This band was the epitome of New York City cool, punk and rock ‘n’ roll all in one package – with a lead singer that embodied the band’s name – Blondie and a woman to admire – Debbie Harry.
Growing up in New Jersey, Harry moved to New York City as a young adult, immersing herself in Manhattan as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City club, working as a receptionist and eventually as a Playboy Bunny.
In the 1970s, she joined the girl-group The Stilettos, where she met guitarist Chris Klein. She and Klein would leave to form Blondie in 1975, named for what Harry was often called on the streets of New York City.
Blondie became a regular fixture at the scene at Max’s Kansas City as well as punk club CBGB, where the band was well-known for belting out a unique combination of punk, rock and new wave sounds. In December 1976, Blondie issued their first self-titled album, but by late 1977, the band bought back its contract to sign with Chrysalis Records, hoping to break out. Considered an underground band in the US, Blondie’s first taste of fame was in Australia.
The second album, Plastic Letters, did well in Europe, especially in the UK, but the US market wasn’t as radio-friendly to the unique Blondie sound. It was third album lucky with the release of Parallel Lines in 1979, with the Brit charts loving the singles “Picture This” and “Hanging on a Telephone”.
The US finally woke up to the power of Blondie with the single “Heart of Glass” influenced by the disco beats of The Bee Gees. The sexy video, which showcased Debbie Harry, led the single to be played endlessly on MTV and MuchMusic and the band went from underground to mainstream. The next single “One Way or Another” was a fast-rising song, and in June 1979, Blondie graced the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine and Debbie Harry was an apparent regular at Studio 54. To date, the album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
As the 1980s began, Blondie was riding high, with a collaboration with Giorgio Moroder for the soundtrack to the film American Gigolo, more albums and more success. But the punk/new wave girl was what first intrigued me when I first saw the video for “Heart of Glass”. I thought Debbie Harry was super cool and unique – not a pop princess nor an overblown rock god. She was strong, smart and in charge of her destiny.
Years later I got to see Debbie Harry perform in Austin with Jazz Passengers, and was impressed with her cool stage presence, her voice as well as her love for music. The young angry punk had cooled into a sophisticated woman, who still had the edge and knew how to still conjure up the magic of art, pop culture, and music with her voice.