Blondie Biography

Blondie was formed in New York City in 1974 when Deborah Harry (1 July 1945, Miami, Florida, USA; vocals), Chris Stein (b. 5 January 1950, Brooklyn, New York, USA; guitar), Fred Smith (bass) and Bill O’Connor (drums) abandoned the revivalist Stilettos for an independent musical direction. Briefly known as the Angel and the Snake, backing vocalists Julie and Jackie, then Tish and Snookie, augmented the new unit’s early line-up, but progress was undermined by the departure of Smith for Television and the loss of O’Connor. Newcomers James Destri (b. 13 April 1954; keyboards), Gary Valentine (b. Gary Lachman; bass) and Clement Burke (b. 24 November 1955, New York, USA; drums) joined Harry and Stein in a reshaped unit that secured a recording contract through the aegis of producer Richard Gottehrer.

Originally released on the Private Stock label, Blondie was indebted to both contemporary punk and 60s girl groups, adeptly combining melody with purpose. Although not a runaway commercial success, the album did engender interest, particularly in the UK, where the band became highly popular. Internal disputes resulted in the departure of Valentine, but the arrival of Frank Infante (guitar) and Nigel Harrison (b. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England; bass) triggered the band’s most consistent period. Having freed themselves from the restrictions of Private Stock and signed to Chrysalis Records, Plastic Letters contained two UK Top 10 hits in ‘Denis’ and ‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear’, while Parallel Lines, produced by pop svengali Mike Chapman, included the UK chart-topping ‘Heart Of Glass’ and ‘Sunday Girl’ (both 1979; the former also reached US number 1, but the latter failed to chart). Although creatively uneven, Eat To The Beat confirmed Blondie’s dalliance with disco following ‘Heart Of Glass’ and the set spawned two highly successful UK singles in ‘Dreaming’ and the chart-topping ‘Atomic’. ‘Call Me’, produced by Giorgio Moroder, was taken from the soundtrack of the movie American Gigolo and reached number 1 in both the UK and USA. Autoamerican provided two further USA chart-toppers in ‘The Tide Is High’ and ‘Rapture’, while the former song, originally recorded by reggae group the Paragons, reached the same position in Britain.

Despite this commercial ascendancy, Blondie was beset by internal difficulties, as the media increasingly focused on their photogenic lead singer. The distinction between the band’s name and Harry’s persona became increasingly blurred, although a sense of distance between the two was created with the release of her solo album, Koo Koo. The Hunter, a generally disappointing set that Harry completed under duress, became Blondie’s final recording, their tenure ending when Stein’s ill health brought an attendant tour to a premature end. The guitarist was suffering from the genetic disease pemphigus vulgaris and between 1983 and 1985, both he and Harry absented themselves from full-time performing. The latter then resumed her solo career, while former colleague Burke briefly joined the Eurythmics for their Revenge album, before teaming up with Harrison, Steve Jones (ex-Sex Pistols), Tony Fox Sales and Michael Des Barres in Chequered Past, who released an eponymous album in 1985.

During the 90s, Harry recorded and toured with the Jazz Passengers. In June 1997, Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri re-formed Blondie to record new material and tour. A high media profile helped push ‘Maria’, a classic slice of late-70s power pop, to the top of the UK charts in February 1999. The attendant No Exit, although it was also a commercial success, was more disappointing. The follow-up, 2003’s The Curse Of Blondie, was a much better effort. The band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2006.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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