Blondie cut their teeth in the New York City punk and new-wave music movements which gave rise to a new set of musical belief, such as minimalism, attitude and a relentless authenticity. Emphasis was taken away from the glitz and glamour of the mainstream and replaced with something less subtlely refined but deeply rooted in intention and directness. This resulted in a call for anti-materialism as well as a dirty and gritty aesthetic.
All of a sudden, bands were measured on style, image and attitude rather than glossy production and how theoretically complex composition was. Instead, it was “four chords and the truth” and how ferocious the energy could be that mattered.
Blondie were formed by Chris Stein and the magnetic singer Debbie Harry. The two musicians got their start in music in different bands before Stein saw the ensuing music scene (new-wave/punk) in its infantile stages in and around the Mercer Arts Centre in Manhattan.
Harry, who had worked odd jobs for a while as a waitress before committing music, was in a folk-rock band The Wind in the Willows before she joined Stillettoes, Stein’s group at the time. Before Blondie got their name, they were called Angel and the Snake.
Starting in 1975 until their major commercial breakthrough in ’78 with the seminal album, Parallel Lines, Blondie exhibited the musical traits of the scene they were very much a part of at the time: loud guitars, and a steady and strong backbeat on the drums – but what separated Blondie from other punk bands at the time, was their use of a synthesizer and their inclination towards more pop sensibilities.
Their 1978 record, Parallel Lines, was a pop-rock masterpiece; produced by Mike Chapman who saw the band’s potential for disco-pop but with a punk attitude, he helped present the band as a new entity of pristine, catchy, sing-along numbers. The turning point for Blondie was their international hit, ‘Heart of Glass’. This solidified a new direction for Blondie: the perfect combination of disco and new-wave.
Let’s jump into some questions that are frequently asked about the band.
How did Blondie get their name?
Debbie Harry was no stranger to unsolicited catcalling by men; she worked as a waitress and, once upon a time, was even Playboy Bunny. When the band were still called Angel and the Snake, they would soon adopt a new name by October of 1974.
Eventually, they got their name from random truck drivers driving by who catcalled Harry, ‘blondie’.
Prior to joining the band, Debbie Harry was in an all-girls trio group, during which time she still had her hair coloured brown. Soon after, she dyed her hair blonde, and it didn’t take long for others to notice how much this made her stand out.
Harry’s fellow-bandmate, Chris Stein, said in an interview about the inspiration for the name change: “It was just from what people yelled at Debbie,” he said in 2017. “Debbie came home one day with her hair dyed blonde and then told me within a week or so truck drivers were yelling, ‘Hey, Blondie!’ at her all the time.”
Why did Blondie change their name?
While they were still called Angel and the Snake, the group were looking for something a little more memorable. While the name Angel and the Snake is poetic and all that, they needed something more concise and preferably a one-word title.
Harry recalls: “Chris and I tried out a few [band] names. One was Angel and the Snake, but I wasn’t sure it was easy to remember,” she said.
Adding: “One day, I was walking across Houston Street and someone yelled ‘Blondie’ at me. I thought, ‘Jeez, that’s quite easy to remember.”
Who is Blondie?
“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,” Harry said in an interview. “What I realised is that at some point I became Dirty Harry. I couldn’t be Blondie anymore, so I became Dirty Harry.”
For a while many associated Debbie Harry as ‘blondie’; people thought she was a solo act and the rest of the group were her backing band. Consequently, in 1979 the group issued a campaign to change this disinformation; the campaign was called ‘Blondie is a group’.
In a 2017 essay Harry wrote for InStyle, she revealed her natural hair colour, as it not completely blonde. “My own hair was strawberry blonde with a lot of red in it,” she started.
“In the summer my highlights would really come out. I hung out with older girls at the municipal pool in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where I grew up. There was one girl in particular whose blonde hair I really liked. Her mother was a beautician, so I asked her about accelerating the highlight process.”
Allegedly, to this day, Harry still bleaches her hair blonde at home. “I’ve always liked doing my colour at home myself because I can walk around and do things.”
What is Blondie’s biggest song?
Undoubtedly, Blondie’s most well-known song is ‘Heart of Glass’ – it was also their first hit to feature a distinct new wave sound to incorporate disco elements.
It was released as the band’s third single for their breakthrough record in 1978, Parallel Lines. The song was a massive hit for Blondie; it has since been ranked as one of the biggest selling singles of all time.
Blondie were also the first group to get a number one hit pop song with a rap incorporated into it. ‘Rapture’ changed the musical landscape in 1980 and helped break rap into the mainstream.
‘Rapture’ was also a first in that Harry rapped on top of original music; before this, rappers and hip-hop artists rapped on top of sampled beats, largely from disco and soul songs.
By 1975, Blondie were fully immersed in the underground punk scene, performing regularly at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.
Keyboard player, Jimmy Destri, joined Blondie a month later, adding an important synth part to the group which separated the band from others at the time.