Parallel Lines

1 Feb

Parallel Lines

Yesterday, while in London, I dropped into an exhbition at Somerset House called Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and The Advent of Punk. It is a selection of photographs taken by Chris Stein, who, in addition to being the co-founder of Blondie and a guitarist is also a former visual arts student. The period  featured in the shots covers those years in the 1970s when Blondie was coming together and first making its name alongside others such as Television, the Runaways, The Ramones and Talking Heads. The exhibition is  also a document of a particular moment in the popular culture of New York City.

My sense is that early punk in New York was more knowingly commercial than was the case in London. Perhaps it’s because they had Andy Warhol’s sensibilities whilst we had to make do with Malcolm MacLaren who was not nearly as clever or significant as he liked to think.  Anyhow, Blondie was probably one of the most ambitious and commercially successful of the New York bands of the genre, which was why, about a year after it had first been issued, I was pleased to pick up a copy of ‘Parallel Lines’ (Chrysalis Records 1192) for the bargain price of $1.99 when I was in New York myself, at the end of the month I’d spend travelling in the States in the summer of 1979.

‘Parallel Lines’ was actually the band’s third album. They’d established themselves pretty well in the UK with the first two (and charted with the singles ‘Denis’ and ‘Presence Dear’) but it wasn’t until the release of this, in 1978,  that they broke through from the underground into mainstream success in their native country.

It’s a bit ironic that, for all the supposed iconoclasm of punk, a large part of the success of the album is down to the brilliant production work of Mike Chapman, an Australian  responsible for many of the hits of British glamrock band The Sweet  and even more lightweight popsters like Smokie and Mud! What can’t be deniedis that he did a damn good job – because no fewer than half of the twelve tracks were hit singles – and even those that were not are radio-friendly slices of pop-rock, dragged out of a band which was apparently a mix of the stoned,  the fractious and the instrumentally weak and was still composing the material in the studio!

Of the hits, one (‘Sunday Girl’) was written by Chris Stein alone and he also co-wrote ‘Heart of Glass’ (with  vocalist Debby Harry) and ‘Picture This’ (with Harry and keyboard player Jimmy Destri. The other Hits were ‘One Way or Another (by Harry and English bassist Nigel Harrison), a cover of the old Buddy Holly number ‘I’m Gonna Love Your Too’ and ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ (one of two songs on the album written by Jack Lee).

Listening it it again after a few years it must be said, it is very much of it’s era – right down to the disco-influence in ‘Heart of Glass’ which does date it rather – but apart from that it’s Blondie’s finest hour and  one of only two Blondie albums I own (the other being a greatest hits compilation).  That said, I played it today with a smile on my face!


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