‘Barbarella On Speed’ – The Story of Early Blondie.
Above Photo: Andy Warhol print of Debbie Harry.
In November 1977, I first saw Blondie perform Rip Her To Shreds on a British TV programme called So It Goes.
As a Punk, I thought they were fantastic, but by early 1979, listening to their increasingly disappointing singles (Hanging On The Telephone excepted), I knew I’d finally had enough when I heard their disco-style over-commercialised (and wildly successful) tripe, AKA Heart of Glass.
I was done with Blondie, but of course I always respected them as a pioneer Punk/New Wave band in the UK, and especially for their part in the CBGBs Punk scene in New York. Which is why I recently watched an excellent BBC documentary on the band, called ‘Blondie: One Way or Another’
Made by the BBC in 2006, it took us through Debbie Harry’s early years when she went from a folk group called Wind in the Willows to The Stilettoes, an all-girl group where she met Chris Stein, who was in the audience one night. They got together and started to hang out in CBGBs, often credited as the ‘birthplace’ of Punk.
In 1974, they decided to form a band of their own and immediately ran into interference from another female singer and CBGBs regular – Patti Smith, who refused to even have Blondie on the same bill as her, as she thought they were unprofessional and rubbish, so Blondie decamped to the Bowery, then a low-rent neighbourhood not far from CBGBs.
There they rented a dilapidated house with no heating, where they slowly began to forge the band’s identity and improve their musical abilities.
Being a budding photographer, Chris Stein knew images of Debbie Harry would be popular for magazines and he took some photos of Debbie dressed in a zebra skin outfit, which were quickly published.
He believed a poster of Harry as Punk Playmate of the Month eventually got them signed to a record label and their song X Offender (US stations wouldn’t play a song called “Sex Offender”) was released in the summer of 1976.
The B side was In the Flesh which got to Number 1 in Australia, much to the shock of the band, after an Australian DJ played the wrong side of the record. That mistake got the band their first Number One, their first Gold record and their first real tour.
Iggy Pop invited the band on his The Idiot World Tour in 1977, which also featured David Bowie on piano. Iggy Pop described Debbie Harry onstage as “Barbarella on speed”.
Taken out of New York City and away from the audience in CBGBs, who apparently rarely applauded or showed enthusiasm for the band, Blondie’s gigs outside of the US saw audiences going wild.
When Blondie visited the UK in 1977, their popularity exploded, the press feted them and crowds swamped their personal appearances. Chrysalis signed them, put out the single Denis in early 1978, and the future of Blondie (in the UK at least) was assured.
On the back of Denis they had another three hit singles in the UK 1978 ((I’m always Touched By Your) Presence Dear, Hanging on The Telephone and Heart of Glass). Heart of Glass was the first Blondie record to ever chart in the US and it went straight to Number One, having proved hugely popular in the American 1970s Disco scene.
The only Blondie song I remember really liking around this time was Union City Blue, which was released in late 1979, the memorable video for which was shot in a dry dock in New Jersey. (See You Tube link below)
After that I didn’t really know or care what happened to the band, but this documentary charted their rise and spectacular drug-induced fall and personal fallings-out, and their rise again a few years ago. At the end of the documentary, I couldn’t help reflecting on that unusual mix of music, band fallouts, being ripped off, bankruptcy and, of course, Law and Lawsuits – which seem to litter the stories of many bands from back then.
Obviously this also strikes a chord in respect of my own unusual, Punk-inspired path after my musical forays in Liverpool bands in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s ended, which is well-chronicled in the pages of Bombed Out!.
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