In my constant reverence for the diva in all shapes and sizes, I shine the light, now, on Miss Deborah Harry. The woman is 65 years old and one of the most iconic women of punk rock of all time. Really, who rivals her? Patti Smith, sure, Chrissie Hynde, OK. But Patti and Chrissie were grungy, dirty girls in all black with busted faces. There’s no doubt that Patti’s Horses (1975) beat Debbie to the punch with the whole “girls can rock and don’t mess with us” thing. But with 1978’s Parallel Lines, Harry and Blondie hit it out of the park. And boy did they have style doing it.
Blondie’s first was their self-titled album in 1976, attempting to cash in on the synergy of art, rock, glamour and punk evidenced by the success of NYC joints like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54. Harry had been in some bands before Blondie: a folk rock outfit called The Wind in the Willows in the late ’60s, then a rock band called The Stilettos, where she met her soon-to-be-boyfriend and co-band leader, Chris Stein. By then, Harry had been a waitress, a dancer, and a Playboy bunny, and it was her famous two-tone blonde mane that attracted plenty of Hey Blondie!‘s from many a drive-by truck and a-hole. Well, she certainly cashed in on that crass catcalling in the most powerful way possible: becoming a music and fashion icon.
The band’s first two efforts were more or less commercial duds. But somehow the stars aligned with Parallel Lines and four of the album’s biggest hits have sold twenty million copies since its September 1978 release: Heart of Glass, Sunday Girl, One Way Or Another, and my absolute favorite, Hanging On The Telephone. This was also an album that meshed nicely with the emergence of music video culture; Heart of Glass and Hanging are GREAT videos where Harry’s cool, casual lip-synching are overshadowed by her expressive eyes and glossy, red lips. Or, furthermore, by the uncanny control of her voice, especially with Hanging, during which her voice often transforms into one of the sexiest growls in rock history.
The following two records did fairly well with 1980’s Autoamerican giving us Rapture and The Tide Is High, but it’s Hanging that, to me, represents the perceived mad woman, the woman on the edge of insanity, the woman who’ll destroy your world if you let her.