Debbie Harry by Decade: Celebrating the Blondie Frontwoman's 70th Birthday
The year 1945 was an astounding one for music history, giving us Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, John Fogerty and Carly Simon. Add another big 70th birthday to the year, as July 1 marks the near-diamond anniversary of Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry. Music Times is celebrating the big day by looking back over her four decades in music and choosing our favorite track from each of the ten-year spans she's spent in business.
The '70s: "One Way Or Another" (1979)
The '70s was obviously going to be one of the most difficult decades from which to represent Harry and Blondie, considering the release of their landmark album Parallel Lines during 1978. One thing is for sure: Blondie is great at writing singles. Another thing is for sure: They're not so hot at choosing what songs to release as singles. Lines is the case-and-point. Although every one of the six singles released from the album was deserving, two stood above the rest. One was "Heart Of Glass," which would become the band's first no. 1. Although some criticized the track for somewhat mirroring the sound of the disco scene, it's an incredible track, and disco would be blessed to consider it among its own. That track was released fourth among the album's singles...but the best song in the band's entire discography was held until the sixth single. Harry proves herself as more than a pretty face for those who hadn't figured it out yet: She combines the sweet melodies of "Heart Of Glass," bluesy chest vocals and a kitschy persona for the song's stalker protagonist, all bundled up into the ironi-punk of the New Wave scene. Everything that makes Harry great can be found here.
The '80s: "Call Me" (1980)
If you take Rolling Stone's word for it, "Call Me" narrowly edges "One Way Or Another" as Blondie's best song ever (the former is ranked no. 283 on its all-time list, and the latter is at no. 298). We respectfully disagree, but can understand entirely how "Call Me" would end up becoming the band's most successful single of all time. While "One Way" packed kitsch and peaked at no. 29 on the Hot 100, "Call Me" takes Harry at her most powerhouse and packs that voice into a simple, catchy chorus. Fueled in part by the success of American Gigolo, the film for which it appeared on the soundtrack, "Call Me" became Blondie's second no. 1 song in the U.S. and would end up being the most successful single in the band's history. It stayed atop the Hot 100 for six weeks and was ultimately named the biggest song of the year by Billboard.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Turns out Rolling Stone actually ranked "Heart of Glass" at no. 255 all-time. Needless to say, your correspondent disagrees.
The '90s: "Maria" (1998)
The Hot 100, alas, is not a chart designed for veteran performers. Despite having crafted the top song of 1980, the band would only land on the Hot 100 once more following 1982. Of course, part of that is because the band also took a 17-year break from releasing LPs from 1982 to 1999. Although several compilations and remix albums were dropped during the '80s, none of the singles released in correlation managed to grab any attention. That makes the emergence of "Maria," the first single from the band's 1999 comeback album No Exit, all the more impressive. Granted, the song only peaked at no. 82 in the U.S. but Blondie's fans in the UK were all-in (they had always be ahead of the curve when it came to the band), bringing the single to no. 1. That act made Blondie the first American act to land a no. 1 single during the '70s, '80s AND '90s in the UK.
The '00s: "Rapture Riders" (2005)
One of the more historic moments in Blondie's history actually deals with hip-hop. We've already referenced Harry's willingness to bounce around between vocal styles, and that includes rapping. In fact, the single "Rapture" (we see what they did there) went to no. 1 during 1981, marking the first time that a song featuring a rap reached the top of the charts (and, we suppose, the first time people got mad that a white woman was dabbling in hip-hop). Although historic, that moment didn't come close to beating out Blondie's best '80s tracks. However, we can cheat the system and nominate "Rapture Riders," a 2005 release from the band's Greatest Hits: Sight + Sound compilation, which took the original single and mashed it up with The Doors' "Riders On The Storm." This way you get to appreciate Harry's willingness to experiment in a more relaxed electronic setting.
The '10s: "I Want To Drag You Around" (2014)
As much as hardcore fans might not want to admit it, age tends to take its toll on vocalists more so than any other position in a band. Some suggested that the weakening of Harry's voice was the major reason why 2014's Ghosts of Download featured so many guest slots and more pop-centric tracks was to accommodate Harry, who was 68 when the album was recorded. Still, we found ourselves most pleased by "I Want To Drag You Around," the last single and the only one which didn't pack guest vocals. What did we appreciate most about it? It was less about dancing and more about the savagery that's always been lurking in Harry's work. Consider classic tracks such as "One Way Or Another" or "Rip Her To Shreds," or the bizarre impaling themes on the cover of her solo record KooKoo. "Drag You Around" may not be "Greatest Hits" material but we got a hoot out of it.