One Way or Another: Blondie's Gonna Getcha!

With over 40 million albums worldwide, who can forget the head bopping jingles like Heart of Glass and Call Me? The classy American band, Blondie was the most commercially successful band to emerge from new wave movement of the late '70s in the midst of the much-vaunted punk scene. Born in New York City in late 1974, singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein left their previous group, the Stilettos, to form Blondie, and in following year picked up drummer Clement Burke, bassist Gary Valentine, and keyboard player James Destri, releasing their first self-titled album in 1976. They rose to stardom by expressing attitude behind their wide variety of pop music styles. Over the years their unique sound have resulted in countless albums and singles, topping the charts in the U.K. and U.S., many reaching number one breaking with disco-themed Heart of Glass from Parallel Lines album in 1978. They had uninterrupted success, halting with rap-oriented The Tide is High from Autoamerican in 1982, when Stein became seriously ill with a genetic disease, pemphigus, and the band took a break.  Luckily Stein recovered while the music of Blondie remained popular, and in 1998, the band reunited and made a new album, No Exit with a hit single Maria.  After thirty years, Blondie celebrated their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by releasing Greatest Hits: Sound & Vision, a best-of collection. With the release of their latest album, Panic of Girls in 2011, and current work on their new album, Ghosts of Downloads, due for release later this year, there is no doubt Blondie is still going strong. 

Harry came to be the face and voice of Blondie. Stein and Burke drive the band’s distinctive sound, with Burke’s drums as the driving force for each song, making each jingle explode. They mix pre-punk pop styles with songs about tough life of city streets. With each album, Blondie shows the ability to adapt and their diverse styles, as comparing the disco-inspired Heart of Glass to the punk-themed One Way or AnotherAutoamerican highlights their innovative use of widely different musical styles, while Rapture was a rap-tinged song before reap music had surfaced with the popular music crowd.  Not to stick to norm, the calypso-inspired The Tide Is  High moves to a different beat. With their latest album, Blondie does not sacrifice the quality of their new material. To keep with the times, modernity is integrated while the Blondie sound is not compromised. The group continues to have the same willingness to experiment with new, ever changing styles. 

Check out all of their musical moves on their No Principals Tour when they hit PNC Pavilion on September 11. With every ticket you can score five exclusive new Blondie tracks from their forthcoming album!

In the midst of their tour, I chatted with Chris Stein from Blondie to discuss their past, present, and future. Stein spoke of how the band got their start, how their music has changed, and what inspired Blondie’s new album. 

Harry and Stein were former band mates in a group called the Stilettos before forming Blondie. Stein described the glam rock band that mainly played cover songs as a “cabaret act.” When asked if this was how they met, Stein answered, Harry and him met “at a Stilettos concert” when only Harry was in the band. He described a psychic connection he initially had when he saw her as, “infinity perhaps,” and how easy it was to relate to Harry, even as a stranger. Harry saw his silhouette in the audience, and had an instant connection as well. As for his other band mates, “We put an ad in the Village Voice. There was a phrase.  I wish I had a copy. “Freak energy drummer wanted for up and coming band.  He was literally the last of a series of guys that showed up. He had a similar mind set and great shoes,” Stein told of how he recruited Burke, emphasizing he was the last of many drummers who answered the ad.  

Since Blondie originated almost forty years ago, they have overcame obstacles and had many successes. I asked Stein what helped to keep them together as a band, and he replied, “We all have the same heart for music.”  He explained that now that they are a bit older, they are more accepting of each others’ faults and frailties, while their arguments are more about logistics and musical bits than personalities. They have been through mill of people trying to pull them apart, not from the inside, but the outside. Now, Stein said, “Everybody’s focus is a lot better, for sure. The musicianship has improved. Definitely more focused.”  He finished by explaining how natural it was to be together after all of the years like peas in a pod. 

Blondie has so many popular tunes including Heart of Glass, Call Me, and One Way or Another that continue to affect fans of all ages. Stein gave his insights to what is it about the groups’ music that keeps it timeless. He began by explaining his love of the Beatles, “Isn’t everyone” a Beatles fan? Stein said he could tell a new Beatles song by “hearing the first few notes” even for the first time of hearing it. Although he refused to compare Blondie to his idols, Stein commented that Blondie fans could recognize a Blondie tune in the same manner. He said the main reason Blondie’s music was popular in its beginnings and a remains popular even with young crowds is its ability to adapt over time with modern influences and that people can dance to it. At venue, Stein doesn’t “like chairs so people can dance.”  Even though Stein wonders “what it would be like to play” the same song “for fifty years,” he admitted he liked, “the new stuff – you get more enthused.”

Blondie plays a variety of music including a mix of pop, rock, electric, and retro.  When asked to describe the bands’ style, Stein said, it is a “mix of what is current in music,” and is “inspired by Deb’s vocal range.” He went on to explain the history of the band, generations influenced by the British Invasion, growing up with influences from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Stein reminisced about CBGB, a New York City underground venue where they got their start. He explained, it “was a workshop, a music workshop to make mistakes and find sound.” During this time they assimilated the styles that were going on in New York City at the time. He added along with Harry’s image, Blondie songs come “from the musician’s style and maybe the writing.”  He ends with, “We never made things more rock in roll.”

Since the release of Blondie’s first self-titled album and your last album, Panic of Girls, Blondie’s music has changed. I asked Stein to explain how Blondie has adapted. He responded with it changes as the music changes to stay current due to technology and the new era. He went on to talk about how times have changed, stating, “It’s different because of the context. Back in those days everybody didn’t have access to everything. Now days the kids hear everything at once. Writing a pop song now in 2013 is different than it was in 1978.  It was easier to surprise people back then. As soon as it’s released one time, its gone.  It’s out there.”

Ghosts of Download, Blondie’s next album, is currently in the works. I wanted to know what inspired this project. Stein explained the new Latin-inspired album, “The next album is very dance oriented,” but “We’re still working it up.”  One song on the album, Rose By Any Name, was inspired by the birth of the unborn child of the song’s writer, informed Stein, who compares the entire album to Parallel Lines, even though he feels, “We’ll have to wait twenty years. When Parallel Lines first came out, I don’t know if everyone was going, ‘This is a classic of all time.’ Now people thirty years later say that’s true.”  Whether it becomes a fan favorite or not, Stein left us on a positive note, “Since all pop music developed into dance music, we will sell out once again.”

w/ X
Wednesday September 11th
PNC Pavilion