Today is one of those crappy pain days for me, so please bear with me as I try to fight through this crap for a couple of hours as I try to do this thing. My latest pain battle is the toll I now feel in the days and hours leading up to a storm, depending on the severity of the upcoming weather event. I don’t know about you all around the world, but here in the backwoods of Middle America, people around my age and older have all heard stories of our grandmothers having a foot bunion, or corn, that would ache during the time leading up to a storm. Those old wives’ tales used to crack me up as a scientist, that is until recently. For some reason, my nerve-damaged legs have become something of barometers for upcoming storms. All weekend long, I have been suffering muscle spasms up and down my legs while we learned of an impending set of back-to-back snow storms heading our way. The worse the storm, the more painful my spasms become. I should be taking a muscle relaxer, but I really wanted to try to write this blog. That’s right! I’m something of a martyr.
Honestly, that’s probably why I suffer from chronic pain since I was attempting to prove to the world how I could play through injuries when I was a stupid teenage athlete. I thought pain tolerance was my superpower. Looks like God, or Fate, or Karma, or whatever you want to call it, is having the last laugh as now I cannot tolerate. Sometimes, my language gets worse, sometimes my musical choices get more aggressive and brutal sounding as my pain increases. However, when it’s at its worse, I get quiet and tend to curl up in a ball and just withdraw from humanity. Right now, I’m putting up a fight, mainly because I’m a competitor. And, that competitor may shorten my life, but that’s how I’m wired.
So, since my legs have become something of a meteorological wonder in predicting incoming storms, like the one that dumped about 4 inches of snow on us last night as well as the incoming one that is just beginning with put down another couple inches, I have been doing a little nostalgia today. On this day, with only eight shopping days left before Christmas, I have decided to venture back to my new wave days of the late Seventies and early Eighties for a little Blondie.
I first read about Blondie back during my Creem magazine days of 1976, when there seemed to be all kinds of coverage of the bands who were playing at the great CBGB’s night club in New York City. In those articles, I recall reading about artists such as the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Dead Boys, Devo, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, among others. At the time, in those circles, Blondie was the pop group, but Lester Bangs loved them. And, if Lester Bangs or Lisa Robinson gave his/her stamp of approval on an artist, then I would have to check that artist out. That meant that I quietly purchased Blondie’s self-titled debut album back in 1977, since it took that long for me to find the record at a store, any store, here in Indiana.
Did I become an immediate fan? Honestly, no. Oh sure, I found it interesting, but my tastes were not ready for the band. So what happened to the album? I sold it in a garage sale. That’s right! I sold the damn thing, along with The Runaways’ debut album. So stupid! Especially since I ended up purchasing the damn album again a few years later.
Fast forward to the Spring of 1979 when the band’s “Heart of Glass” hit the airwaves to become one of the first hits that divided the early Gen X generation kids from their older Boomer friends and family. This was especially true in the American heartland. You wouldn’t believe how many derogatory names I was called because I listened to that album all the time. Most of the names are not used by today’s youth. Yet, like in every generation, there will always be a pocket of rebels, misfits and nonconformists who will find each other and this music simultaneously. And a few of us were actually working on the high school radio station and writing for the school newspaper, so we would inform our peers of new artists like Blondie. And, eventually “Heart of Glass” jump-started a five-year run of hit songs and albums for Blondie, eventually making them one of the world’s most popular bands.
Now, what I have always loved about the band, in addition to Debbie Harry’s hotness, was their updated take on early Sixties pop music. The basic melodies of those terrific Brill building and Phil Spector hits from that time period remained, simply sped up and containing the detached irony-ridden lyrics that became a hallmark of the music of my youth. And, as the band became better musicians, they stretched beyond that poppish punk music into the worlds of disco, reggae, calypso and, perhaps most importantly, rap. Blondie’s leaders were singer/focal point Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, who wrote a significant number of the hits that band had, were two of the biggest proponents of the burgeoning hip hop scene in NYC, as was The Clash’s Mick Jones. Suddenly, new wave, punk, rap, R&B and rock were all cross-pollinating resulting in some of the most exciting music ever recorded. It truly was an exciting era in which to grow up, especially as MTV began sending these sounds into our living rooms.
