How Blondie's music stood the test of time, according to Debbie Harry and Chris Stein
Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” topped the charts as the band’s first number-one hit in the U.S. 44 years ago. But the song was in the works long before its 1978 release.
Fans can hear a previously unreleased, early version of the song called “The Disco Song” on Blondie’s new box set. “Blondie: Against The Odds 1974-1982” also includes rereleases of some of the band’s greatest hits. The set is up for a Grammy for Best Historical Album — a category Debbie Harry finds “hysterical.”
Blondie broke out of the downtown New York music scene as it transitioned all the way from folk to punk. On the “odd” journey between these genres, bands like New York Dolls, Suicide and the pretty-punk Dr. Feelgood influenced the scene, Blondie’s Chris Stein says.
“It wasn’t called punk until much later on, really,” Harry says. “And it was sort of about attitude more than a particular style of music.”
One unverified anecdote tells the story of how punk got its name, Stein says: When Marlene Dietrich went to see the Dolls with Bobby Short, the actress said “Oh, you little punk” to guitarist Johnny Thunders.
“And that is where that’s where the term came from,” Stein says. “I can’t give this any veracity, but it’s possible.”
When people think of Blondie, Harry’s iconic style — skin-tight dresses, blonde, perfectly quaffed hair — often comes to mind. Harry took inspiration from bleach-blonde movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and realized that this famous image hadn’t been used to front a band.
“Yet it was an image that everyone in our culture and many other cultures around the world were familiar with. And that was part of the genesis of Blondie, of the name Blondie, that it was sort of an existing identity that people knew,” Harry says. “I felt that that was kind of a great way to stick in people’s minds, and it seemed to work.”
The box set started with digitizing a room full of tapes that followed Stein around for the past 40 years, he says.
“There’s a lot of really great little weird things that people seem to like that, I don’t know, I can’t say that I’m surprised about people liking it, but it’s just they’re very different than what the Blondie sound people associate,” he says. “I’m intrigued that people are drawn to them.”
“Blondie: Against The Odds” lets fans hear the band’s “primitive” sound — which is quite different than the music people know and love, Harry says.
When the band recorded their third studio album “Parallel Lines” in 1978, the members set a goal for success: hearing one of their songs at a sports event. Eventually, the saw a video of the New York Yankees training with “One Way of Another” playing underneath, Harry says.
“I hear ‘Tide is High’ in CVS frequently,” Stein says. “So that is an odd thing to me, but gratifying.”
Blondie has lived many lives over the years, and Harry says her time on stage isn’t up just yet.
“I love doing it. And we still have an audience. It’s sort of my life,” she says. “I guess if I’m too old to do it, I won’t do it. But I feel very fortunate that music has become my life.”
Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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