Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Blondie
Blondie are a band born from the murky depths of New York City. It was there, in the greatest city on earth, where singer and former Max’s Kansas City waitress Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke (among many other additions) decided to form a band who would not only usher in a brand new sound across the US but become the face and the mouthpiece of a globally recognised movement known as ‘new wave’. Blondie were, are and always will be the epitome of cool.
If you’re to believe the news, then the generalised genre of ‘rock’ is dead in the water. The charts are stocked full of synthesised sounds and a new generation is finding new platforms for their expression more than ever. It’s an evolution in music which continues to devour the future as soon as it arrives. That doesn’t mean we can’t offer up a little education in the past though and one lesson everyone should learn is that Blondie are a band that, despite their pop prowess, are not to be messed with.
As we aim to offer up a little insight into the rock icons of the 20th century, we’re distilling their back catalogues into just six of their most defining songs. The tracks that offer up the first steps in getting to know the music and the person behind the legend. For Blondie, a band who are quite possibly the best at delivering the juxtaposing qualities of punk and pop in one neat package, it’s a list of some seriously unstoppable tunes.
Below, we can see the band’s evolution from the flashbang punk burn they brought to those who happened to frequent CBGB at that particularly fruitful time all the way through their foray into rap, breaking up in 1982 and back to their chart-topping reunion. Frankly, if we need to introduce you to Blondie then chances are you’ve had your head in the sand for some time, so let us clear the grit from your lugholes and let’s get down to business with some of Blondie’s best.
Six definitive songs of Blondie:
‘X Offender’ (1976)
The band’s debut single was a perfect distillation of what would make them great. Originally titled ‘Sex Offender’, the song was written by Debbie Harry and Gary Valentine and saw the duo create a genre-traversing single. “It just came to me one night at Max’s,” Valentine told Billboard. “I was just sitting there and the melody got into my head so I rushed back to our Blondie loft and picked up a guitar and got it down that night.”
“I love to sing about sex,” Harry explained in the book Blondie: Parallel Lives. “It’s the most popular thing, but I think that some of my twists in the theme are good. Like on ‘X Offender,’ the first thing that came out on the record that’s about a legal thing actually is about how you define what a sex crime is. It’s from the woman’s point of view.”
‘Heart of Glass’ (1978)
During the early years of Blondie, the band gained a lot of attention from the underground rock scene. With Debbie Harry leading the line, Blondie had become a mainstay of the toilet circuit and they were the shiniest thing glimmering in the bowl. Despite finding some success in Europe before ‘Heart of Glass’, Blondie were relative unknowns. After ‘Heart of Glass’ the band were icons.
It was the first moment that Harry and the band sat down and meticulously sewed their ragged punk edge to the glittering shimmies of disco. So much so that the track originally appeared as ‘I Had A Love’ AKA The Disco Song’ and a much more reggae-infused sound.
“We were living in a loft in New York’s then-notorious Bowery area, rehearsing at night in rooms so cold we had to wear gloves,” Harry later told The Guardian in a separate interview in 2013. “’Heart of Glass’ was one of the first songs Blondie wrote, but it was years before we recorded it properly. We’d tried it as a ballad, as reggae, but it never quite worked. At that point, it had no title. We just called it ‘The Disco Song.’”
The track turned into a finer and fitter version of that demo but it was enough to put the band’s punk purist fans off the trail of Blondie forever. In her 1982 book, Making Tracks, co-written with Stein and Victor Bockris, Harry says it best herself: “When we did ‘Heart of Glass’ it wasn’t cool in our social set to play disco, but we did it because we wanted to be uncool. A lot of people we’d hung out and been close friends with on the scene for years said we’d sold out by doing a disco song.”
‘One Way Or Another’ (1979)
Another one of the main-attraction songs on Parallel Lines was the ever-living joy that is Debbie Harry’s song about a stalker. A mainstay at parties and wedding dancefloors to this very day, this was the band at their peak, delivering a vibrant punch of pop-powered punk.
The song was written by Harry and Nigel Harrison and inspired by an ex-boyfriend of Harry’s who, after their relationship ended, stalked the singer. She later told Entertainment Weekly, “I was actually stalked by a nutjob so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event. But I tried to inject a little bit of levity into it to make it more lighthearted. I think in a way that’s a normal kind of survival mechanism. You know, just shake it off, say one way or another, and get on with your life. Everyone can relate to that and I think that’s the beauty of it.”
While the bassline is undeniable the track lands on the violent guitar line and leaves ‘One Way Or Another’ as the band’s most iconic song.
This is Blondie at their power-pop peak. Taken from Eat to the Beat in 1980 and taking hints from Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ approach, Harry and Co. delivered a song which is a distillation of everything that made them great. It’s full of girl group bounce, punk attitude and a pop hook capable of grabbing you like a giant arcade game.
Disappointingly, the song never really got to the heights of the charts it deserved—stalling at No. 27. But the track still rings around the stereo with stunning authenticity and an infectious groove. Undeniably one of the band’s most underrated songs, the track hangs in the air after you’ve played it for weeks, nestling in your brain as you try to match Harry’s refrain, knowing you never will.
Though Blondie’s fifth record Autoamerican was a bit confused, despite the first single ‘The Tide Is High’ reaching number one, it does hold another key track in the band’s iconography. The album represents the band looking for a new avenue for their art without ever truly finding one. The LP’s second single also flew to the top of the charts and ‘Rapture’ is still beloved to this day.
On ‘Rapture’, while there are certainly dollops of angelic vocal performance, we get to hear something very unusual from Debbie Harry—the Blondie star at the cutting edge of music. Blondie were bringing rap music to the masses. It might sound strange but for many classic rappers, the first rap they ever heard on the radio was Blondie and ‘Rapture’.
Outside of New York, hip-hop was still a very small business in 1980. But Harry and Stein championed rap and got involved in the community, often attending block parties. The band even took Nile Rodgers to one such party, which is where he learned that his song ‘Good Times’ was a DJ favourite.
Of course, looking back at the lyrics for the rap that Harry and Stein wrote can make one feel a little squeamish. But, when compared to the kind of lyrics flying out of Brooklyn block parties at the time, they sound right on the money. With hip-hop in the embryonic stage of its development, everybody was trying to find their groove.
Taken from the band’s 1999 album No Exit, the single was the band’s big comeback moment—their first new song in more than 15 years—and it saw Debbie Harry and the group prove that they could still lay down the kind of infectious pop-punk bangers that had grabbed attention back in the seventies for a brand new generation.
A song drenched in desire, the track was written by keyboard player Jimmy Destri and became a smash across the globe. The track is still a remarkable single to this day and saw the band connect with a brand new fanbase. It’s easy to dismiss this song as a pop piece from one of punk finest but, in fact, it was a reminder that Blondie had invented the idea in the first place.