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Members include Clem Burke (born November 24, 1955, in New York; joined group c. 1975), drums; PaulCarbonara (joined group 1998), guitar; Jimmy Destri (born April 13, 1954), keyboards; Leigh Foxx (joined group 1998), bass; NigelHarrison (band member 1978-82), bass; Deborah Harry (born July 1, c. 1945, in Miami, FL), vocals; FrankInfante (band member 1977-82), guitar, bass; Billy O'Connor (left group 1975), drums; Fred Smith (left group 1975), bass;Chris Stein (born January 5, 1950, in Brooklyn, NY), guitar, vocals; GaryValentine (band member 1975-77), bass. Addresses: Record company --Beyond Music, P.O. Box 18524, Beverly Hills, CA 90209.
One of the most successful American groups to emerge as part of the late 1970s New Wave sound, Blondie formed in the midst of New York City's legendary punk scene. They rose to stardom, though, not with the hard and loud sound of such New York punk legends as the Ramones, but by expressing the attitude behind that sound through a wide variety of pop music styles. Lead singer Deborah Harry embodied that attitude in her performances, which rock critic Steve Huey of the All Music Guidedescribed as "imitating and inverting clichés about musical styles and personae associated with women."
Their unique sound resulted in a string of albums and singles that all reached number one on the charts, starting with the disco hit "Heart of Glass" from Parallel Lines in 1978 and ending with the calypso-flavored "The Tide Is High" from Autoamerican in 1980. These years of uninterrupted success came to an end in 1982 due to illness and infighting. Even in their absence, the music of Blondie remained popular and, after sixteen years apart, most of the band members reunited to put together a new album. As if they had never gone away, Blondie had a hit album in No Exit and a hit single with "Maria" in 1999.
The core of the band that became Blondie first played together in The Stilettoes, which featured Harry and two other female vocalists. Guitarist Chris Stein came on board after attending one of their shows, impressed by The Stilettoes' take on the music of such 1960s girl groups as the Shangri-Las. In 1975 a series of further changes transformed the band into Blondie. Another girl group aficionado, drummer Clem Burke, joined, bringing with him his friend, bass player Gary Valentine. That same year, Jimmy Destri brought his Farfisa organ to the band. On top of the personnel changes, Harry decided the group needed a new name, and she chose one that she often heard from truck drivers who passed her in the street.
While Harry would come to be the face and voice of Blondie, Stein and Burke would come to drive the band's distinctive sound. In Guitar Player Michael Molenda wrote, "[T]he muted rhythm figures--typically with a hint of slapback--and moody singlenote lines of guitarist Chris Stein broadcast a Blondie song even before Harry enters the mix." Although Stein jokingly told Molenda that he had "adapted a certain way of playing to Clem's crappy timing," many credited Burke's drums as a driving force for the band. In describing Blondie's songs, critic Greg Kot wrote in Rolling Stonethat "Burke made them explode."
Lived and Worked Together
The distinctive Blondie sound didn't develop overnight. In their early years, the whole group roomed together in the same loft near legendary punk club CBGB, where New York's punk scene was coming to life. They honed their mix of innocent pre-punk pop styles with songs about the tough life of the city streets, which Harry sang with an ironic glamour that drew on her past as a Playboy Bunny. In 1976, Blondie cut their first single, "X Offender," toning down the title from "Sex Offender" out of fear of controversy. They then issued their debut album, Blondie, on the Private Stock label. Their 1977 follow-up, Plastic Letters,gave the band their first taste of success, spawning two Top Ten singles in Great Britain. In spite of the hits in England, this was a tumultuous time for the band. One of the hits, "Denis," was a cover of the 1963 song "Denise," by Randy and the Rainbows. While such a song fit nicely with the interests of Harry, Stein, and Burke, Valentine found it too commercial and refused to play it. He left the band, but not before writing the other British hit on the album, "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear."
The year 1978 proved to be a milestone, as personnel changes and a new label brought incredible commercial success in the U.S. Frank Infante had joined the band to play bass when Valentine left, but now he moved to guitar as Nigel Harrison came aboard as the bassist. This version of Blondie signed with a larger label, Chrysalis, and began recording their next album with noted New Wave producer Mike Chapman. The resulting album, Parallel Lines, propelled the band into the limelight, where they would remain for the next three years. The album also showed the group's adeptness with diverse styles, with both the disco "Heart of Glass" and the punkish "One Way or Another" climbing to number one on the charts.
Blondie continued to gain momentum when their 1979 album Eat to the Beat yielded the hit "Dreaming." Their next single proved to be one of their biggest hits, but it came from a movie soundtrack instead of one of their albums. Collaborating with German disco producer Giorgio Moroder, Blondie had a smash in 1980 with "Call Me," from the American Gigolo soundtrack. Then they went back to the studio to record another album. The result, Autoamerican,repeated their success while again highlighting their innovative use of widely different musical styles. "Rapture" was yet another number-one hit, a rap-tinged song at a time before rap music had come to the attention of most of the popular music world. Not to be tied to one kind of beat, they also released the calypso-influenced hit "The Tide Is High" from the same album.
Illness and Fighting Took Center Stage
Blondie had reached their peak, and now internal tensions threatened to pull them down. For one thing, they had to fight the perception that Blondie was Harry's stage name and that she was the whole act. Publicists concocted a promotional campaign featuring the slogan "Blondie Is a Group" in an attempt to educate the public. Although officially still a group, by 1981 individual band members had started working on projects outside Blondie. That year Harry released her first solo album, Koo Koo, which went gold. Around this same time, Stein began to struggle with a rare and debilitating genetic illness, pemphigus vulgaris. Harry, Stein's partner offstage as well as on, devoted time to caring for him. Amidst all this turmoil, Blondie's 1982 album The Hunter failed to yield the commercial or critical success of their earlier work. It did, however, yield a moderately successful single, "Island of Lost Souls." A tour in support of the album proved extremely difficult for Stein and, in October of 1982, the band broke up.
