From Nina Simone to Velvet Underground: Debbie Harry’s 8 favourite songs of all time
As one of the iconic faces of the new wave movement in the late seventies and eighties, Debbie Harry is a character that has been admired throughout most of her career. It was the case too when she arrived at BBC studios for a very special interview. Within the interview, Harry details her life and career through a series of songs. It shows off an influential figure who is still not only deeply connected to her past success but the then-current landscape of the music scene.
As part of Blondie, Harry was the archetypal New York punk. Built out of the bratty bars and grimy venues the New York punk scene offered her, Chris Stein, Clem Burke and the rest of the band, Blondie soon became a worldwide act. All that and more is discussed when Harry acknowledged her legend status and sat down for an extra special conversation.
Part of the legendary Desert Island Discs radio show, the programme’s host Kirsty Young welcomed one of the idols to the studio as Blondie’s Harry arrived to pick her favourite book, a luxury item and eight of her most treasured records to take with her to an inescapable island to either help cure boredom or provide a welcomed distraction. The programme has become a British institution and welcomed musical stars, Hollywood heroes and world leaders alike, it is one of the most beloved pieces of British culture.
“It’s quite an odd thing,” Kirsty Young shares at the beginning of the interview, sitting before an icon and a hero of her own formative musical years. “I probably wasted a good 10 years wanting to be Debbie Harry,” she told her guest. We’re sure it’s nothing that Harry hasn’t heard before and she politely giggles the somewhat awkward statement away.
It would not be the last laugh of the conversation, nor the last awkward pause but it made for an interesting listen as Harry opens up a little on the show. Perhaps fitting in with her guest’s slightly quirky attitude, the questions Young asks are far removed from those she’s asked some other notable musicians. “Ever have a perm?” Young asked. “A home perm,” Harry replied, “It went really bad.” Eagerly accepting the acknowledgement of Harry’s reality: “That is some comfort,” Young replied.
For decades music has been at the heart of Desert Island Discs but for this special episode, it takes somewhat of a backseat as Harry’s uber-cool personality steals the spotlight. But, with that said, the selections Harry makes shows off not only an artist engaged with her roots but with the music that surrounded her at the time, opening herself up to what made Blondie what it is as equally as she does what influence Blondie has now had.
The Blondie singer picked up fellow New Yorkers, The Velvet Underground ‘White Light/White Heat’ as well as Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’ as a tip of the hat to the icons of the past. For those who have a penchant for film soundtracks, Harry has you covered as she selects ‘La Passerella’ from the film 8 1/2 by Nino Rota.
Next up was the array of modern music with Peaches’ ‘Talk To Me’, indie darlings The Gossip and their pounding gem ‘Heavy Cross’, and Fever Ray’s ‘When I Grow Up’. To finish the selection of pop music was EDM maestro, Calvin Harris’ ‘Merrymaking at My Place’. It’s not necessarily the most highly cultured selection but it does show a singer who is still intrinsically linked to the making of new sounds.
Harry found fault in the show at one crucial point, however. When pushed to pick her favourite song to take away with her she struggled with her selection but eventually picked Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor – 4th movement’ because “I can sing all the rest”.
It’s a brilliant conversation between Young and one of the most iconic singers of all time, Debbie Harry. Below, you can listen to the full conversation, awkward giggles, perfect songs and all, and below that, we have the final selection of Harry’s favourite songs of all time.