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On This Day In Music… February 17, 1979: 'Parallel Lines' Catapults Blondie to Global Fame

The NYC band's third album was a watershed for Blondie – but also for popular music itself.

qblondie parallel lines album cover
Source: Chrysalis Records

Blondie - Parallel Lines.

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On February 17, 1979, Parallel Lines, the album that for many would come to define Blondie, hit No. 1 in the British charts – and the New York rockers never looked back.

Parallel Lines was Blondie’s third album. Their 1976 self-titled debut had failed to trouble the charts on its original release, and although its follow-up, Plastic Letters, had broken into the U.K. Top 10 and produced two hit singles, “Denis” and “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear”, the band were still largely seen as a niche taste, a New York punk oddity with a charismatic singer and some quirky ideas.

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Source: Chrysalis Records

I know, but I don't know. Blondie, circa 1978.

Parallel Lines changed all that. Packed with songs that would go on to become classics, including four top ten singles, “One Way or Another”, “Sunday Girl”, “Hanging on the Telephone” and “Picture This” as well as “Heart of Glass”, which topped the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic, it cut through just about everything else that was out there – and created a template for a new musical evolution that would marry punk, disco and pop in a way that had never been heard before. So how was it done?

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One key factor was producer Mike Chapman. His high-profile status as a hitmaker was already well documented. With partner Nicky Chinn, he had racked up 19 hits in the Top 40 in the UK Singles Chart, including five number-ones from 1973-74. Known more for his association with glam rock acts like the Sweet and Suzi Quatro, Chapman had moved to New York City in 1975. His successful production of Nick Gilder’s City Lights, helped propel the single "Hot Child in the City" to Number 1 in the U.S. and Canada in October 1978.

Blondie were casting around for someone who could guide them somewhere different, a place that their previous producer Richard Gottehrer could not. Gottehrer, whose music career stretched back to his songwriting days at the venerable Brill Building and was co-founder of Sire Records with Seymour Stein, had Blondie leaning into the girl group sound he favored as a lyricist for The Angels' 1963 hit "My Boyfriend’s Back." Chapman, as a fan of Blondie, but dissatisfied with their album sound, stepped in to work with them (at the behest of Blondie manager Peter Leeds) in May 1978. However, he soon discovered his work ethic and that of the band were incompatible.

Source: ℗ © Minder Music Ltd., Neil Mel Music / Blondie / YouTube

Denis Live On Top Of The Pops - Blondie (official video)

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Quoted in Fred Bronson's The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Harry explained, "It was diametrically opposite from working with Richard Gottehrer. He's very laid back and Mike is a real hot chili pepper and very energetic and enthusiastic. Mike would strive for the technically impeccable take so we would do take after take, whereas Richard always went for the inspired take."

Chapman's drive for perfection, while noble, raised the group's hackles during recording at New York City's Record Plant. A stern taskmaster heading up against a laidback young band, he was quick to praise guitarist Frank Infante for his playing ability but pushed hard on Chris Stein to re-record his guitar parts, grappled with the poor timing of drummer Clem Burke and keyboardist Jimmy Destri, and got bassist Nigel Harrison so wound up that he reportedly threw a synthesizer at Chapman in the studio.

As for Harry, the disciplined and demanding producer got the singer to explore territory beyond her previously misconceived vapid persona and into an arena where her strengths could shine: under his guidance, her versatility ran from the swooning pop hooks of "Pretty Baby" to the gritty, growling on "One Way or Another" to the album’s now iconic synth-pop-disco hit "Heart of Glass." With Chapman as the designated baddie, he got the job done in six weeks.

But "hit" in this sense was not a foregone conclusion by any stretch. Preceded by no less than three singles, "Picture This" was an original composition, issued before Parallel Lines and released in August 1978. A month later the band dropped the album with "I’m Gonna Love You Too," a 1957 single from Buddy Holly that Blondie, given sped-up punk sensibilities.

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Source: ℗ © BMG Rights Management / Blondie / YouTube

Blondie - Hanging On The Telephone

The third single and lead-off track "Hanging on the Telephone" was another cover, this time from West Coast power pop trio The Nerves, whose 1976 version did little in the way of chart impression, but who did have two members – Peter Case and Paul Collins – go on to form The Plimsouls, who turned in a Billboard Top 100 hit, "A Million Miles Away."

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For Blondie's fourth single, their record company Chrysalis reached down to track ten (out of 12) and pulled out "Heart of Glass." Driven by a swirling synth dance beat, shimmering layered vocals by Harry and, as Burke put it in a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, "that groove that the drummer for the Bee Gees had." The influence of not only the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack but the band's admiration for German electronic figureheads Kraftwerk and Euro disco producer Giorgio Moroder gave the song an "Electro-European" vibe as Stein defined it.

"Heart of Glass" was released on January 3, 1979. It had been 14 weeks since Parallel Lines had hit record shops. But what that single was able to do was precisely what the other three didn't do. While it made appearances on Top of the Pops, the music video, directed by TOTP co-creator Stanley Dorfman at the chic NYC nightspot New York New York, made its full debut on the iconic show on Feb. 8, 1979. Thanks in no small part to that showcase, Parallel Lines would rocket to No. 1 and go on to spend four weeks at the top spot.

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Source: ℗ © BMG Rights Management / Blondie / YouTube

Blondie - Heart Of Glass

With the UK and U.S. success of both Parallel Lines and "Heart of Glass," Blondie found themselves on the receiving end of Beatlemania-type crowds when the band was mobbed at a record signing at Our Price Records in London during a tour in 1979. Parallel Lines and "Heart of Glass" went on to achieve BPI Certified Platinum status and in a 4-star retrospective review in 2001, Q called the album, "a crossover smash with sparkling guitar sounds, terrific hooks and middle-eights more memorable than some groups' choruses."

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Source: © Q4music / YouTube

StubHub Q Awards 2016 Interviews: Blondie & Johnny Marr

Blondie has since gone on to classic band status, (with a disbandment in 1982) to a reformation that still performs, albeit with only three original members – Harry, Stein (who does not play live) and Burke – supported by touring personnel including original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock.

Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.


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