After the 1978 release of Parallel Lines, there wasn’t a soul on the planet who hadn’t heard of Blondie. Tracks like “One Way or Another” and the disco-infused “Heart of Glass,” helped propel the group to superstardom. Nearly four decades, eight albums, and one infamous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later, Blondie remains to be one of the most influential pop-rock bands to come out of the US. But once upon a time, Blondie was purely a punk band, and Debbie Harry was the face that launched an entire movement.
In 1973 CBGB was founded and would be known around the globe as the birthplace of punk music. It welcomed the misfits, the outcasts, the huddled masses of black sheep- the misguided few who refused to fit the mold and weren’t ashamed of being different. CBGB was home to acts like the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, and Joan Jett. But it was Blondie’s fearless frontwoman who commanded the room with her stunning beauty, unparalleled style, and signature blonde hair. Her voice, both haunting and raw, captured the angst and youth of punk rock.
Billy Bass, former VP of Marketing and Creative Services at Chrysalis Records, recalls Blondie’s early days at CBGB: “CBGB in New York was the place where punk rock was getting its American debut. When Blondie started to perform at CBGB’s, it really gave…this is the best way I could put it…it gave punk a face so America could see what punk rock was, just because of that visual, that classic visual of Debbie Harry. The fact that the group was called Blondie and Debbie had blonde hair, kinda pulled it all together. The most important thing they did as far as establishing punk rock in America was giving it a face.”
Groups like Velvet Underground and the Stooges were undeniable pioneers of punk rock and the subculture that evolved from punk. Influenced by anti-establishment views, they embodied the rebellious spirit of that time. Debbie Harry was unashamed to break the rules and used her own personal style to obliterate stereotypes and express her defiant nature. Zebra print, sequins, and thrift store tees were all fair game, and she pulled it off flawlessly, inspiring fashion trends for decades to come.
Blondie was signed to Chrysalis Records in 1977 and recorded what would become their biggest commercial success, Parallel Lines. Bass was, in essence, responsible for taking Blondie’s career to the next level by introducing them to the world: “One of my jobs was to get airplay across the country and take Blondie out of New York and being just a punk rock band to being a worldwide pop band. One of the things that the A&R department did was put her (Debbie Harry) together with Mike Chapman, and Mike Chapman produced a song called ‘Heart of Glass.’ And that song had just happened to come out when disco was happening. So here comes this punk rock band with this fabulous front person, Debbie Harry, and a disco sort of sounding mix with ‘Heart of Glass.’ People got out on the dance floor when they heard this record. So it was easy to just obviously put a video together, showing Blondie at a club performing this record, performing this song. And once the world saw that, they could see that this wasn’t just a CBGB’s band.”
“Heart of Glass” would break the mold, combining rock, disco, and even rap to create a sound that no one had really heard before. All the world could do was take notice. And Debbie Harry’s fearless ability to push boundaries, combined with her effortless artistry became the stuff legends are made of. Bass reminisces about his time working with Harry: “I loved every moment that I spent with Debbie. She inspired me because she was such an artist, and she helped me to see things through more of an artistic lens rather than just a commercial lens. And when I combined those two it kinda made me a little more successful. I was never in Debbie’s company when I wasn’t awed by something that she said. She was just perfect in my opinion. In any situation, Debbie never came off as anything but genuine. You knew you were talking to a genuine artist, not some manufactured act.”
Throughout Blondie’s evolution as a group, no matter how much they pushed the envelope, they remained true to that punk rock band fresh out of CBGB’s. Blondie brought punk to the mainstream, blending genres, and thus creating a sound entirely unlike anyone else’s.
However, it was Debbie Harry’s timeless beauty that became recognizable around the world, and it was her name that became synonymous with punk music. She helped launch a movement of feminism, breaking barriers and inspiring artists like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Lady Gaga to break new barriers. Her unapologetic passion for artistic expression set forth a movement and catapulted her from punk rock queen to icon.