With the rock world so heavily fueled by testosterone, one group synonymous with the female rock vocalist is Blondie. With singer Debbie Harry serving as the blonde bombshell responsible for the group’s name, Blondie has proven to be one of the most influential groups for female rock vocalists to date. Harry and guitarist Chris Stein began their career as members of The Stilettos, where the two formed a romantic relationship. In 1974 the duo left The Stilettos to form their own project, and in 1975 Blondie was born, complete with drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and bassist Gary Valentine. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1976 along with their first single “X-Offender.” While the single proved unsuccessful, the band was given a much-needed push after an Australian music television show accidentally played their b-side video, “In the Flesh.” This slip-up helped the album reach #5 in Australia in 1977 and caught the attention of critics, who were captivated by the haunting singing style for which Harry is famous. In 1978 their follow-up album, Plastic Letters found more global success, with the album reaching #10 in the US. The album was recorded without the help of Valentine, and he was later replaced by Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison, raising the member count from five to six.
With the release of their third album, Parallel Lines, also in 1978, the band finally found true success. The album’s two singles “Picture This” and “Hanging on the Telephone” fared well in the UK (charting at #12 and #5, respectively), but it was “Heart of Glass” whose disco-inspired sounds won the hearts of American listeners, reaching #1 on the US charts. While Blondie had previously been considered an underground band in the US, “Heart of Glass” launched them into the mainstream, where it would go on to sell more than a million copies. Their next US single, “One Way or Another,” became another hit, charting at #24, and helped re-introduce fans to the hard rock sounds the band had been founded on. Ultimately, Parallel Lines would be named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, coming in at an impressive #140. Parallel Lines was followed in 1979 by Eat to the Beat, which failed to fare as well in the US, but whose singles “Atomic” and “Dreaming” charted in the UK at #1 and #2.
Blondie’s next big hit, “Call Me,” was not released on their studio album, but instead gained fame as the title theme for the film American Gigolo in 1980. The song charted at #1 in the UK and Canada, as well as the US, where it remained #1 for an astounding six weeks. “Call Me” also earned Blondie a Grammy nomination under the category of Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. While they failed to take home the award, “Call Me” has remained one of their most famous songs of all time. Riding the success of their “Call Me” single, Blondie released their Autoamerican album in 1980. While Autoamerican was not received well by critics (perhaps due to the album’s experimental nature), the reggae-inspired single “The Tide is High” as well as their jazzy hit “Rapture” both fared well. The Best of Blondie was released in 1981, and became the group’s first greatest hits compilation.
Following the immense success of the late 70s and early 80s, Blondie went on a one-year hiatus so that Harry and Destri could embark on solo careers. Following this brief break, Blondie got back to work in 1981 to record and release The Hunter. Compared to their previous successes, The Hunter did not fare quite as well, but still charted at #33 in the US, and climbed all the way to #9 in the UK. The band, already experiencing problems, finally tipped when Stein was diagnosed with pemphigus (a rare and deadly autoimmune disease of the skin). The band broke up, but Harry remained by Stein’s side to help nurse him back to health. The mid-80s were riddled with problems for the band’s members, including financial difficulties and drug addiction, and ultimately Harry and Stein broke off their romantic relationship. Despite their personal challenges, Blondie remained popular throughout the 80s and into the 90s thanks to the staying power of their early hits. The group officially reunited in 1997 with their five original members, and released a new album, No Exit, in 1999 (charting at #3 in the UK and #18 in the US).
The group’s eighth studio album, The Curse of Blondie, was released in 2003. While the album was their lowest-charting since their debut, it nevertheless received positive praise from critics. Blondie’s influence to the world of rock has not gone unnoticed. In 2006, over thirty years after their formation, Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was inducted that same year into Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame. Blondie has continued to tour regularly since their reunion in 1997, and despite a slowing down in the release of their albums, their early hits dominate the airwaves to this day. Blondie’s most recent album, Panic of Girls, was released in May 2011. While the band’s future successes remain to be seen, Debbie Harry’s unique voice, coupled with the hard-hitting talents of the rest of the group, have inspired countless groups today, including (but certainly not limited to) The Sounds, Gwen Stefani, and even Madonna.
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