The American group Blondie first came to my notice sometime in 1977, when I saw them interviewed on a TV show, long since forgotten. I was struck by the looks of singer Debbie Harry, but not by the punk style of the music they played. The following year, the band released a second album, ‘Plastic Letters’, and had some success here with a cover of ‘Denise’, (as Denis Denis) and the song ‘I Am Always Touched By Your presence Dear’. They were playing sell-out concerts in London, and establishing themselves as a huge crossover act from the Punk music scene into the mainstream pop charts. The impact of Debbie Harry’s looks and performance made them instantly watchable, and they soon adopted a distinctive musical style that gave them a unique place in the industry at the time.
But Debbie not only looked great, she could sing too, and that is sometimes overlooked. In 1978, the release of ‘Parallel Lines’ elevated them to worldwide star status, and it seemed that they were destined for huge success. Helped by the rise in popularity of music videos, they capitalised on Debbie’s good looks, producing small stories on film to accompany their biggest hits. Even just standing in front of the band and singing the song straight, it was impossible not to watch Debbie’s every wry grin, wink or nod to her audience, and listen to her incredible voice. A series of tracks released from the album as singles, served only to strengthen their status as a chart-topping group.
The band moved away from their roots, experimenting with different styles, including a diversion into disco and reggae. This brought criticism from hard-line fans, but proved to be a shrewd move on their part, as Punk had by then had its day. They were also becoming more popular in the UK and Europe, selling more records, and charting higher, than in the US. More big-selling albums followed, and Debbie also diversified into acting in films, to much acclaim. However, by 1982, guitarist Chris Stein, also Harry’s long-term partner, became seriously ill, and the band split, with some acrimony. There have been reunions, and later releases, but the excitement of those early years can never be recaptured. The sound that is so distinctively American, and of its time and place.
I have chosen a big UK hit, that was written by the band members. I still love it.