Thursday, August 9, 2018

Parallel Lines

In L.A. we didn't discover Blondie until Parallel Lines (AM9) in 1978. '78 had been another stellar and eclectic, evolutionary year (Devo-lutionary as well). Blondie, like Talking Heads, first appeared at CBGB in '75 and was immediately dismissed as a '60s throwback pop group. Few could anticipate that Debbie Harry & Co. would become the most successful band from that scene.
On their 1976 debut, Blondie offered a fully realized version of what they were all about: equal parts girl-group pop, British Invasion rock 'n' roll, B-movie kitsch and classic sex appeal all rolled into one. The unmistakable focal point was Debbie Harry, who knew her strengths and played them to the max. But the rest of the band provided the solid musical backing she needed to reach superstardom; not a simple task for a punk band.

On 1977's follow-up album, Plastic Letters, Blondie added more aggression to punk mix and by the time the started working on their third album they were branching out, experimenting with the music. Released in September '78, Parallel Lines was the culmination of everything Blondie was working toward, both musically and stylistically: a modern pop record nodding to the past and looking to the future and kicking off with a killer track — a cover of Los Angeles rockers the Nerves' "Hanging on the Telephone." Blondie completely owned the song, turning into a power-pop gem and a punk anthem.

It's followed by the popular raunchy rocker "One Way or Another," which features one of Harry’s best vocal performances, as well as some great guitar riffing. Parallel Lines takes a left turn by track 4 with "Fade Away and Radiate," featuring the album’s most haunting synth lines (in a punk band?), pounding drums and one of Harry's most sultry vocals. King Crimson's Robert Fripp helps set the mood with a guitar line that spins Blondie in a totally new direction. At the end of the song, it drifts into a reggae groove, something the band would explore in detail later in its career.

Blondie eventually return to their pop roots on "Sunday Girl," written by guitarist Chris Stein. The song looks back on the great pop songs of the past decade while keeping firmly placed in 1978. And then comes the bomb. "Heart of Glass," dates back to CBGB in 1975, when it was known as "Once I Had a Love" and played as a reggae shuffle. Producer Mike Chapman suggested that the band rework the song as a disco track, and it became their first No. 1 hit. This monster propelled Parallel Lines to the upper region of the charts. It sold a million copies. And it remains Blondie’s most popular (and arguably best) album.

Many of us were in recovery mode. High School over, Blondie was just in time for our college radio years. It was hard giving up our stuffy prog, but it was time to go wild.

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