Of all the so-called new wave bands biting and clawing to survive, only a band called Blondie has actually made it. Two obvious reasons for the band's global success are their fusion of disco with rock on the hit "Heart of Glass" and the glamor of vocalist Deborah Harry, a blond Venus who has become rock's greatest sex symbol since Marianne Faithfull. Yet an even more substantial reason can be found in Blondie's link with traditional pop.
Blondie is a "street" name, bestowed upon Debbie Harry by truck drivers as she'd sashay down the sidewalk. But the bank has always been instinctively categorized as a camp act, based on the assumption that their name refers to Dagwood's famous wife. And on their first album, Blondie did, indeed, seem committed to the camp style. Like caterpillars tumbling, the band was absorbed in snug playfulness. With songs like "Attack of the Giant Ants" and "Kung Fu Girls," Blondie became the new wave's equivalent to "Batman" putting Gotham City on the map with comic relief.
But their first single, "X Offender" (the story of a hooker handcuffed to a cop), headed in the opposite direction from cardboard cutups. The record was a perfect extension of the female-group sound exemplified by the Crystals and the Ronettes. Certainly it was no accident that, on Blondie's debut LP, background vocals were supplied by Ellie Greenwich, the female composer/arranger/producer who, along with Phil Spector and Jeff Barry, created the engulfing wave of female groups during 1961-64.
On "Eat to the Beat" (Chrysalis CHE-1225), Blondie's followup to last year's platinum "Parallel Lines" (Chr 1192), Ellie Greenwich is still whispering in the shadows; the voice of Ronnie Spector is still blond Debbie's inspiration. Although five guys share Harry's spotlight, Blondie may be the '70's most significant female group.
However, Blondie's producer, Mike Chapman, is no Phil Spector -- he's a contrived, albeit polished, AM hitmaker. Chapman, with pal Nicky Chinn, was an early - '70s mastermind behind glitter rock Sweet, Suzi Quatro). Recently, he has anesthetized the airwaves, producing gloss by Nick Gilder, Exile, the Knack and Blondie's "Parallel Lines." By itself, though. Chapman's formula is like a flat Tab; it is Blondie's embrace of the pop sensibility, alone, that has made their music sparkle like a shaken Sprite.
For Blondie, the pop world is not a permanent "Fantasy Island" but simply a path toward periodic escapism. Unlike ABBA or Fleetwood Mac, Blondie does not wrap itself in a pop cocoon, isolated from the actuality of death and disappointment. On "Dreaming," dreams become not only airy hopes but the way to liberty ("dreaming is free").
Concealed behind Blondie's marshmallow sound is a genuine concern for daily struggles. Although the pop fantasy may appeal to the working class, Blondie feels committed to unburdening hardships. On "Union City Blue," instead of forging more heavy metal a la Aerosmith, Blondie conveys the power and the passion of iron-and-steel labor. At the beginning of the song, the torment of Debbie's sigh -- "Oh-ho, what are we gonna do?" -- would lure a modern Odysseus from his destination.
"Shayla" is like the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack." Shayla, a factory girl, finally escapes her wearisome lifestyle. But she races down the highway away from the humdrum routine, she's confronted by an unearthly entity ("some cosmic energy brushed her like shadows"). Viewed by other freeway wanderers, this moment appears only to be an instantanious flash of bright lights and thunder. Like all dreamy-eyed drifters, Shayla has departed a world obsessed merely with daily survival.
Blondie is a band motivated by idealism. The band does not gaze into a mystical void and ponder life's meaning instead, they challenge their imperfect world, trying to shape it into a paradise for everybody. On a recent "Midnight Special," in the middle of "Heart of Glass," Debbie spoke for nuclear disarmament. On "Accidents Never Happen," a love song as much as an attack on Three-Mile-Island, Debbie sings these optimistic words -- "I can designate your presence from afar./And I'll follow you until/I can bring you to a perfect world./Accidents never happen in a perfect world./Complications disappear."
Blondie has the ability to distinguish between rock 'n' roll fantasy and everyday reality. Consider "Slow Motion," an unusual mixture of the Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love" and Little Eva's "Loco-Motion," combining '60's participation with '70's detachment in a cool, lively dance. The song suggests that one should stop dreaming, look around and breathe ("Slow motion, you can stop on a dime/Slow motion, you oughta try it sometime").
On the album's final song, "Living in the Real World," Blondie asserts that they are not of this earth, that Debbie Harry is only a teen queen for rock magazines. But the very fact that the band exposes the dilemma of their entrapment within rock 'n' roll's plastic cube is their saving grace.
Blondie simply refuses to disappear behind the make-up.