Thursday, 7 February 2013

I’m the phone booth it’s the one across the hall If you don’t answer I’ll just ring it off the wall

Songs Everybody Should Know

“Hanging on the Telephone Line” Blondie (1978)

Deborah Harry is a street-wise punk-wave icon. In the late seventies the MTV revolution found a camera-ready bad-Barbie, former Playboy bunny with natural sass and blonde hair.  The lyrics of Deborah Harry/Chris Stein songs were emotionally expressed, accessible and executed with a punker-in-the-know attitude. Not crass or hardcore; but more like art meets stylistic rock. This is probably the most observable example of where the cross-over between punk and new wave happened.

From the epicenter of the American punk movement came the surprisingly inspired, complex concoction of a beautiful punk-wave icon and as it turns out her brilliant band. It always helps to have a beautiful front person in the band, but the music has to stand on its own or the band becomes a flash in the pan. The Roxy Music/Bowie inspired experimentation would take us from garage rock, surf, 60’s pop influence, reggae, punk, and new wave to disco and even a precursor to rap from the streets of New York.

Regulars at the CBGB and Max’s Kansas City in New York they were simmered in punk and the cross-pollenation of U.K. glam, and grit. They became a bit of an underground sensation with their first two albums “Blondie” and “Plastic Letters”. Australia and the U.K. loved the new sound.

From the start the lineup contained Deborah (vocal/lyrics), Chris Stein (guitar/music/lyrics), Clem Burke (drums) and Jimi Destri (keyboard). Others would come and go like Frank Infante (guitars) for the important late seventies, and Nigel Harrison (bass) replacing starter Guy Valentine.

It was the third album, ‘Parallel Lines’ produced by famed producer Mike Chapman that finally made the huge breakthrough. Amazingly crafted pop songs like Hanging on the Telephone Line, One Way or Another and Heart of Glass were irresistible – and the attention followed. By 1979 Blondie was huge world-wide. Who didn’t like the beat and feel the contagion?

The next album ‘Eat To The Beat’ was a strong follow-up with songs like “Dreaming” ready for radio and video ready. By the time ‘Union City Blues’ was climbing the charts they were doing the unheard of – they made a video for every single song on the album. Why not? They were one of the hottest, good-looking bands in the world!

By  the time ‘Autoamerican’ came out and they stretched a bit too far musically and were tainted by the deadly foes of true rock and roll in - ordinary and commercial; it felt like the record companies were having that nasty smothering effect on yet another band. Chris Stein was suffering from a rare disease and it all went to hell in a hand basket as they say.  The very notable song on the album was the ground-breaking “Rapture” where Harry raps about bars and cars and mars and other non-sense. Nonetheless pretty cool at the time.

Ten Blondie songs you should hear before you die:

1.       One Way or Another
2.       Hanging on the Telephone Line
3.       Heart of Glass
4.       Dreaming
5.       Shayla
6.       Union City Blues
7.       Call Me
8.       Rapture
9.       Maria
10.   Sunday Girl (French version if you can find it)

(O.K. you also try to listen to Die Young Stay Pretty, Rip Her to Shreds, Living in the Real World, Slow Motion, Atomic, X Offender and The Tide is High).

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