Blondie is an American rock band founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. The band was a pioneer in the early American new wave and punk scenes of the mid-late 1970s. Its first two albums contained strong elements of these genres, and although successful in the United Kingdom and Australia, Blondie was regarded as an underground band in the United States until the release of Parallel Lines in 1978. Over the next three years, the band achieved several hit singles including "Call Me", "Atomic" and "Heart of Glass" and became noted for its eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop, rap, and reggae, while retaining a basic style as a new wave band.
Blondie broke up after the release of its sixth studio album The Hunter in 1982. Debbie Harry continued to pursue a solo career with varied results after taking a few years off to care for partner Chris Stein, who was diagnosed with pemphigus, a rare autoimmune disease of the skin.
The band re-formed in 1997, achieving renewed success and a number one single in the United Kingdom with "Maria" in 1999, exactly 20 years after their first UK No.1 single ("Heart of Glass").
The group toured and performed throughout the world during the following years, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Blondie has sold 50 million records worldwide and is still active today. The band's ninth studio album, Panic of Girls, was released in 2011, and their tenth, Ghosts of Download, was released in 2014.
Inspired by the burgeoning new music scene at the Mercer Arts Center, Chris Stein sought to join a similar band. He joined the Stillettoes in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with one of the band's vocalists, Debbie Harry, a former waitress and Playboy Bunny. Harry had been a member of a folk-rock band, the Wind in the Willows, in the late 1960s. In July 1974, Stein and Harry parted ways with the Stillettoes and Elda Gentile, the band's originator, forming a new band with ex-Stillettoes bandmates Billy O'Connor (drums; born October 4, 1953, Germany, died March 29, 2015) and Fred Smith (bass). Originally billed as Angel and the Snake, for two shows in August 1974, they renamed themselves "Blondie" by October 1974. The name derived from comments made by truck drivers who catcalled "Hey, Blondie" to Harry as they drove by.
By the spring of 1975, after some personnel turnover (including Ivan Kral on guitar and sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo on backing vocals), Stein and Harry were joined by drummer Clem Burke, and bass player Gary Valentine. Blondie became regular performers at Max's Kansas City and CBGB. To fill out their sound, they recruited keyboard player Jimmy Destri in November 1975. The band signed with Private Stock Records and their debut album, Blondie, was issued in December 1976 but was initially not a commercial success. In September 1977, the band bought back its contract with Private Stock and then signed with Chrysalis Records. The first album was re-released on the new label in October 1977. Rolling Stone's review of the debut album observed the eclectic nature of the group's music, comparing it to Phil Spector and the Who, and commented that the album's two strengths were Richard Gottehrer's production and the persona of Debbie Harry, saying she performed with "utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she's portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending." It also noted that Harry was the "possessor of a bombshell zombie's voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song".
The band's first commercial success occurred in Australia in 1977, when the music television program Countdown mistakenly played their video "In the Flesh", which was the B-side of their then current single "X-Offender". Jimmy Destri later credited the show's Molly Meldrum for their initial success, commenting that "we still thank him to this day" for playing the wrong song. In a 1998 interview, drummer Clem Burke recalled seeing the episode in which the wrong song was played, but he and Chris Stein suggested that it may have been a deliberate subterfuge on the part of Meldrum. Stein asserted that "X-Offender" was "too crazy and aggressive ", while "In the Flesh" was "not representative of any punk sensibility. Over the years, I've thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That's all." In retrospect, Burke described "In the Flesh" as "a forerunner to the power ballad".
The single reached number 1 in Australia, while the album reached the Australian top twenty in October 1977, and a subsequent double-A release of "X-Offender" and "Rip Her to Shreds" was also popular. A successful Australian tour followed in December, though it was marred by an incident in Brisbane when disappointed fans almost rioted after Harry cancelled a performance due to illness.
