covering other artists material. The group may have warmed to more covers in their live sets in the latter stage of their career, but they’ve been taking songs and crowds on for a very long time.
Below, we’ve pulled together ten of our favourites, ignoring some of Blondie’s biggest hits, which were covers, like ‘Denis’ and ‘Hanging on the Telephone’. Instead, we’re focusing on the songs which saw Blondie grab the audience by the scruff of the neck and take them wherever they wanted to go.
Debbie Harry & Blondie’s 10 best covers:
10. ‘Goldfinger’ – Shirley Bassey
Blondie has an on-off relationship with James Bond. The band once produced their own Bond theme tune in 1981 only for it to be rejected by producers. Before that though, they took on this Shirley Bassey classic with aplomb and delivered a searing rendition of the classic Bond tune.
The band delivered a punk version of the track that has to rank among one of the best covers of the song ever—and there have been about four million. Harry and the band tear through the song like they’re late for work and rip it to shreds as they go. It makes for thrilling watching. The performance was aired in January 1978 and is one of their best moments on TV.
9. ‘Please, Please Me’ – The Beatles
Included as a bonus track on their ninth studio album Panic of Girls as part of the release in Japan, Blondie’s cover of The Beatles 1963 hit ‘Please, Please Me’ is an absolute joy. One of the Fab Four’s earliest songs, the track is a pop masterclass and showed how effortlessly the Liverpudlians could slip into a commercial mindset, arguably something Blondie picked up on in the eighties.
The song was often included in their live shows at the time and allows for Harry’s crystalline vocal to truly sing out in an attempt to match the immaculate harmonies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Also recorded around this time was a unique cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’.
8. ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ – Buddy Holly
One big hit to come out of Blondie’s album Plastic Letters was the cover of Randy & The Rainbows ‘Denis’. Given its popularity, Chrysalis Records decided to tempt the band with another, this time using their cover of ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ as the lead single from Parallel Lines in the US. While it could fall into the category of ‘Denis’ and ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, there’s something about taking on a Buddy Holly song which makes it worthy of our attention.
The track announced Blondie as a new wave contender to the inner circle of punks. Picking up a classic rock and roll song from one of the forefathers of the genre was one thing, but adding a disco beat with a stabbing guitar changed the complexion completely. The song failed to chart in the US but is well worth revisiting.
7. ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’ – T. Rex
Bedazzled rockers T-Rex had grown a large reputation before their singer, Marc Bolan, died tragically in a car accident in 1977. With songs like ‘Bang A Gong’, ‘Children of the Revolution’, ‘Ride A White Swan,’ and ’20th Century Boy’, T- Rex and Bolan kicked the hard purist rock in the balls and ran off giggling. It was this sentiment and swift kicking technique that Blondie had begun to perfect by 1979.
It was clear the band had transcended the elitist New York underground scene to become something much bigger and to a lot more people. Blondie became the antidote to punk’s inherent machismo and covers like this showed the path to stardom that lay out in front of them. It’s a welcomed reminder of their power on stage.
6. ‘Pet Sematary’ – Ramones
Harry and The Ramones have always been pals. Their friendship stretches back to the first murmurings of punk in surrounding the iconic venue CBGB’s. They may have met in the fiery flashes of New York’s underbelly but their friendship remained steadfast throughout their careers.
It’s a friendship that has seen countless photos and shared moments surface across the internet, but this piece of perfect footage featuring Debbie Harry covering The Ramones’ iconic anthem ‘Pet Semetary’ is the best.
The footage is taken from Harry’s solo tour ‘Def, Dumb, and Blonde’ on October 23rd, 1989 and sees the ‘Heart of Glass’ singer taking on her friends’ most commercial track. Written for the Stephen King movie adaptation of the same name, it remains the lasting moment the Ramones belied their punk roots and almost, for a second, went big time.
5. ‘Venus in Furs’ – Velvet Underground
Covers of the Velvet Underground very rarely match the intensity that the band emanated in New York during the 1960s—but if anyone matched their burning passion it would the enigmatic singer Harry.
The song, released by the Lou Reed-led band on their iconic album The Velvet Underground & Nico, acts as an archetypal song from the group’s extensive back catalogue. It marries the dark tones of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch with some intrinsic pop sensibilities. The material was written by the astounding mind of Lou Reed and was a prominent song on the band’s 1967 record.
It’s the type of track, with its dark moodiness, which would scare many artists off, but most artists aren’t like Debbie Harry and she captures the intensity of the song with little to no fuss.
4. ‘Heroes’ – David Bowie
Just three years after Bowie and his partner in crime Brian Eno wrote, recorded, and released ‘Heroes’, Harry and her own Blondie bandmates were taking it on the road for special moments, covering the track occasionally as part of their live show, leaving a shaking audience as they did.
Blondie, who had notably covered the track during performances at The Palladium in New York and the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1978, arrived in London two years later for a triple-header of sell-out performances at the Hammersmith Odeon where the band would play three shows in a row.
The band would record their rendition of ‘Heroes’ and subsequently release it shortly after in homage to their hero. Enjoy that incredible recording, below.
3. ‘Ring of Fire’ – Johnny Cash
When one thinks of Blondie they think of effortless cool, dusky New York nights and the pulsating electricity of new wave punk. It makes the moment Debbie Harry and Blondie went country to cover Johnny Cash’s iconic hit ‘Ring of Fire’ all the more rewarding.
The idea of Harry’s heavenly vocals trying to reach the dark depths of Cash’s gravel toned bellow is one Blondie ditch fairly quickly and instead pay homage to the original composition by Anita and June Carter. The song was put together for the 1980 movie Roadie and sees the band provide a classically cheesy music video with all the new wave western attire you could hope for.
The video sees Harry plant a kiss on Meat Loaf’s character before taking to the stage in the aforementioned garb and delivering a rootin’ tootin’ good time for the adoring crowd. While the cover does come in the form of a fictitious live show, it is a testament to Harry’s ability to make any song truly her own, and perhaps to the heights of fame, she herself was beginning to climb.
2. ‘Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones
One of the most achingly beautiful covers on the list comes from a solo Debbie Harry show as she covers the beautiful Rolling Stones song ‘Wild Horses’. Far removed from the hip-swinging sound that they made their name on, this track was the band exploring their emotions a little more intently. Debbie Harry not only connects with the material but makes it a part of her own rich tapestry.
Keith Richards says of the now-iconic love song, “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Wild Horses’ was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.”
The track’s longing for clarity and romantic sadness are effortlessly channelled through Harry’s impeccable vocal. She delivers a quite beautiful rendition of the song lending her femininity and soul to the track without reproach, giving herself entirely to the sentiment. It’s what makes for a great cover and what makes Harry a special singer.
1. ‘I Feel Love’ – Donna Summer
When Blondie truly broke into the scene it was clear that they were the bridge between the avant-garde aggression of punk with the shining glitter of the disco era. With their song ‘Heart of Glass’, they managed to effortlessly bring the two opposing worlds together.
Just one year later and the band were performing a classic cover of the Donna Summer mega-bop ‘I Feel Love’ as part of their stunning 1980 show live at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The show provided some of the above additions to the list but this cover is, without doubt, the finest.
We think it’s the best because it does everything a great cover should. Harry does her best to not only match but try to readdress Summer’s unstoppable vocal, in the backing Burke and Stein are naturally gifted, mirroring the intensity of disco’s incessant beat with their punk credentials. Together it culminates in a frenetic and furious homage to a classic.