In what might appear as a seeminly unanswerable question, we’re going to delve into the debate as to why some people classify Blondie as punk, while others would scoff at the very notion of it. To make a convincing argument one way or another, we would all have to agree on what the quintessential punk sound even is. Of course, the story begins as Blondie cut their teeth in the punk and burgeoning new wave scene of New York City during the second half of the 1970s.
Venues and hangout spots such as CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City were two major staples where a new attitude and artistic sensibility began to flourish and capture the imaginations of aspiring artists. Like any explosive start of a new art movement, it found its philosophy emerging as a countercultural statement against what came before.
While elaborate songwriting and pristine studio production defined the previous sound of pop and rock, punk rockers cared more about street attitude, a fiercer attack for presentation, and minimalism. This was all reflected in the guitar tone, faster songs, clothing imprinted with stencil spraypaint, and rebellion against industry control.
One of the most important figures of punk rock, Joe Strummer of The Clash, once said, “Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of, punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of that attitude is: ‘give us some truth’.”
While punk rock is often ambiguous as a musical genre, some bands undeniably represent it on a whole. The more obvious choices are The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, Patti Smith, and The Stooges. The brand of punk rock that ensued and the different styles of genres that emerged from a desire to expand this punk rock sound could be categorised as ‘post-punk’ and, to an extent, new-wave. Although, the lines are often easily blurred between all three genres. One reason why Blondie is often considered an original punk band is that these lines are often so easily blurred.
Why do some people classify Blondie as punk?
Blondie is often characterised as a punk band because of their early involvement in the punk scene in New York City which found its home at CBGBs.
In August of 1974, when Blondie were still named Angel and the Snake, they played at CBGBs alongside other punk and new-wave bands such as The Ramones, The Damned, The Heartbreakers, and Patti Smith. Throughout the decade, the club became the staple venue for up and coming underground bands. Other groups that passed through the doors include Television, The Dead Boys, Talking Heads, The Voidoids, The Police, Elvis Costello, The Misfits, and a ton more. It was fertile ground for experimentation and was the beating heart of a cultural revolution.
The high-priest of the subversive, the amoral, and the seedy underground of punk, Lou Reed, would lurk in the shadows of CBGBs at night – unsurprisingly clad in sunglasses – and observe the monster that he and the rest of The Velvet Underground had created in 1969. Reed and VU had helped spawn this melting pot of the different subgenres that were all unified underneath the freak flag of punk but yet separated by the finely drawn line that makes punk so mysteriously diverse. Blondie was just another petulant child of this phenomenon.
Does Blondie play punk rock?
Blondie is punk insofar as their attitude, but what does that mean for their music? Blondie’s sound has always either been criticised or praised as having pop sensibilities. While pop and punk are not mutually exclusive, by their 1978 breakthrough record, Parallel Lines, it seemed increasingly absurd to call Blondie punk.
Their keyboard player, Jimmy Destri, joined the group in 1975 which added a synth-pop dimension to the group which helped separate Blondie from the rest of the guitar-heavy groups involved in this scene.