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The legacy of Blondie's Parallel Lines

July 03, 2020 3 min read

The legacy of Blondie's Parallel Lines

By Louise Bruton

On their 1978 album Parallel Lines, New York band Blondie fling a leather jacket over one shoulder to reveal some sparkly sequins, signalling a marriage between new wave punk and edgy disco. Brimming with career-defining hits, it’s hard to believe that so much brilliance from one act could possibly fit on one album but that's what that Blondie did on their third album. Loaded with the vibrancy and the grit of the 70s, it also marks the start of a new genre-hopping era in music.

Kicking off with the double whammy of Hanging On The Telephone, a cover of The Nerves’ 1976 single, and One Way or Another, a song about a real life stalker, Debbie Harry growls and grins her way through lyrics that land like a threat wrapped up in a kiss. The initial punch that these songs pack has been diluted slightly, thanks to their overuse in pop culture, but where there’s perceived lightness with radio-friendly melodies, this album oozes darkness. Fade Away and Radiate finds Harry transfixed by the actors who lived fast, with Clem Burke’s eerie drum time beat and guest guitarist’s Robert Fripp’s extraterrestrial, reggae-inspired guitar lines adding to the gloom. Sunday Girl and Pretty Baby are sugary sweet in their delivery but they spill teen tales that would never have made it to print in Bunty Magazine. Howling like mutts on I Know But I Don’t Know, written by guitarist Frank Infante, the band act like the underdogs, even though they’re just about to become inescapably huge.  

Recorded in the space of six weeks in New York’s Record Plant, a studio that hosted fellow notorious noise makers like New York Dolls, Aeromsmith and Cyndi Lauper, tension was a key ingredient in its creation, which occasionally pushed Harry over the edge. Richard Gottehrer, who produced their first two albums, was replaced by the LA-based Mike Chapman and, despite making one of the greatest albums of all time, the producer and the band themselves rarely saw eye-to-eye.  While Chapman claims that “musically, Blondie were hopelessly horrible", it’s appears that it was their attitude that he had a real problem with. Harry was particularly protective of the songs that she wrote (One Way or Another, Picture This, Heart of Glass, Go Away) but Chapman perceived this as “moody” and his solution to this was to have her sing “until I felt that she had lost the plot”.

However, Harry is the quintessential front woman and nobody can deliver these songs the way that she does. Heart of Glass is an electrifying song because no matter when you hear it, it takes full hold of your senses. With a gaze that could kill and a disco beat that gets your heart racing, her vocals soar and dip as she takes you on a journey. Singing the sarky line “Once I had a love and it was a gas, soon turned out to be a pain in the ass”, you can envision the character she’s playing so clearly swirling on an empty dance floor, white wine spilling with each move. Even in the heartache, she finds fun, even if that means poking fun at herself.

In the history of Blondie, these are known as the good years because in 1982, the band would break up with mounting tensions within the band, drug use and the pressure of fame all to blame. Of course, with a few line up changes, they’d return in 1999 but when you think of Blondie songs, the list is littered with singles from other years but it begins and ends with songs from Parallel Lines.

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