Blondie came up in the New York punk scene, made the transition to New Wave, brought hip-hop to the pop masses, and even danced with disco for a while.
That constant push for innovation, along with their irrepressible melodies and singer Debbie Harry’s chesty croon, has kept the band cool for over 30 years.
Still foxy at 66, Harry talked to EW about the stories behind some of her band’s most iconic hits, as well as the one behind the current single from the just-released Panic of Girls.
“Rip Her to Shreds” (1976)
“Chris [Stein] and I were big fans of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, and that has a very threatening, kind of down and dirty beat to it. ‘Rip Her To Shreds’ is what we all do when we’re getting catty. New York can be a very tough place but with all that toughness there’s also a great deal of affection among the people. It’s like being roasted.”
“Heart of Glass” (1979)
“That was an exciting period because all this new technology was available, and we became more sophisticated about what a song on the radio should be. When we first started recording, we worked with Richard Gottehrer, who was a real purist. He took us as we were and we were very raw, and very inexperienced and very minimal, as far as instrumentation was concerned. Then we got hooked up with Mike Chapman, this hit-meister from Europe who had had hundreds of pop songs and worked with different pop artists. He had a more sophisticated idea of what a song on radio should be and made us sort of understand that. It was like going to school again. It really was an exciting period in that respect, that these sounds became available. It was the overlap between analog and digital. People were upset because it was a disco song, but they were even more upset that I said ‘ass’! We got banned a few places because of it.”
“One Way or Another” (1979)
“I was actually stalked by a nutjob so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event. But I tried to inject a little bit of levity into it to make it more lighthearted. I think in a way that’s a normal kind of survival mechanism. You know, just shake it off, say one way or another, and get on with your life. Everyone can relate to that and I think that’s the beauty of it.”
“It was the first piece of music with rap in it that went to number one. I don’t pretend to be a rapper. It was an homage to the form and to the idea of it. But a lot of rappers have told me over the years that that was the first rap song that they ever heard, because rap really wasn’t on the radio in the beginning. It wasn’t really looked at very highly by the industry. Having ‘Rapture’ go to number one sort of legitimized it, in a way. The hip-hop kids and the punk kids always felt related, because we were all deconstructing culture in a way.”
“That was written in Chris [Stein]’s studio on Greenwich in New York. Jimmy [Destri] had the basic idea, and then we built up that pulsating verse. That chorus really flies. It has undone many a karaoke singer. And me, regularly.”
“There was a club called Mother on 14th Street in New York, in the Meatpacking district, which is now completely gentrified. They would have a theme each week so you would be a space alien or Greek Goddess. It was very adventurous. There was a fetish thing going on there and there was entertainment, there was comedy, there was music, there was drama. It really embodied a whole lot of energy. I stated thinking about the imagery, sort of club life, sort of a few plays on words and stuff like that, and people’s desires. I think ultimately people go out to clubs to meet other people and to perhaps fall in love on the romantic side of it. Or to have a night of illicit love or something like that. So I think all of that stuff comes into play.”