Blondie is an American rock band that first gained fame in the late 1970s and has so far sold over 60 million records. The band was a pioneer in the early American new wave and punk rock scenes. Its first two albums contained strong elements of these genres, and although successful in the United Kingdom and Australia, Blondie was regarded as an underground band in the United States until the release of Parallel Lines in 1978. Over the next three years, the band achieved several hit singles and was noted for its eclectic mix of musical styles incorporating elements of disco, pop and reggae, while retaining a basic style as a new wave band.
Lead singer Deborah Harry achieved a level of celebrity that eclipsed other band members, leading to tension within the group. Following a poorly received album and with core member Chris Stein diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease, the group disbanded in 1982. As members pursued other projects, Blondie's reputation grew over the following decade and the group reformed in 1997, achieving renewed success and a number one single in the United Kingdom with "Maria" in 1999. The group toured and performed throughout the world over the following years, and was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the RockWalk of Fame in 2006.
Blondie became regulars at New York's Club 51, Max's Kansas City and CBGB. They got their first record deal with Private Stock Records in the mid-1970s and released their debut album Blondie in 1976, along with the single "X-Offender". Private Stock Records was then bought out by the UK-based company, Chrysalis Records, and the first album was re-released on the new label in 1977, along with the single "Rip Her to Shreds". Rolling Stone wrote about Blondie for the first time in August 1977 and observed the eclectic nature of the group's music, comparing it to Phil Spector and The Who, and commented that the album's two strengths were Richard Gottehrer's production and the persona of Deborah Harry, saying she performed with "utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she's portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending." It also noted that Harry was the "possessor of a bombshell zombie's voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song".
The band's first commercial success occurred in Australia in 1977, when the music television program Countdown mistakenly played their video "In the Flesh", which was the B-side of their current single "X-Offender". Jimmy Destri later credited the show's Molly Meldrum for their initial success, commenting that "we still thank him to this day" for playing the wrong song. In a 1998 interview, bandmember Clem Burke recalled seeing the episode in which the wrong song was played, but he and Chris Stein suggested that it may have been a deliberate subterfuge on the part of Meldrum. Stein asserted that "X-Offender" was "too crazy and aggressive [to become a hit]", while "In the Flesh" was "not representative of any punk sensibility. Over the years, I've thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That's all." In retrospect, Burke described "In the Flesh" as "a forerunner to the power ballad".
The single and album each reached the Australian top five in October 1977, and a subsequent double-A release of "X-Offender" and "Rip Her to Shreds" was also popular. A successful Australian tour followed in December, though it was marred by an incident in Brisbane when disappointed fans almost rioted after Harry canceled a performance due to illness.
1977 also saw the release of their second album, recorded as a four-piece band because Gary Valentine had left. Plastic Letters was promoted extensively throughout Europe and Asia by Chrysalis Records. The album's first single, "Denis", was a cover version of Randy and the Rainbows' 1963 hit. It reached number two on the British singles charts, while both the album and its second single, "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear", reached the British top ten. That chart success, along with a successful 1978 UK tour including a gig at the Roundhouse (The Boomtown Rats opened), made Blondie one of the first American new wave bands to achieve mainstream success in the United Kingdom. By this time, Gary Valentine had been replaced by Frank Infante (bass guitar/guitar), and shortly after that Nigel Harrison (bass guitar) was added, expanding the band to a six-piece for the first time.
Allmusic later described Plastic Letters as inferior to its predecessor, saying that with the exception of the two singles, it appeared to have been constructed from "leftovers" from the Blondie album. It noted that Gottehrer's production could not compensate for the "pedestrian musical tracks" or save the album from "general mediocrity".
Blondie's next single in the U.S. was a more aggressive rock song, "One Way or Another", which reached the top 30. The band's greatest success continued to be in the UK, where an alternate single choice, "Sunday Girl", became another number one smash.
