It was in 1973, at New York’s Boburn Tavern, that former Playboy bunny waitress Deborah Harry met Chris Stein. She was performing as one-third of The Stilettos, who played trashy girl-group tributes, and he was immediately besotted. Chris joined their drifting troupe of backing musicians (which also included The New York Dolls) but soon lured Debbie away to form a new group.
After using various names, they adopted the one that truck drivers shouted at Debbie in the street and, as Blondie, the band recorded a demo featuring Platinum Blonde.
There was something of a setback when they were blacklisted from CBGB’s for complaining after arriving for a booking to find another group playing. However, as Blondie returned to gigging dispiritedly in obscure places, CBGB’s was to bring the big break, for it was there that Debbie collared veteran producer Richard Gottehrer.
The result was a perfect debut single, X-Offender (1976), released on Private Stock, with manic drum rolls, a hail of tinny power chords and beach-movie harmonies.
With confidence running high, they turned in some dynamic live shows, and Private Stock asked Gottehrer to produce an LP.
Blondie (1977) expanded everything that had been condensed into X-Offender, while the video of In The Flesh, starring the mini-skirted ‘Garbo of Punk’, was the first of many to show Debbie and Chris as astute media manipulators.
The group toured the US and flew to the UK to play dates with Television. On returning home, they signed to Chrysalis and recorded Plastic Letters (1978).
A cover of Randy and The Rainbows’ 60s hit Denis became a British hit in early 1978 when it reached #2 in the singles charts.
A gruelling world tour then followed to herald the magnificent Parallel Lines (1978). The sleeve – shot by the Goddard Brothers, from an idea by manager Peter Leeds – aped 1960s simplicity. Harry thought it stank, but its sophistication reflected the band’s new sound – which melded their punk roots with producer Mike Chapman‘s glam-based commerciality.
This album spawned four singles, Hanging On The Telephone (originally by The Nerves), Picture This, Sunday Girl and Heart Of Glass, the last of which was a #1 all around the world.
Its follow-up, Eat To The Beat (1979), generated a ground-breaking video album with a promo to accompany each track.
The hits continued with Dreaming, Union City Blue and the British #1 Atomic, and then a one-off collaboration with disco producer Giorgio Moroder, Call Me (1980), returned them to the top of the US charts for six weeks, as well as featuring in the movie American Gigolo.
The cover of John Holt’s The Tide Is High (1980) became Blondie’s fifth UK #1 in two years and was a taster for Autoamerican (1981), which also contained the early rap crossover single Rapture.
Both were American #1’s, but the stand-outs were Chris’s edgy filmic intro Europa and Destri’s Angels On The Balcony.
By now many members of the group were becoming involved in solo projects and the end of Blondie seemed inevitable. However, Debbie Harry’s solo album Koo Koo (1981), on which she teamed up with Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, was a disastrous seller and probably caused Blondie’s re-formation in early 1982.
A final album, The Hunter (1982), spawned the hit single Island Of Lost Souls but was otherwise unmemorable. After a poorly attended tour, the band split.
Clem Burke concentrated on live and session work – most notably with Eurythmics – and Jimmy Destri released a few solo albums. Chris Stein moved into production and founded Animal Records, which went on to release several records by The Gun Club, whose frontman, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, had once been president of Blondie’s fan club.
However, in 1983, a serious illness forced Stein to retire from the music business for a couple of years.
After a role in David Cronenberg’s futuristic horror movie Videodrome (1983), Debbie Harry also hid from the limelight to look after Stein. By 1986, Stein had more or less recovered, and he helped Deborah Harry (as she was now known) to re-launch her variable solo career. Hits like French Kissin’ In The USA (1986) and I Want That Man (1989) helped keep her in the public eye.
Harry bubbled away in the classy jazz underworld until a series of press-only and invited-guest-only Blondie gigs took place towards the end of 1998. With wild audience reactions and frantic music press coverage, it was only a matter of time before the band returned to the studio to surface with the well-received No Exit (1999).
Panic Of Girls (2011) was an unexpected but underpowered return from Ms Harry and Co.