When punk began to stagnate before it even got off the New York city streets, one band, fronted by one unstoppable woman, took the thrash of guitars, chugging rhythm and no-nonsense attitude to the mainstream and that band was Blondie.
With Debbie Harry and Chris Stein leading the charge up front and Clem Burke behind the kit, Blondie were a bonafide force to be reckoned during the late seventies and eighties. Below, we’ve pulled together 10 of their greatest songs of all time and it is all killer no filler.
There are few bands as capable of straddling the line between critical and commercial success as Blondie did during their lightning career. Born out of the depth of New York’s murky underground punk scene, with Harry even working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City for some time, Blondie soon found their place on the snotty punk circuit.
It was there that Harry learned her disarming and disabling eye roll and sneer. It was on the circuit that Stein, Harry, Burke (and later Gary Valentine, Jimmy Destri and Nigel Harrison) came together to put their own spin on the punk rock sound.
With a powerful rhythm, the band took the ’60s girl group influences and moulding them together with the punk rock attitude to form something new and different, they formed, unbeknownst to them, the New Wave movement.
Below we have a heavy dose of all that makes Blondie and Debbie Harry great.
Blondie’s 10 best songs:
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.
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.
9. ‘Rip Her To Shreds’
Taken from the band’s self-titled debut, this is the track that grabbed the audience by the back of the neck and force-fed them a dose of New York attitude. The track was released as a single only in the UK and the release saw the band make their TV debut in Britain.
It made Blondie into superstars in Blighty and saw the band once again firmly press their stamp on the image of punk. As the genre was peaking in London, Blondie arrived as a breath of fresh air and cleared the fog of safety-pin pogoing.
8. ‘X Offender’
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.”
8. ‘Hanging on the Telephone’
When Blondie made the biggest splash, they jumped into the water with a “cannonball!” in the form of their third record Parallel Lines. It saw the group polish up their previous scrappy punk sound and set their sights on the charts.
The band were just developing their soon-to-be-iconic sound when they released ‘Hanging on the Telephone’. The track was originally written and performed by Los Angeles outfit the Nerves but Debbie Harry and Blondie make this song their own. It sees the group tighten the song up while maintaining its power.
7. ‘One Way or Another’
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.
Though Blondie’s fifth record Autoamerican was a bit confused, despite first single ‘The Tide Is High’ reaching number one. 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 a very small business in 1980. But Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie 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.
Another classic track from that album Eat to the Beat, saw Harry attempt to write a song to match their globe-trotting mega-watt bop, ‘Heart of Glass’—more on that later. But while that track is hung entirely on the new wave sound, somewhere along the line Blondie went all western.
The combination of that sound with the band’s new wave roots saw the group look ahead and create a futuristic sound. In 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner, Harry explains of the song’s composition: “He 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.'”
2. ‘Call Me’
When Blondie caught up with disco producer Giorgio Moroder the world held its breath as expectations rose. Originally the producer had wanted Stevie Nicks to help write and perform the theme song for the new film American Gigolo but he must have thanked his lucky stars when he heard the final results of ‘Call Me’.
The bouncing track would cement the band’s position as one of punk’s only lasting contributors to the pop charts. The song spent six consecutive weeks at the top of the US charts to quickly become the band’s biggest success story. It naturally hit the top of the charts in the U.K. (their fourth chart success in Blighty) and in Canada to push both Blondie and Debbie Harry into the mainstream spotlight.
‘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.
1. ‘Heart of Glass’
During the early years of Blondie, the band gained a lot of attention from the underground. With Debbie Harry leading the line, Blondie had become a mainstay of the toilet circuit and they were the shiniest thing in it. 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.”
The greatest Blondie song of all time? The one they wrote to be uncool.
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