THE ALBUM BLONDIE -- Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis CHE 1225).

THE ALBUM BLONDIE -- Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis CHE 1225).

In 1976, record producer Richie Gottehrer was in the audience at CBGB's in New York, watching four sallow-skinned punks and an incandescent blonde light the tiny stage like diamonds in the Bowery. Less than a year later, with the help of Gottehrer and Private Stock Records president Larry Uttal, the same five-piece band, now sporting the comic-strip name Blondie, played to an enthusiastic crowd at the Whisky in Los Angeles and embarked on a tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie. In just one more year, they had a No. 1 single and a platinum-bound album. Sounds like a classic success story, doesn't it?

Not to hear lead singer Deborah Harry tell it. She has harsh words for the rock press, who, she claims, tried their best to ruin the band. Harry and the rest of the band are so skittish now, in fact, that they only give the most circumspect of interviews. Which is just as well, because the best case for Blondie is not made on the reporter's pad but in the recording studio.

It's hard to sing the praises of Deborah Harry and Blondie loud enough. Despite what the rock press has said, with the release of "Eat to the Beat," there should be nothing but acclaim all around, just as there was for their third album, "Parallel Lines," which yielded the punk/disco hit, "Heart of Glass." In Fact, since the release in 1976 of their first album, simply entitled "Blondie," the band has had all the elements of a tightly-focused, smoothly-produced performing unit.

Perhaps it's a reflection on the American press that the group had such difficulty achieving recognition in this country, when they already had several hit singles and a loyal following in Europe, Australia and Asia. Although they hail from New York, it wasn't until some of the English punk aura about them was dispelled that Blondie began to get the attention they deserved in this country. "Heart of Glass" went a long way towards establishing them as pop performers, and "Eat to the Beat," with its chart-riding single "Dreaming," reinforces that image.

Although the other members of the band get rankled at the notion that Deborah Harry is Blondie, there's no denying that she carries them. With her cool Garbo-Harlow looks and her all-at-once tough and vulnerable manner, Harry is a spellbinder, a punk siren of sorts. In addition, she and her bunkmate, guitarist Chris Stein, are the musical-lyrical brains of the group; between them they wrote eight of the 12 songs on "Eat to the Beat." The result is an unrelived, but pleasant, uniformity of sound. t

"Eat to the Beat," represents a quantum leap in sophistication over "Blondie" and "Plastic Letters," the first two albums. It has a smooth, carefully-produced sound, with an emphasis on romantic ballads, which seem to be the best showcase for Harry's cautiously inflected vocals. From a musical standpoint, the stark sound of "Plastic Letters" has given way to a more compelling mix of keyboard flourishes, guitar licks and syncopated drumming, which serves to move the band even closer to the pop-music camp.

Lyrically, Deborah Harry is perpetually on the make, chasing after unattainable men and, as often as not, arriving at the sobering conclusion of "Heart of Glass," that love usually turns out to be a posterior pain. When she puts her mind to it, though, she also is capable of compellingly detailed descriptions (the armored-car heist in "The Hardest Part") and some careful reflections on narcissism ("Die Young Stay Pretty").

The unfortunate truth about Blondie is that Harry is so talented and commands so much attention that the musicians, for all their abundant talent, will have to be content to bask in her glow. It's this sort of press that the band, Harry and Stein in particular, doesn't like, because it implies that there are warring factions in the monolith known as Blondie. Even so, a little creative tension never hurt any band, so long as it doesn't get out of hand. And if there is tension, it's not evident in the smooth, harmonious sound of "Eat to the Beat," arguably one of the best-conceived and realized albums of the year.