Over the years, Blondie has been described as everything from New Wave to power pop and pop rock to punk. While they did hang out at CBGB and were close with The Ramones and the rest of the crew, they were never a punk band, although they did pepper their material with punk-like expressions of anxiety and definitely had a rebellious streak. The fact is, though, by the time Deborah Harry and Chris Stein formed the band, they were both pushing thirty and had struggled for years in various bands, at first apart and then together with The Stilettos.
With drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, and bassist Gary Valentine, they became Blondie and quickly set about finding someone willing to record them. They didn’t have to wait long – in late ’76, they entered the studio with Richard Gottehrer producing and came up with one of the most intense and exciting debut albums in rock history. It is slightly New Wave in sound and a little punk in attitude, but make no mistake, Blondie had great pop sensibilities and three great chief songwriters in Harry, Stein, and Destri.
Their initial success only came about because of a dubious mistake by a legendary Aussie rock guru/DJ/producer, Molly Meldrum, who played the flip side to “X Offender” on his TV show and sent the group’s quaint little ballad “In The Flesh” shooting up the local charts. Word soon spread to the UK, where a multitude of Aussie rock scribes and DJs worked, and the band had more success with both songs charting. The fact that Blondie became a Top 20 album in Australia and charted in Britain had absolutely zero affect in the USA, however, and they wouldn’t win over their homeland until they released Parallel Lines in 1978.
In hindsight, it’s hard to see just why that’s so because Blondie is a strong and consistent album of urgent rock (“X Offender”) and radio friendly pop gems (“In The Flesh“ and “Man Overboard”). Several influences and styles are represented throughout the album, and although at this point, Harry was not a great singer, she had a decent range and fronted her band with a shrewdness that belied her beauty. Harry played the part of the pin-up poster girl but made it clear to anyone that rubbed her the wrong way or addressed the band without her that she was not to be messed with.
That part of Harry’s persona is clearly evident with her menacing delivery on “Rip Her To Shreds,” which is her take on the judgemental and fickle tabloids. The band mirrored the rockabilly days with “Little Girl Lies” and echoed the ‘60s surfer culture on the stunning “A Shark In Jets Clothing.” “Rifle Range” is another ‘60s-style pop song that also mixes the New Wave sound of the day that’s reminiscent of The B52’s.
The disc closes with the inane but fun “The Attack Of The Giant Ants,” which would start a trend that the group still employs to this day: ending their releases with some ridiculous but mostly memorable song. It in no way takes away from the strength of the material on Blondie and only serves to remind us that Blondie themselves can never be contained to a simple set of labels. They remain one of the most experimental and eccentric pop bands of all time, and this is where it all started.
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