There's Something About Harry
By Michael Martin
The first Blondie album one tends to think of is 1978’s Parallel Lines, the band’s third, which broke them worldwide courtesy of the number 1 hit “Heart of Glass,” a slinky disco anthem with a twist: Instead of the lamentations of an overheated, lovelorn diva, the song is one long shimmering, syncopated shrug, with Harry dismissing a lover by calling him “a pain in the ass”; you can hear the epic eye-roll in the band’s “da da da” refrain.
When she hears the album’s songs today, “I think that it was, like, the quintessential Blondie,” she says. “We had been working for about five years at that point, and we’d had some success on the first two albums in Europe, but nothing in the States. The producer on those first two albums was Richard Gottehrer, and he had a looser approach. And then we went in with Mike Chapman, who was a guy dedicated to making songs that can be heard on radio and really heard well.”
One of the specific contributions of Parallel Lines was its reversal of gender roles. “Hanging on the Telephone” sees a female narrator trying to coax a boyfriend out of his mother’s house (“Did she go to work or just to the store? / All those things she said I told you to ignore”), and “One Way or Another” is all stalkerish sexual aggression, with Harry notifying her target that she was gonna “getcha getcha GITCHA!” — then dump him. “That was a very specific agenda of mine,” she says. “I did not want to portray myself, or girls, as victims. I was so sick of it. Every song you hear was all, ‘Oh, I’ve been hurt. I’m so wounded.’ I’d just had my fill of that. I mean, everybody gets hurt, and I have definitely written stuff about being hurt, but I definitely wanted to present an attitude. I think it was perfect for me, because when I was growing up, I had a lot of things to fight through, so I had this aggression thing going, I had some anger. I came through it at the perfect time for that to happen.”
As Blondie progressed through six albums, the band soon proved it had no patience for nostalgia, pushing the pop charts forward into rap (“Rapture”) and calypso (“The Tide Is High”), and then achieving radio ubiquity with “Call Me,” the driving theme song to American Gigolo, which topped the charts for six weeks in 1980, becoming the No. 1 song of the year. But they were too restless to stay together — drug use and lawsuits by two members of the band didn’t help — and after one listless final album, they split in 1982. After some years in the wilderness (partly an Emersonian self-inducement, by Harry’s own admission), she and Stein got the band back together in 1997 and scored a U.K. No. 1 with “Maria” two years later.