And, Blondie was the band that opened the floodgates that first hit us in the U.S.A. in 1979, and then again, after MTV signed on the air from 1981 to 1983. Over the years, Blondie gave us many great singles and album cuts which have endured to this day. Additionally, since they reformed in 1999, Blondie have been blessing us with some strong albums containing some very strong songs.
All of this leads me to present my 25 Favorite Blondie songs. Sure, we can quibble as to the order of these songs, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better representation of an artist’s career as these hits indicate Blondie’s per-eminence in rock’s pantheon.
25. “War Child” (The Hunter, 1982)
24. “Good Boys” (The Curse of Blondie, 2004)
23. “Sugar on the Side” (Ghosts of Download, 2014)
22. “Long Time” (Pollinator, 2017)
21. “Rapture Riders” (Greatest Hits: Sound + Sight, 2005)
20. “The Hardest Part” (Eat to the Beat, 1979)
19. “(I Am Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear” (Plastic Letters, 1978)
18. “Denis” (Plastic Letters, 1978)
17. “Picture This” (Parallel Lines, 1978)
16. “In the Flesh” (Blondie, 1976)
15. “Fun” (Pollinator, 2017)
14. “Sunday Girl” (Parallel Lines, 1978)
13. “Rip Her to Shreds” (Blondie, 1976)
12. “Island of Lost Souls” (The Hunter, 1982)
11. “X Offender” (Blondie, 1976)
10. “The Tide Is High” (Autoamerican, 1980). 1980 was a unique year as reggae music was finding its niche here in the States. Marley was getting airplay here in the Midwest, ever so briefly but it DID happen. Then, Stevie Wonder hit #1 with his Marley tribute “Master Blaster” and Blondie hit #1 again with this reggae tune. Oh, how my heart was full!
9. “Maria” (No Exit, 1999). I used to catch hell from my boys concerning my love of this song, but it was such a breath of fresh air at the time. Sure, the urgency of youth had been tempered, but it was simply a great comeback single that flew over the heads of the Millennials.
8. “Union City Blue” (Eat to the Beat, 1979). In many ways, Eat to the Beat was Blondie’s Mod album, as if they let loose of their early Who and current Jam influences all at once, all the while remaining a Blondie album. This song truly projects all that I am describing.
7. “Call Me” (American Gigolo OST, 1980). This may or may not be an actual Debbie Harry solo single. Regardless, this collaboration between Donna Summer producer Giorgio Moroder and the creative side of the band is a perfect mix of Eurodisco punk and NYC cool. No wonder it seemed like it stayed at #1 all summer long in 1980.
6. “Hanging on the Telephone” (Parallel Lines, 1978). Actually, this is a cover of a song originally recorded by LA power pop pioneers The Nerves. But, Blondie brought the attitude and the urgency to the song that was lacking in the original. I love to place this song right next to Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” as the best songs from the CBGB’s punk scene.
5. “Atomic” (Eat to the Beat, 1979). This song, my friends, is the forerunner to “Call Me.” It is that song’s punkier, tougher brother.
4. “Dreaming” (Eat to the Beat, 1979). The star of this tune is not Harry but drummer Clem Burke. He channels Keith Moon to great effect here, driving this song from another really good Blondie rock tune into rock immortality.
3. “One Way or Another” (Parallel Lines, 1978). Arguably, this song is Blondie’s signature rock song. At the very least, it is their most enduring rock-oriented song.
2. “Heart of Glass” (Parallel Lines, 1978). What started out as a disco parody song became what perhaps may be one of the top five greatest examples of a perfect disco song ever. Who knew what was truly inside this band.
1. “Rapture” (Autoamerican, 1980). This song is not only a landmark song, signaling the ascent of hip hop culture, but it is just a terrific hit. It has everything, from the name-dropping of Fab Five Freddy to the NYC disco scene to a punk/metal guitar to Debbie Harry’s cool vocals AND rap. This IS the beginning of Gen X.