In February 1978, Blondie released their second album, Plastic Letters (UK No. 10, US No. 78, Australia No. 64). The album was recorded as a four-piece as Gary Valentine had left the band in mid 1977. Plastic Letters was promoted extensively throughout Europe and Asia by Chrysalis Records. The album's first single, "Denis", was a cover version of Randy and the Rainbows' 1963 hit. It reached number two on the British singles charts, while both the album and its second single, "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear", reached the British top ten. Chart success, along with a successful 1978 UK tour, including a gig at London's Roundhouse, made Blondie one of the first American new wave bands to achieve mainstream success in the United Kingdom. By this time, Gary Valentine had been replaced by Frank Infante (guitar, bass guitar), and shortly after that Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) joined, expanding the band to a six-piece for the first time and thus allowing Infante to switch to guitar. The band's line-up had stabilized.
Blondie's third album, Parallel Lines (UK No. 1, US No. 6, Australia No. 2), was released in September 1978. Produced by Mike Chapman, it finally broke the band into the American market on the strength of the worldwide hit single “Heart of Glass". Parallel Lines became the group's most successful album, selling 20 million copies worldwide. The album's first two singles were "Picture This" (UK No. 12) and "Hanging on the Telephone" (UK No. 5). Because the biggest hit from Blondie's previous album Plastic Letters was "Denis", a cover of Randy & The Rainbows' 1963 song "Denise", Chrysalis Records chose Buddy Holly's "I'm Gonna Love You Too" as the lead single from Parallel Lines in the U.S. This turned out to be a miscalculation as the single failed to chart. The song was eventually released as a single in a few other countries in 1979.
"Heart of Glass" was released in early 1979 and the disco-infused track topped the UK charts in February 1979 and the U.S. charts in April 1979. It was a reworking of a rock and reggae-influenced song that the group had performed since its formation in the mid 70s, updated with strong elements of disco music. Clem Burke later said the revamped version was inspired partly by Kraftwerk and partly by the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", whose drum beat Burke tried to emulate. He and Stein gave Jimmy Destri much of the credit for the final result, noting that Destri's appreciation of technology had led him to introduce synthesizers and to rework the keyboard sections. Although some critics condemned Blondie for "selling out" by doing disco, the song became a monumental worldwide success and became one of the biggest selling singles of 1979. The song was accompanied by a music video filmed at a club in New York City (incorrectly surmised as being Studio 54, due to an exterior shot there preceding the interior video). The music video showcased Harry's hard-edged and playfully sexual character, as well as her famously stiff marginally disinterested persona. She began to attain a celebrity status that set her apart from the other band members, who were largely ignored by the media.
Blondie's next single in the U.S. was a more aggressive rock song, "One Way or Another" (US No. 24), though in the UK, an alternate single choice, "Sunday Girl", became a No. 1 hit. Parallel Lines is ranked No. 140 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest albums of all time. In June 1979, Blondie, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Blondie's fourth album, Eat to the Beat (UK No. 1, US No. 17, Australia No. 9), was released in October 1979. Though well received by critics as a suitable follow-up to Parallel Lines, the album and its singles failed to achieve the same level of success in the U.S., whilst in the UK where the album delivered three Top 20 hits including the band's third UK number one ("Atomic", UK No. 1, US No. 39). The lead track off the album, "Dreaming", narrowly missed the top spot in the UK, but only made 27 in the U.S. "Union City Blue" (UK No. 13) was not released in the U.S. in favor of the track "The Hardest Part". In a daring move, Chrysalis Records' Linda Carhart asked Jon Roseman Productions US division to shoot videos for every song and make it the first ever video album. David Mallet directed and Paul Flattery produced it at various locations and studios in and around New York.
Blondie's next single, the Grammy-nominated "Call Me" was the result of Debbie Harry's collaboration with the Italian songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been responsible for Donna Summer's biggest hits. The track was recorded as the title theme of the Richard Gere film American Gigolo. Released in February 1980 in the US, "Call Me" spent six consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada, reached No. 1 in the U.K. (where it was released in April 1980) and became a hit throughout the world. The single was also No. 1 on Billboard magazine's 1980 year-end chart. In the summer of 1980, the band appeared in a bit part in the film 'Roadie' starring Meatloaf. Blondie performed the Johnny Cash song, "Ring of Fire". The live recording was featured on the film soundtrack, and on a later CD reissue of the Eat to the Beat album.