Their fourth album, Eat to the Beat, was well received by critics as a suitable follow-up to Parallel Lines, but in the U.S. it failed to achieve the same level of success. In the UK, the single "Atomic" reached number one, "Dreaming" number two, and "Union City Blue" was another top 20 hit, while in the U.S. their singles did not chart as strongly.
Deborah Harry worked with the Italian songwriter and producer Giorgio Moroder, who had been responsible for Donna Summer's biggest hits, and they composed the song "Call Me" for the soundtrack of the film American Gigolo. The song spent six weeks at number one in the U.S. and became a hit throughout the world. Their album Autoamerican was released later that year and contained two more worldwide hits, the reggae-styled "The Tide Is High" and the rap-flavored "Rapture", which was the first song containing elements of hip-hop and rap vocals to reach number one in the U.S. and helped introduce the then-underground rap genre to a larger audience. "Rapture" would be the band's only single to achieve a higher chart position on the U.S. charts than in the UK, where it peaked at number five.
Following their success of 1978-80, Blondie took a brief break in 1981. That year, Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri both released solo albums; Stein helped out with Harry's album Koo Koo, and Burke with Destri's Heart on a Wall. Also in 1981, Blondie was offered the chance to perform the theme to the new James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. They were under the impression that they had been asked to compose the track as well, but when they presented their song to the film's producers, they learned the offer was to record the theme already written by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson. The producers rejected Blondie's song and passed the offer on to Sheena Easton, who had a top ten hit with the Conti/Leeson song. Blondie's composition for the film was, however, included on their next album.
The band reconvened in 1982 to record and release The Hunter. In contrast to their earlier commercial and critical successes, The Hunter generally received lukewarm-to-negative reviews and failed to hit the top 20 in the U.S. The album did spin off two fairly minor hit singles: "Island of Lost Souls" (#11 UK, #37 US) and "War Child" (#39 UK).
With tensions within the band on the rise due to the commercial decline and the constant press focus on Harry to the exclusion of the other band members, events reached a breaking point when Stein was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness pemphigus. In August 1982, Blondie canceled their tour plans early and announced their break-up.
Stein and Harry (at the time a couple) stayed together, and retreated from the public spotlight for a few years. After Stein recovered from his illness, Harry resumed her solo career in 1985, with active participation from Stein in all her recordings. Meanwhile, Burke became a much-in-demand session drummer (and played for a time with Eurythmics), and Destri also maintained an active career as a producer and session musician.
In 1996, Stein began the process of reuniting Blondie and contacted Burke, Destri, and Valentine, who had by this time moved to London and become a full-time writer under his real name Gary Lachman; his New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation (2002) is a memoir of his years with the band. In 1997, the band reformed, performing live three times without Harrison and Infante, who had unsuccessfully sued to prevent the reunion under the name Blondie. An international tour in late 1998 and early 1999 followed. A new album, No Exit, was released in February 1999; it was described by Jimmy Destri as "15 songs about nothing". It reached number three on the UK charts, and the first single, "Maria", which Destri had written thinking about his high school days, became Blondie's sixth UK number one single exactly twenty years after their first chart-topper "Heart of Glass", giving the band the distinction of being the only American act to reach number one in the UK singles charts in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The band released the album The Curse of Blondie in October 2003. Curse was Blondie's least-successful album since its debut, although the single "Good Boys" managed to reach number 12 on the UK charts. In 2004 Jimmy Destri retired from touring, leaving only Harry, Stein and Burke from the original lineup appearing at live shows.
In March 2006, Blondie, following an introductory speech by Shirley Manson of Garbage, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seven members were invited to the ceremony, which led to an on-stage spat between the extant group and their former bandmates Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who asked during the live broadcast of the ceremony to be allowed to perform with the group, a request refused by Harry. On May 22, 2006, Blondie was inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame at Guitar Center on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. New inductees are voted on by previous Rock Walk inductees.