In 1978, a former playboy model and 5 ‘hopelessly horrible’ musicians from the New York underground went into a recording studio and laid down a soundtrack which tied together the most musically diverse decade.
Combining punk, glam, disco, pop, new wave, rock n roll and 50s doo-wop, Blondie were to create a stellar mix of laser-guided guitar riffs, crystalline-bursting pop sounds and disco beats that could be played in any club in New York with a disco ball or a safety pin punctured body part.
Up until this point, Blondie had been a hotchpotch of musicians who had come and gone, searching for a sound that would support Debby Harry’s ‘bombshell zombie voice’. With a 5-musician set-up, the grounding was there to create a sound seated in the influences of electronic synth, punk rock guitar and the hipster-arrogance of any proper New York band.
But ‘Hopelessly horrible’…? The words of producer Mike Chapman, who upon hearing them in rehearsal was amazed at the poor standard of Blondie’s musicianship. Recording sessions were anarchic with band members being stoned, throwing guitars across the room getting frustrated with Chapman’s drive for perfection. Debby Harry’s emotional state often saw her disappear for hours in the toilet, then returning to the room and penning the lyrics as she was picking up the microphone.
Incredibly, Chrysalis records initially turned down the recording, only eventually being persuaded by Chapman to release it on the strength of the singles. Smart move.
It is difficult to think of a genre which isn’t on this album. Standout tracks include a belter of an opener with ‘Hanging on the telephone’ with expert guitar riffing from Frank Infante. It keeps to the punk rule of a 2-minute wonder with no fat on it whatsoever. The riffs keep coming with a phased sounding ‘One way or another’ – Showing the versatility of a Gibson Les Paul. Punk was often derided for its musicianship with 3 chord wonders, but in ‘Parallel Lines’ the game is raised with a full set of aces and the tightest-knit rhythm and lead anywhere.
‘Fade away and radiate’ ventures towards the psychedelic with Robert Fripp guesting with an inter-dimensional sound before going full Gary Numan in ‘I know but I don’t know’. Every track on this album is so individual, it appears to have an entirely different band playing – How has the same band played breakneck pop punk and ‘Sunday Girl’? Tying the album together is the indomitable Debby Harry – Glossy, silky and brilliant vocals delivered somewhere between Marilyn Monroe and Boudicca.
The album went onto great commercial success, appears on every acclaimed all-time album chart and is the album that was believed to send punk into the US mainstream.
Song of the album: Heart of Glass