Blondie is an American New Wave/art-pop band from NYC that emerged from the mid-1970s Bowery scene, first performing as The Stilettos before adopting the “Blondie” moniker in reference to the platinum tresses of frontwoman Debbie Harry. The band debuted with a self-titled album on Private Stock in late 1976, followed by five albums on Chrysalis between 1977 and 1982. Bassist Gary Valentine was swapped after the first album for Englishman Nigel Harrison (Silverhead, Nite City).
Members: Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar), Billy O’Connor (drums, 1974-75), Clem Burke (drums, 1975-present), Jimmy Destri (keyboards, 1975-2003), Gary Valentine (bass, 1975-77), Frank Infante (guitar, 1978-82), Nigel Harrison (bass, 1978-82)
Blondie stemmed from early ’70s retro-pop act The Stilettos, a resident band at Manhattan’s Mercer Arts Center. Among its vocalists, the band featured Deborah Harry (b. 1945), a former Playboy Club bunny and singer in the 1968 folk-psych one-off Wind and the Willows. In 1973, The Stilettos were joined by guitarist Chris Stein (b. 1950), who became Harry’s boyfriend. They left the band in mid-1974 and formed Angel and the Snake with Stilettos bassist Fred Smith. That October, the band renamed itself Blondie after a catcall made at Harry by passing truckers on the Bowery.
In the spring of 1975, Smith left Blondie to replace Richard Hell in Television. Blondie’s rhythm section stabilized with the arrival of drummer Clem Burke (b. 1954) and bassist Gary Valentine (b. 1955). They became a resident band at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s alongside fellow up-and-comers Talking Heads, Mink DeVille, and The Shirts. That fall, Blondie expanded to a five-piece with keyboardist Jimmy Destri (b. 1954).
Destri played the Farfisa, a compact electronic organ common in surf and beat music but not in vogue since the mid-’60s, thus enhancing Blondie’s retro-pop leanings. (His uncle, Willie Davis, had drummed in the instrumental combo Joey Dee & The Starliters of “Peppermint Twist” fame.) In 1976, Blondie signed with Private Stock, a short-lived NY indie that also counted Frankie Valli, Starbuck, Paul Jones, and Dee Dee Warwick among its roster.
Blondie released their self-titled debut album on Private Stock in December 1976. It features eleven originals, mostly written by assorted member pairings with Stein as the most prolific. The sound is largely dominated Destri, especially on the two cuts produced by Craig Leon: the Farfisa-driven “X-Offender” and the fizz-ensnared “A Shark in Jets Clothing.” The surf-infused “In the Sun” highlights Burke’s “Wipeout”-influenced drumming. An exotic vibe pervades the steelpan-spiced “Man Overboard” and tribal/tropical rhythm fest “A Shark in Jets Clothing.”
The bulk of Blondie (aside from the two Leon cuts) was produced by industry vet Richard Gottehrer, whose recent credits included albums by Renaissance (Turn of the Cards), Chilliwack, and East of Eden. However, he infused these songs with echoes of his early ’60s girl-group productions (The Angels, The Pin-Ups), a vibe especially conjured on the sassy “Little Girl Lies,” the catty “Rip Her to Shreds,” and the tender ’50 homecoming ballad “In the Flesh.”
In early 1977, Blondie toured the UK and connected with the nation’s burgeoning New Wave scene. That summer, during a stint on the US west coast, Gary Valentine left the band. They recorded their second album as a four-piece with Stein doubling on bass.
Blondie’s second album, Plastic Letters, was released in February 1978 on Chrysalis. It features 12 originals plus a cover of “Denis,” originally a 1963 doo wop hit for Randy & the Rainbows. Destri contributed four solo-penned songs, including the torchy piano ballad “No Imagination” and the perky New Wave numbers “Fan Mail” and “Contact in Red Square,” both marked by key-wobbling instrumental choruses. With Harry, he co-authored the fussy singalong “I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No,” marked by odd turns, numerous stop/starts, and Burke’s uncontrollable drumming. Valentine left them with “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear,” his parting salutation that has since become a fan favorite. Surprise turns include the overtly punky “Detroit 442” and the droning, Krautrock-inspired “Cautious Lip.”
Plastic Letters was recorded during June and July of 1977 at NYC’s Plaza Sound Studio with Gottehrer at the console. Though Stein handles most of the bass, guitarist/bassist Frank Infante served as a fifth wheel during these sessions. By the time of this album’s release, both Infante and bassist Nigel Harrison had joined the band. Harrison was fresh off a two-album stint with LA rockers Nite City, which featured ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
Debbie’s dress on the cover of Plastic Letters was designed by Anya Phillips, a New York nightclub figure and fashion influencer who, due in part to her inability to show, tied pieces of cloth together for her creations, another of which is seen on the cover of Buy, the 1979 release by James Chance and the Contortions.
Blondie promoted Plastic Letters with videos for “Denise,” “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear,” and “Detroit 442.” The first two, along with “Fan Mail,” were also mimed on the set of the Dutch music program TopPop.
“Denise” became their breakthrough single in Europe, where it reached No. 1 in Netherlands and peaked at No. 2 in the UK (under “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush).
Blondie released their third album, Parallel Lines, on September 23, 1978, on Chrysalis.
In the US, Blondie lifted “I’m Gonna Love You Too” as the album’s first single, backed with “Just Go Away.”
That same month, “One Way or Another” became the fourth US Parallel single, backed with “Just Go Away.” This was the album’s sixth and final overall a-side.
Eat to the Beat
Blondie released their fourth album, Eat to the Beat, on September 28, 1979, on Chrysalis.
In the US, Blondie lifted “The Hardest Part” as Eat‘s second single.
“The Tide Is High” appeared a month before the album as a single, backed with “Susie and Jeffrey,” a track only found on cassette copies of Autoamerican.
- Blondie (1976)
- Plastic Letters (1978)
- Parallel Lines (1978)
- Eat to the Beat (1979)
- Autoamerican (1980)
- The Hunter (1982)
- No Exit (1999)
- The Curse of Blondie (2003)
- Panic of Girls (2011)
- Ghosts of Download (2014)
- Pollinator (2017)
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