“I do know the effect that music still has on me – I’m completely vulnerable to it. I’m seduced by it.” — Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry struggled to have her voice be heard during the seventies. The soon-to-be-iconic singer struggled through numerous jobs, from Playboy bunny to being a waitress for Andy Warhol and Co. at Max’s Kansas City. It would be a few years before she was officially recognised not only as Blondie’s ferocious lead singer, pumping out new wave jams at a rate of Notts, but also to be regarded as the ethereal singer she is.
Too often, when considering some of the finest voices of the 20th-century music scene, is Harry overlooked. Perhaps it’s because, thanks to the uniquely male-centric media coverage of the day, she was largely reduced to her looks, with countless comparisons to Marilyn Monroe often devaluing her creative drive and talent-laden output. Another reason that Harry’s vocals don’t get the credit they deserve because the instrumentation surrounding them is so energising and electric that we can forget to pay attention.
That’s not to say that Harry wasn’t revered as an icon of her generation; she was. In fact, the band, with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, would issue badges on their tour in reaction to this audience mindset saying “Blondie is a group”, even leading to Harry issuing a statement in 1981 to clarify that her name wasn’t, in fact, Debbie Blondie.
Further down the touring road, Harry would admit that “Blondie” was a character she played, the excerpt from her No Exit tour diary entry offering a candid insight: “Hi, it’s Deb. You know, when I woke up this morning I had a realisation about myself. I was always Blondie. People always called me Blondie, ever since I was a little kid. What I realised is that at some point, I became Dirty Harry. I couldn’t be Blondie anymore, so I became Dirty Harry.” But it was Harry’s singing that actually got her the credit she deserved.
Thankfully, we’re here to illustrate that point a little further as we bring you five isolated vocal tracks from Blondie’s impressive canon. Within the tracks below, we get a sensational taste of just how talented Harry is. Not only was she able to command the stage like a uniformed tiger on patrol, but she also had the vocal range of a bonafide punk rock angel. It’s true, Harry had it all.
Debbie Harry’s isolated vocals for Blondie:
‘Heart of Glass’
In the clip below, we explore Harry’s incredible command of the mic. Blondie released ‘Heart of Glass’ in 1979, and it would feature on the band’s third studio album, Parallel Lines. The track was Blondie’s more successful efforts, reaching number one in the charts across several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Away from the single’s energy, it was the expertly polished sound that generated so much fandom for the band. With such a smooth sound blended with the new-wave punk of Blondie’s output, it is very easy to become distracted by the shining strut of the band’s tracks. There’s no better way to truly appreciate this vocal than to hear it as an isolated track.
With it, you can hear the crystalline tone of Debbie Harry’s New York cool, as she emanates that nonchalant power of her internal and mental strut. It’s a stunning sound that puts her in the upper echelons of rock singers.
Somehow, this new wave track is noted as the first hip-hop song to hit the charts. The song obviously isn’t the first rap song, artists like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow had been rapping since the mid-70s, and The Sugarhill Gang cracked the Hot 100 in 1979 with ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ but until ‘Rapture’, rap music had never been a hit song.
It would be one of their final chart-toppers until 1999’s ‘Maria’. It found fame despite a few words that slipped the censors. Moments before the rap, if you listen carefully, you can hear the words “finger fucking,” though, in most lyric sheets, it is written as “finger-popping”.
The New York band have always managed to push the envelope musically, changing the punk sound to dominate the charts. But never have the band been pushed as close to the edge as on ‘Rapture’. Listen to Debbie Harry’s rap on the isolated vocal track.
‘One Way Or Another’
Following the bump of fame the band received after their single ‘Heart of Glass’ gained national recognition, they needed a new hit. It was left to Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison to pull together a new release that would add the perfect follow-up uppercut and confirm their knock out status. They dreamt up ‘One Way Or Another’.
Based on the heinous experience of Harry being stalked by a “nutjob”, Blondie was on the charge — as was Harry’s enigmatic vocal delivery. At times it was an ethereal, otherworldly sound, and at others, it came from the bowels of New York.
On the isolated vocal track for ‘One Way Or Another’ Harry empowers both of these strings to her bow to unleash an almighty dart that slammed straight into the bullseye, splitting anything in its way.
In 1980, Blondie, by the time the band had got round to releasing their fourth record Eat To The Beat on which ‘Atomic’ featured, were riding a wave off the back of Parallel Lines which took the New Yorkers from relative obscurity to one of the coolest acts in the world. ‘Atomic’ would confirm the band were once again making strides.
Harry said in the book 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh of the track’s composition: “He [Jimmy Destri] was trying to do something like ‘Heart of Glass’, and then somehow or another we gave it the spaghetti western treatment. Before that it was just lying there like a lox.
“The lyrics, well, a lot of the time I would write while the band were just playing the song and trying to figure it out. I would just be scatting along with them and I would just start going, ‘Ooooooh, your hair is beautiful.’”
‘Atomic’ showcases Blondie’s versatility and Harry’s truly impressive vocal ability.
After featuring as the main track from American Gigolo, ‘Call Me’ more than any other track had pushed Harry into the middle of the Blondie circus as the ringleader of this particularly raucous troop. The singer had long been the stunning mouthpiece of the band, but now many were even confusing her as being the entire act known as Blondie, as her stock continued to rise after a Rolling Stone cover feature in 1979, which saw the singer denounce the idea that she was Blondie in its entirety.
The heady cocktail of Harry’s increasing fame and notoriety, her command of the simple but stylish lyrics, all added to the power-pop prowess of the smoothly polished track. That blinding pop sparkle is even more clearly heard when you isolate Harry’s vocals.
The isolated vocals mark Harry out as the bonafide pop star she had become. While she, of course, couldn’t have done it without her brilliant band, but on ‘Call Me’, Harry announced herself as the face of the moment. The song feels sexy and sensual but distinctly unattainable in that Studio 54 way that Harry could produce with the drop of a hat, and because of it, she creates one of the best pop songs ever written.