Yet Blondie maintained a presence even in the absence of new material. Their songs remained popular in dance clubs and appeared on several compilations targeted at that audience, overshadowing Harry's solo albums. While Harry was recording on her own and acting in movies, most notably Hairspray in 1988,the rest of the band worked farther away from the limelight, variously trying their hands at record production and playing with other bands. But even after a decade, Blondie would not go away. Their music gained exposure to whole new audiences in the 1990s, with covers of "One Way or Another" appearing on the soundtracks of The Rugrats Movie and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch television show. Now the children of Blondie's original fans experienced the music.
Interest in Blondie would not fade. In 1997 the album Essential Blondie: Picture This Livewas released, featuring stage performances from 1978 and 1980. This occasion gave critics the opportunity to assess the band's work and legacy. Writing in the Village Voice,Robert Christgau called the album a "memento mori for fans who loved them to the bone and forensic evidence against fools who mistook their flesh for plastic." Still, the album had a limited-edition release, targeted at hard-core Blondie fans wishing to remember the past instead of at potential new audiences.
Reunited and Rejuvenated
But it turned out that Blondie wasn't done yet. Upon being approached to record two new songs to add to a greatest hits collection, the band that hadn't performed together in sixteen years decided to put out an album of all-new material. The result was the 1999 release No Exit, which found surprising commercial and critical success for an album by a band reuniting after nearly twenty years. This version of the group brought Harry, Stein, Burke, and Destri back together. Valentine toyed with the idea of rejoining, but decided against doing so. Infante and Harrison never even received an invitation, so they sued over Blondie's recording and performing without them. In the meantime, guitarist Paul Carbonara and bassist Leigh Foxx joined the lineup. The album reunited more than just the band members; two producers from Blondie's past joined in the project. Mike Chapman helped them record demos for the album, and then the group's first producer, Craig Leon, came in to put together the final product.
No Exit received a warm reception from both the public and critics. The album debuted at number 18 on the Top 200 chart and maintained strong sales. Meanwhile, reviewers expressed surprise at the quality of new material from a band that hadn't recorded together in almost twenty years, applauding them for reuniting for the sake of music, not money. Christgau wrote, "[H]ere the commitment is as palpable as such ironic formalists can make it." Harry told Lyndsey Parker of Launch, "We're trying to see the album as a continuation--trying to pick up where we left off. I certainly didn't want to hybridize the old stuff and just do a rehash; I wanted to integrate it with a little bit of modernity." Indeed, the collaboration with rapper Coolio on the title track showed that the group still had the same willingness to experiment with new styles, keeping Blondie's sound as fresh as ever in spite of their long separation.
by Lloyd Hemingway
Group formed c. 1974, in New York City; signed with Private Stock label and released debut Blondie, 1976; signed to Chrysalis Records, 1977, and released Parallel Lines, 1978; contributed "Call Me" to American Gigolo soundtrack, 1980; Stein became ill and group disbanded, 1982; group reunited and released new studio album, No Exit, 1999.
Platinum awards for albums Parallel Lines, 1979, Eat to the Beat,1980, and Autoamerican, 1981, and for single "Call Me," 1980.
- Selected discography
- On Chrysalis, except where noted
- Blondie Private Stock, 1976, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.
- Plastic Letters Private Stock, 1977, reissued, Chrysalis, 1977.
- Parallel Lines (includes "Heart of Glass" and "One Way or Another"), 1978.
- Eat to the Beat (includes "Dreaming"), 1979.
- Autoamerican (includes "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High"), 1980.
- (Contributors) American Gigolo (film soundtrack; includes "Call Me"), 1980.
- The Best of Blondie 1981.
- The Hunter (includes "Island of Lost Souls"), 1982.
- Once More into the Bleach 1988.
- The Complete Picture: The Very Best of Deborah Harry and Blondie 1991.
- Blonde & Beyond 1993.
- The Ultimate Collection 1994.
- Atomic (12-inch dance remix), 1995.
- Remixed, Remade and Remodeled (also known as Remix Project) 1995.
- Essential Blondie: Picture This Live Capitol, 1997.
- No Exit (includes "Maria"), Beyond, 1999.
- Solo recordings by Deborah Harry
- Koo Koo 1981.
- Rockbird (includes "French Kissin' in the USA"), Geffen, 1986.
- Def, Dumb and Blonde , Geffen, 1989.
- (With Iggy Pop) "Well Did You Evah," Red, Hot + Blue , Chrysalis, 1990.
- Debravation Sire/Reprise, 1993.
- Solo recordings by Jimmy Destri
- Heart on the Wall , 1982.
- Best of Blondie: The Videos , Pacific Arts, 1981.
- Live in Concert (also known as Blondie: Live ), MCA, 1987.
- Guitar Player,April 1999, pp. 58-64.
- Melody Maker, March 9, 1991; July 10, 1993.
- New York Times, December 22, 1978.
- Rolling Stone, April 15, 1993; October 14, 1993; January 9, 1999; February 9, 1999; April 12, 1999.
- Village Voice, January 27, 1998, p. 83; March 23, 1999, p. 120.
- "Blondie," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 18, 1999).
- "Blondie: Still Golden," Launch, http://www.launch.com (June 18, 1999).
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