In November 1980, Blondie's fifth studio album, Autoamerican (UK No. 3, US No. 7, Australia No. 8) was released and contained two more No. 1 US hits: the reggae-styled "The Tide Is High", a cover version of a 1967 song by the Paragons, and the rap-flavored "Rapture", which was the first song featuring rapping to reach number one in the U.S. In the song Harry mentions downtown graffiti and hip hop icon Fab Five Freddy who also appears in the video for the song. Autoamerican was a departure from previous Blondie records, featuring less new wave and rock in favor of stylistic experiments, including acoustic jazz ("Faces"), and "Follow Me" (from the Broadway show "Camelot"). As the title somewhat suggested, a recurring general theme of the album was the car as a subject; obvious for example in the song "T-Birds", referring to the Ford Thunderbird, and Harry's monologue near end of the mostly instrumental track "Europa". The album went on to achieve platinum success in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Following their success of 1978-80, Blondie took a brief break in 1981. That year, Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri both released solo albums; Stein worked on Harry's album KooKoo (UK No. 6, US No. 28) and Burke with Destri's Heart on a Wall. Frank Infante sued the band regarding a lack of involvement during the Autoamerican sessions; it was settled out of court, and Infante remained in the band (though Harry has subsequently said Infante was not on the next LP, despite appearing on the front cover). Around this time Harry also was cultivating an acting career that included a high-profile appearance in 1980's Roadie and later David Cronenberg's Videodrome in 1982.
In October 1981, Chrysalis Records released The Best of Blondie (UK No. 4, US No. 30, Australia No. 1), the group's first greatest hits compilation. The band reconvened in late 1981 to record a new album, The Hunter, released in May 1982 (UK No. 9, US No. 33, Australia No. 15). In contrast to their earlier commercial and critical successes, The Hunter was poorly received. The album did have two moderate hit singles: "Island of Lost Souls" (UK# 11, US, No. 37, Australia No. 13) and "War Child" (UK No. 39). The album also included "For Your Eyes Only", a track the band had been commissioned to write and record for the 1981 James Bond film of the same name, but was rejected by the film's producers (the producers ultimately chose another song that would be recorded by Sheena Easton).
With tensions within the band on the rise due to the act's commercial decline and the attendant financial pressures that brought, as well as the constant press focus on Harry to the exclusion of the other band members, events reached a breaking point when Stein was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness pemphigus.
As a result of Stein's illness, coupled with drug use by members of the band, financial mismanagement, and slow concert ticket sales, Blondie canceled their tour plans early in August 1982. Shortly thereafter, the band broke up, with at least one (unspecified) member quitting and instigating lawsuits against the other group members. The band's breakup was announced publicly in November 1982.
Stein and Harry, still a couple at the time, stayed together and retreated from the public spotlight for a while. Harry made attempts to resume her solo career in the mid-1980s, but two singles (1983's "Rush Rush" and 1985's "Feel The Spin") met with little success. Harry was forced to sell the couple's five-story mansion to pay off debts that the band had run up, Stein owed in excess of $1 million, and drug use was becoming an increasing concern for them. Harry decided to call off her intimate relationship with Stein and moved downtown. She stated in a 2006 interview that she felt she was having a sort of breakdown due to all the stress. After Stein recovered from his illness, Harry resumed her solo career with the new album Rockbird in 1986, with active participation from Stein (although Harry also recorded the song "Rush Rush" for the soundtrack to the motion picture Scarface in 1983). The album was a moderate success in the UK where it gave her a top ten single and reached Gold certification. Meanwhile, Burke became a much-in-demand session drummer, playing and touring for a time with Eurythmics, and Destri maintained an active career as a producer and session musician.
A remix album entitled Once More into the Bleach was released in 1988, and featured remixes of classic Blondie tracks and material from Harry's solo career.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Blondie's past work began to be recognized again by a new generation of fans and artists including Garbage and No Doubt. Chrysalis/EMI Records also released several compilations and collections of remixed versions of some of its biggest hits.
