BLONDIE – ” Parallel Lines ” Classic Albums Released September 23rd 1978

Posted: September 23, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , ,

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Blondie didn’t just leap with 1978’s “Parallel Lines”; they went into hyperdrive. As one of the early progenitors of the highly influential NYC punk scene, singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein ditched the grime and grit and embraced what would become their own signature brand of glossy power pop and disco-tinged new wave — you know, the stuff that wound up shaping the next decade. “Heart of Glass”, the album’s state-of-the-art third single, was a total game-changer for the outfit, welding European electronica with Harry’s natural falsetto.

When Blondie went into New York’s famed Record Plant studios in June 1978 they were allocated 6 months to record their third studio album. Six weeks later, producer Mike Chapman deemed the job done and Parallel Lines was born.

Following on from their punk-meets-new-wave sound, Parallel Lines was a more focused and deliberate effort than their previous two albums, despite the band’s best efforts to achieve otherwise. With the central focus of Chapman behind the boards, he led the band to push themselves musically and at times beyond their own musical abilities. The result was an album that came to define pure post-punk pop. And Blondie’s days as a charmed underground group out of New York were numbered, as a larger world would open up to them on the heels of its release.

When Blondie started work on their third album, Parallel Lines, in the summer of 1978, they were an under-the-radar New Wave band with a nostalgic bent toward the girl-group sounds of the ’60s. They were in an entirely different position when they began recording their next album, “Eat to the Beat, less than a year later.  Kicking off with the rocking stalking anthem of “Hanging on the Telephone” (a Jack Lee cover) Debbie Harry delivers her strongest vocals to date, inhabiting the song with a sweet yet dangerous delivery.

Harry’s persona grows with the uber catchy “One Way or Another” with its signature guitar hook and sweet boppy beat that underscores the threat and menace on display in the lyrics. the obsessed jilted lover, Harry was taunting and preening with jealousy like a pro. With every line, Harry grows in strength and showcases the power needed to front an all-male band in the late ‘70s (and be taken seriously). Completing the opening trio of pop perfection, the band shifts gears with the lovelorn promise of “Picture This.” Amidst swirling guitar riffs and a classic backbeat by drummer Clem Burke, the song mixes early rock nostalgia with a burning sexuality and does so while still remaining sugary sweet.

After its release in fall 1978, Parallel Lines shot up the charts, reaching No. 1 in the U.K. and the Top 10 in the U.S. thanks to the powerhouse appeal of the single “Heart of Glass,” which went to No. 1 across the planet, including the U.S. The song added another influence to the band’s range of musical styles. So, when the six-member Blondie, led by singer Debbie Harry, entered the studio in their hometown of New York City as spring turned to summer in 1979, they pretty much followed the template of the record that rocketed them to stardom the previous year. That meant some New Wave, a little pop, a throwback or two to their punk roots and, of course, more disco. And then they took it even further.

Harry, who co-wrote eight of the new album’s songs, was thrust into the spotlight following “Parallel Lines” success. She became the focal point of the group and was often characterized by unknowing Top 40 fans as a solo artist named Blondie. Even though their publicity department stressed the issue — going as far as declaring “Blondie is a band” in press releases — getting casual music fans who knew them from only “Heart of Glass” to acknowledge there were five other people making the music was often an uphill battle.

This musical growth is evident on the modern torch song of “Fade Away and Radiate,” the pulsing driven beat of “I Know But I Don’t Know” with its borderline psychedelic melody, and the urgent rock swing of “11:59.”

Even the album’s filler songs such as “Just Go Away” and “Will Anything Happen” rival the hits on other band’s albums of the era. And then there’s the bouncy pop of “I’m Gonna Love You Too” and “Sunday Girl” that present a softer, more playful side to Blondie’s sound, But the game changer of the album, and for the band, was the soon to be disco anthem “Heart of Glass.” To a bubbling drum machine and strutting open hi-hat beat, the production on “Heart of Glass” is flawless. From the soft and subtle (at first) blipping synth line and slow sweeps, Blondie boldly stepped from the grimy stages of New York’s clubs to the dance floors of thriving discos.

Loved, and also hated, for producing a “disco” song, Blondie held fast to their belief of writing a great song befitting of the pop and r&b influences that appeared—perhaps less obviously—in their earlier recordings. Parallel Lines is the album of a band (somewhat reluctantly) finding its sound. It became the album that sprang them forward and launched them onto the world stage, and would form the blueprint for their subsequent efforts. It remains a perfect encapsulation of Blondie in their prime, focused on superior songcraft and musicianship. Whilst producer Chapman may have pushed them to beyond their creative breaking point, the result ensured an album that stands the test of time.

When they reconvened in the studio to make Eat to the Beat, Blondie were still working hard on that band dynamic. All six members contributed songs to the album in one form or another and, along with returning producer Mike Chapman, were determined to not rest on Parallel Lines’ laurels. Eat to the Beat sounds like a follow-up, but not a sequel. And that’s no small achievement.

From the start, Blondie didn’t quite fit in with the punk groups they were often associated with. They were poppier and more melodic. And they didn’t seem like they wanted to save the world — or burn it down, for that matter. So the disco explosion that was “Heart of Glass” sounded natural, an effortless offshoot from their downtown art-punk roots. A small step, but an integral part of Blondie’s story. As producer Chapman noted in the album’s 2001 reissue, tensions were high during the recording, stemming from increased drug use among various members. But Harry also began to assume more control, outlining a vision for the album that included the usual mix of pop, punk, disco, New Wave and even R&B-inflected songs.

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