Celebrating 40 Years of Blondie’s Parallel Lines
Ask anyone to name one of their favourite Blondie tracks and chances are that most people will name one of the many singles from the band’s iconic ‘Parallel Lines’ album. In fact, six of the twelve tracks to appear on the album were released as singles in some capacity.
Released at the end of 1978, ‘Parallel Lines’ became the breakthrough album for the band, consisting of Gary Valentine, Clem Burke, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Jimmy Destri. Named after an uncompleted track, the album was released the same year as the band’s previous album ‘Plastic Letters’ and became Blondie’s first top ten album in the USA - the first of many.
Forty years on, ‘Parallel Lines’ is Blondie’s most well-known and successful album and is believed to have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. The album has also appeared on many greatest album of all time lists from the likes of Rolling Stone, NME and Pitchfork.
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the album, we felt it would only be fair to have a look into some of the biggest songs from ‘Parallel Lines’ to find out how they came to be and how they’ve had an impact since release.
But, first things first, we need to talk about THAT iconic album cover.
Photographed by Edo Bertoglio, the cover shot saw the majority of the band posing in matching dress suits in front of black and white stripes. Debbie Harry instead went for a white dress. Whilst the band may look like they’re standing together and posing, the truth actually couldn’t be further from the truth.
At the time of the photo shoot, the band had fallen out with one another and tensions were high. Their manager, Peter Leeds, came up with a solution:
“I knew I couldn’t put them in a photo session together and get a usable photo, so I came up with the idea that each of them had their own black or white stripe so that we could take the pictures individually.”
Heart of Glass
In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine ranked ‘Heart of Glass’ as the 255th greatest song of all time and became the first number one hit in both the USA and UK for the band in 1979.
Initially called ‘Once I Had a Love’, the song is also referred to ‘The Disco Song’ as the track was originally written with a disco beat in mind when the band wanted to take inspiration from The Hues Corporation's ‘Rock the Boat’. Some critics thought the band were “selling out” from their new wave roots when they first heard the track but, nonetheless, it went on to sell over 1.3 million copies in the UK alone - making it one of the best-selling singles of all time in the country.
In an interview with The Guardian, Harry said the track weren’t about anyone in particular and that “they were just a plaintive moan about lost love.”
Since release, 'Heart of Glass' has been sampled in songs by Celine Dion, Todd Terje and, most notably, Missy Elliott, who featured the drum beat in ‘Work It’. In 2016, ‘Heart of Glass’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
One Way or Another
Whilst nowhere near as successful as ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘One Way or Another’ showed that Blondie knew how to make a hit and still managed to reach number 24 on the US singles chart.
The song is about one of Debbie Harry’s ex-boyfriends, who turned into a stalker when they first broke up. Despite its popularity, the track was only ever released in the USA and Canada yet has featured prominently in many films and television shows over the years, including ‘Mean Girls’, ‘Bob’s Burgers’, and ‘The Rugrats Movie’.
‘One Way or Another’ has also been covered by a variety of acts including One Direction, Face to Face, The Black Eyed Peas, and even underground indie act Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Despite never being released in the USA, 'Sunday Girl' was a mammoth hit for the band in the UK where it spent three weeks at number one - becoming the eighth biggest selling of the year in 1979.
The release of single included of the track sung entirely in French. About the story behind ‘Sunday Girl’, Chris Stein said:
“I wrote that song to cheer Debbie up because she was down as her gray cat named Sunday Man had run away whilst we were away on tour.”
In 2010, the song was covered by Florrie and used in an advert for Nina Ricci perfume whilst the band themselves re-recorded the track in 2013 as part of the soundtrack for film ‘CBCG’.
Hanging on The Telephone
At a length of just slightly-over 2 minutes, ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ waits no time at all before launching into a powerful blend of double backbeat drum rhythms and synth beats.
Despite becoming one of their well-loved tracks, Hanging on the Telephone’ is actually, perhaps surprising to some, a cover of the Nerves’ track of the same name. Ultimately, Blondie managed to make the song their own and it went on to reach the top five in the UK.
Since release, the track has been covered by the likes of Def Leppard and Cat Power.
Parallel Lines Today
‘Parallel Lines’ helped break the band into many major markets and remains their most successful album to date.
Whilst it may have felt like a sidestep to early fans at the time,, it actually helped to define the true sound of the band as they would continue to experiment with genres from disco and pop to reggae and even rap, as evident in later hit 'Rapture'.
If it weren’t for Blondie and ‘Parallel Lines’, we may not have had bands like Garbage and No Doubt who have both openly expressed how the New York group inspired them and their work. 40 years on, ‘Parallel Lines’ remains as instant as ever and the songs continue to be incredibly popular around the world.
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