Harry continued her moderately successful solo career after the band broke up, releasing albums in 1989 and 1993 which helped keep the band in the public eye. In 1990, she reunited with Stein and Burke for a summer tour of mid-sized venues, as part of an "Escape from New York" package with Jerry Harrison, the Tom Tom Club and the Ramones.
In 1996, Stein and Harry began the process of reuniting Blondie and contacted original members Burke, Destri, and Valentine. Valentine had by this time moved to London and become a full-time writer under his real name Gary Lachman; his New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation (2002) is a memoir of his years with the band. Former members Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante did not participate in the reunion, and they unsuccessfully sued to prevent the reunion under the name Blondie.
In 1997, the original five-piece band re-formed, including Valentine on bass, and did three live performances, all at outdoor festivals sponsored by local radio stations. Their first reunion performance occurred on May 31, 1997, when they played the HFStival at R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, DC. An international tour in late 1998 and early 1999 followed. During this period, they released a cover of Iggy Pop's song "Ordinary Bummer" on the tribute album We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute (1997) under the pseudonym "Adolph's Dog".
A new album, No Exit (UK No. 3, US No. 18), was released in February 1999. The band was now officially a four-piece, consisting of Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri. Valentine by this point had left the group, and did not play on the album or contribute to the writing of any songs (two songs on the album co-authored by "Valentine" were in fact co-authored by Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's, no relation to Gary Valentine). Session musicians Leigh Foxx (bass) and Paul Carbonara (guitar) played on this and subsequent Blondie releases.
No Exit reached number three on the UK charts, and the first single, "Maria", which Destri had written thinking about his high school days, became Blondie's sixth UK number one single exactly 20 years after their first chart-topper, "Heart of Glass". This gave the band the distinction of being one of only two American acts to reach number one in the UK singles charts in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (the other being Michael Jackson who had No. 1 hits with the Jacksons and solo in the same decades).
The reformed band released the follow-up album The Curse of Blondie (UK No. 36, US No. 160) in October 2003. Curse proved to be Blondie's lowest-charting album since their debut in 1976, although the single "Good Boys" managed to reach number 12 on the UK charts.
In 2004, Jimmy Destri left the group in order to deal with drug addiction, leaving Harry, Stein and Burke as the only members of the original line-up still with the band. Though Destri's stint in rehab was successful, he was not invited back into the band. He intended to work on their 2011 album Panic Of Girls, but did not contribute as either a songwriter or a musician to the finished product.
In 2005 a new CD/DVD hits package titled Greatest Hits: Sight + Sound was released, peaking at #48 in the UK.
Blondie co-headlined a tour with the New Cars in 2006, releasing a new song, a cover of Roxy Music hit "More than This", in support of the tour.
On June 5, 2008, Blondie commenced a world tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Parallel Lines with a concert at Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, Maryland. The tour covered some Eastern and Midwestern US cities throughout the month of June. In July, the tour took the band overseas to Israel, the UK, Russia, Europe and Scandinavia, wrapping up on August 4, 2008 at Store Vega in Copenhagen, Denmark. Inspired by attendances for the tour, Clem Burke and Paul Carbonara both told interviewers in 2008 and 2009 that the band was working on another record, which would be their first new album since the release of The Curse of Blondie in 2003. Carbonara described it as "a real Blondie record."
Blondie undertook a North American tour of mid-sized venues with Pat Benatar and the Donnas in the summer of 2009. Following the tour, in October, the band began recording sessions for their ninth studio album with producer Jeff Saltzman in Woodstock, New York. After playing with the band for over a decade, both Leigh Foxx (bass) and Paul Carbonara (guitar) were elevated to official membership status with Blondie; keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen, who had replaced Destri, was also made an official member, making Blondie a six-piece band.
In December 2009, the band released the song "We Three Kings" to coincide with the Christmas holiday. The new album, to be titled Panic of Girls, which was being mixed at the time, was said to follow in 2010. Chris Stein stated that Dutch artist Chris Berens would provide the cover art. In April 2010, it was announced that guitarist Paul Carbonara had amicably left Blondie to pursue other projects and was replaced by Tommy Kessler (the finished Panic of Girls album credits both Kessler and Carbonara as official members).
