Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 7: Blondie, "Parallel Lines"

Artist: Blondie
Album: Parallel Lines
Year: 1978
Label: Chrysalis

Nearly every "tough" female pop singer, from Alanis to Madonna, owes nearly all of their success to one woman: Debbie Harry. Harry was the woman who took the attitude of Patti Smith and infused it with sex appeal and an amazing voice. Along with her stellar band, Blondie, she created some of the greatest pop songs ever, and also helped to bridge the gap between punk, rap, and mainstream rock music. Creating pop based songs, and fusing them together with the attitude of New York City's "underground" music scene, Blondie gained wide appeal from the diversity in their sound. from moody, soft ballads to aggressive, punk-fueled rockers, Blondie's music runs the spectrum, and they are able to perform in each style with similar success. While each of the bands' first four records are phenomenal, it is their 1978 release, Parallel Lines that rises above the others and is certainly the bands' best record.

Easily the bands' greatest commercial success (it has sold over 20 million copies worldwide), Parallel Lines represents a transition in the career of Blondie. Having just brought on new bass player, Nigel Harrison, the album shows the group tossing away any old feel of "new wave" and it is clear that they are now a "complete" pop band. The other large difference on Parallel Lines is the presence of producer Mike Chapman. Having worked hits for the likes of The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, and many other British acts in the early 1970's, his pop sensibility helps to take the album to another level. Literally, half of the songs on Parallel Lines were released as singles, with five of them reaching the "Top 20," and a pair hitting number one. In these singles was perhaps the bands' most famous song, "Heart of Glass." The song topped the charts in more than half a dozen countries, yet stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the bands' hometown of New York City. The song is unquestionably "disco" (or at least new wave), and Blondies' peers (read as: "bands from CBGB's and The Mud Club") thought them sellouts for recording and releasing such a "mainstream" sounding song. Most of these people felt that the song was everything that the "punk" and "underground" scene (from which the band came), were working against. On the flip side, the song propelled the band to international success and gave them an extremely dedicated following.

Musically, the band is as tight as ever on Parallel Lines. Taking their more edgy roots and spinning them together with amazingly addictive pop sounds, the music on the album is truly everything anyone could ever want in music. Guitar legend, Chris Stein, plays brilliantly throughout the album, and even switches to a 12-string guitar and an E-bow and points on the record. The other most forward instrument is the fantastic keyboard playing of Jimmy Destri. Whether taking the lead or fading back and giving the song perfect backing sounds, Destri's work served as a model for countless bands throughout the late 1970's and 1980's. As previously stated, new bass player Nigel Harrison fits in perfectly with his new group, and he sounds as if he'd been playing with the band for years. Drummer Clem Burke plays flawlessly, from disco grooves to more heavy tempos, he hits perfectly on every beat. Guitar god, Robert Fripp (King Crimson), makes a brief appearance on Parallel Lines, lending his skills to the song, "Fade Away And Radiate." Taking the album as a whole, it is truly amazing to listen to a band that plays so flawlessly across such a wide range of musical styles, and it is a major reason why the band, and more specifically, Parallel Lines, remain so highly respected.

When it comes down to it, Blondie, as a band, is all about their namesake: Debbie Harry. Without a doubt one of the most captivating performers in the history of music, she brings a "pop princess" appearance, with a punk princess attitude. There is no getting around the fact that Harry was one of the biggest sex symbols of the decade (just check the video for "Heart Of Glass"), appealing to the pop lovers, as well as the "underground" audience. Her voice is just as mesmerizing as her appearance, capable of hitting every note possible, and delivering with stellar results each and every time. From the flowing, powerful singing on "Heart Of Glass" to the swinging, somewhat sensual "One Way Or Another," to the more forceful "Just Go Away," there is truly no style that Harry cannot perform to perfection. The lyrical themes on Parallel Lines are consistently songs of love and loss. Whether it is focused on finding love, keeping love, or losing love, the songs all share the same central theme. The band also takes a brief moment to mull over the hypnotic effect of television on the aforementioned "Fade Away And Radiate." While the content varies only slightly, the ways in which Debbie Harry delivers each song makes them all have their own individuality, and they are each absolute musical gems.

Though there were countless bands to emerge from the late 1970's New York "underground" scene, few found as much commercial success as Blondie. Though in some ways, this fame alienated them from many of their peers, the bands' music success was pretty much inevitable due to their talent and sound. With their catchy pop sounds, fused with the attitude of the underground scene, there music appealed to an amazingly broad spectrum of people. Mixing together excellent guitar and bass playing with equally superb keyboard work, the band members of Blondie firmly understand that louder does not always equal better. Then of course, there is the stunning appearance and phenomenal voice of the heart of the group, singer Debbie Harry. It cannot be overstated pivotal a figure Harry is for the formation of the sound and style that gave careers to the likes of Madonna, Liz Phair, and countless others. Though each of Blondie's first four albums are nothing short of sensational, all of the elements come together perfectly on their 1978 release, the monumental Parallel Lines.

Standout tracks: "Hanging On The Telephone," "One Way Or Another," and "Heart Of Glass."

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