by Kidman J. Williams
Blondie hit the music scene with striking good looks while running parallel lines with the late 70’s punk scene, disco, their Warhol artistic sensibility, and the post punk/new wave genre that was to come. Debbie Harry was being primed to become the look and sound of the 1980’s.
The band was a rarity in music at that time. They were able to cross genres with her songs. Not only being able to do it but doing it on one album. She was also able to do it successfully and seamlessly getting cheers from mainstream listeners as well as the hard to impress punkers of the late 70’s.
Oh Hell! My mistake. I am so sorry. Listen to me go on and on like Blondie was a one-woman group. Of course, they were NOT, but the record company executives at Chrysalis would have liked people to believe that and promoted Blondie in such a manner. Many sources cite this as one of the reasons that the band broke up prematurely before they could take over the 80’s, leaving the opening for another peroxide musical matriarch. The one and only Madonna.
The fact is that if there wasn’t a Debbie Harry and Blondie Madonna might not have had the open door that she was able to walk through.
In their career this genre bending was never so prevalent as it was on Blondie’s third release Parallel Lines (1978).
The truth is that I didn’t become aware of what Blondie did for the music industry until I was about 18 years old. Of course, as a Chicago Punk kid I knew who she was. She was the hot blonde girl with the snotty song, “One Way or Another,” but I didn’t know the significance until then.
I was about 17 years old when I met Derrick. Derrick was a music producer. He was a good looking, tall, black gentleman. He produced a lot of R&B and Hip Hop out of the Chicago area. Nothing majorly notable outside of the city and its surrounding suburbs. This was back when local heroes made the cityscape. I even dated one of his up and comers for a short time. She had all the looks of a Toni Braxton with the attitude and tattoos of Eve, but she had the low-slung talent of a thousand drunken sorority girls in a downtown karaoke bar.
Derrick was giving her a shot at a solo album. He mostly used her for backup vocals on various rapper’s songs.
One night Derrick and I were sharing a Marley (a slang term for a seismic marijuana cigarette in the late 90’s) and listening to KRS-ONE in his studio.
Not a lot of people knew this about Derrick. Not only was he a producer, but he was an astute student of music history.
Derrick changed the music up and started playing Parallel Lines by Blondie. I remember looking at him a little puzzled. He looked at me and asked, “What?”
“I mean, I like Blondie, but I never thought you would like Blondie.”
Derrick looked at me kind of funny. He cocked his head towards his right shoulder never breaking eye contact and his eyes stopped blinking and said, “A black man can’t get down on some Blondie? You think because I listen to hip hop and wear baggie clothes, that I can’t get down on some “Heart of Glass?” That’s some racist shit right there Kid!”
My high brain started misfiring right before Derrick started laughing hysterically in his chair. He was laughing so hard that he about dropped the joint we were smoking. He stopped for a moment, slapped me in the leg and said, “YOOO, I’m just fuckin’ wit you. That shit was funny! You should have seen your face brutha!”
Derrick had a warped sense of humor sometimes. He used to love pulling a good racism gag on the unassuming white guy. It was always funny… as long as you weren’t on the receiving end.
Derrick talked about Blondie and Debbie Harry as if they were Hip Hop Gods that needed a shrine built on top of a mountain that you had to make a pilgrimage to in order to pay your homage.
“Brutha, if ‘twasn’t fo’ Blondie, Debbie Harry, and Fab Five Freddy, hip hop probably would have never hit the mainstream as quick as it did.”
“So, you don’t think hip hop would have happened without them?”
“I didn’t say ALL that!” Derrick paused to hit the joint. He sucked in deep holding his hit in while passing it back to me. “I said it wouldn’t have happened as fast. You see, before that song, hip hop was a street thang. Labels didn’t want to hear our shit.”
I blew my cloud of smoke around Derrick’s head and it hung like a tarnished halo, “What about ‘Rappers Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang?”
“That BULLSHIT?!?” he shouted. “That bullshit was a flash in the pan. My peeps knew what it was, but most people dismissed dat shit and filed it in wit the Disco. ‘Rapture’ was the single most important song for the hip hop industry. Fuck Kid—why do you think KRS-ONE did a version of that song?”
Derrick was right. Despite the cheesy nature of Debbie’s rapping, that was an important step for the growth and acceptability of the whole genre.
Now, you might be telling yourself, that was a cool story. But what does that have to do with the Parallel Lines album? It has everything to do with that career changing album.
Parallel Lines rushed Blondie into superstardom. Before that they had what some might consider minor success. When I say “some” I’m really speaking about the U.S. consumer. The egos on this side of the pond can be so arrogant about what success is. The fact is that Blondie cracked the top 10 in the U.K. They also made television appearances on shows like Top of the Pops, but I digress. If it wasn’t for Parallel Lines the band wouldn’t have been able to have the influence to bring a song like “Rapture” to the mainstream eyes and ears of the time.
“Rapper’s Delight,” as delightful as the song is, still couldn’t crack the top 20 on the Billboard charts. It peaked at 36 where as “Rapture” was a number 1 hit for Blondie. Rap groups like Wu Tang Clan and Mob Deep have said that Blondie was their introduction into the hip hop genre. As if they need any more of an endorsement?!?
Parallel Lines was a complete album. It had something for every type of listener when it hit the music stores. Blondie probably didn’t even know at the time that they were making a timeless collection of music. Village Voice writer Robert Christgau once wrote that Parallel Lines was “as close to God as pop-rock albums ever get.”
At first read it sounds like Christgau was being very complimentary, but it was quite the backhanded compliment. He does a huge and in my opinion, deliberate disservice to Blondie calling them a pop-rock band. They were so much more.
The first track was a little song called “Hanging on the Telephone.” A lot of folks still to this day don’t realize that it was a cover originally recorded by The Nerves a couple years prior to Blondie’s release. In fact, there were a couple covers on this album. They also covered the Buddy Holly song “I’m Going to Love You Too” and gave it a supercharged punk bounce making this song a Blondie classic.
The album moved on many different levels. There was the more artsy songs like “Fade Away and Radiate” to the more punk styled “One Way or Another,” and went all the way into the disco thump of “Heart of Glass.”
The fact is that nobody but Blondie could have pulled this type of album off with such style. It was all the ingredients that allowed this album to flourish. The meshing of Gary Valentine, Clem Burke, Chris Stein, and Jimmy Destri’s musicianship paired with Debbie Harry’s playfulness and tongue-in-cheek approach that allowed them to get away with what they did through their careers together.
There are plenty of naysayers around that would argue this, but there is a reason that at some point every drunk girl in every karaoke bar across the U.S. has to screech their way through “One Way or Another.” That reason is that Blondie, much like Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Elvis Presley; Blondie has aged well and still brings joy to every person that just wants to have fun and be a little sexy on a sinister Saturday night.