In June 2010, Blondie began the first leg of a world tour named "Endangered Species Tour", which covered the United Kingdom and Ireland, supported by UK band Little Fish. The set lists featured both classics and new material from the forthcoming Panic of Girls. After a break in July, the tour resumed in August and covered the United States and Canada over a course of six weeks. Blondie then took the "Endangered Species Tour" to Australia and New Zealand in November–December 2010, co-headlining with the Pretenders.
It was first revealed that the band's album was going to be released first in Australia on the Australian Sony label in December 2010, but Sony later backed out of the deal, leaving the album still unreleased. The album's release date was finally set for mid-2011 without the involvement of a major record label. The album was first released in May 2011 as a limited edition "fan pack" in the UK with a 132-page magazine and various collectible items, before being released as a regular CD later in the summer. The lead single, "Mother", was released beforehand as a free download. A music video for the song was released on May 18, 2011. It was directed by Laurent Rejto and features cameos by Kate Pierson from the B-52's, James Lorinz (Frankenhooker), Johnny Dynell, Chi-Chi Valenti, the Dazzle Dancers, Rob Roth, Barbara Sicuranza, Larry Fessenden, Alan Midgette (Andy’s double), The Five Points Band, Guy Furrow, Kitty Boots and Hattie Hathaway. A second single from the album, "What I Heard", was available as a digital release in July 2011.
On August 20, 2011, Blondie performed a live set for "Guitar Center Sessions" on DirecTV. The episode included an interview with program host, Nic Harcourt.
The band continued to tour regularly into 2012. A concert in New York City was streamed live on YouTube on October 11, 2012. The same week, the band listed three previously unreleased songs recorded during the Panic of Girls sessions ("Bride of Infinity", "Rock On", and "Dead Air") on Amazon.com which were made available for free download for US, and in the UK via the band's official website. Another track, "Practice Makes Perfect", was also made available as a free download in November 2012.
On March 20, 2013, Harry and Stein were interviewed on the radio show WNYC Soundcheck in which they confirmed they were working on a new Blondie album and previewed a new song entitled "Make a Way". In June and July 2013, the band held a Blast Off Tour of Europe. A US tour, the "No Principals Tour" followed in September and October 2013. The first single from the album, "A Rose by Any Name", was released digitally in Europe on June 24, 2013. A second single, "Sugar on the Side", was released digitally in the US in December 2013.
The new album, Ghosts of Download, was released in May 2014. It was released in a 2-disc package entitled Blondie 4(0) Ever (to coincide with the band's 40th anniversary) with the new album and a collection of Blondie's hit singles re-recorded and remixed in 2013. The band's official worldwide 40th anniversary tour began in February 2014.
By 1982, the year the band initially broke up, Blondie had released six studio albums, each exhibiting a stylistic progression from the last. The band is known not only for the striking stage persona and vocal performances of Harry but also for incorporating elements in their work from numerous subgenres of music, reaching from their punk roots to embrace new wave, disco, and rap. Each of the group's four No. 1 singles in the U.S. demonstrated a different style, or influence, of music including disco ("Heart of Glass"), Europop ("Call Me"), reggae ("The Tide Is High") and rap ("Rapture").
The first single after the band's reunion, "Maria", became Blondie's sixth UK #1, exactly twenty years after the band's first number one, "Heart of Glass", making them the first and only American band to have chart-topping UK singles in three different decades: the 70s, 80s and 90s.
In March 2006, Blondie, following an introductory speech by Shirley Manson of Garbage, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seven members (Harry, Stein, Burke, Destri, Infante, Harrison and Valentine) were invited to the ceremony, which led to an on-stage spat between the extant group and their former bandmates, Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who asked during the live broadcast of the ceremony to be allowed to perform with the group, a request refused by Harry who stated that the band had already rehearsed their performance. On May 22, 2006, Blondie was inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame at Guitar Center on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. New inductees are voted on by previous Rock Walk inductees.
Original drummer William P. 'Billy' O'Connor Jr. died on March 29, 2015 from complications of a stroke he had suffered the previous July. He was 61.
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