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Blondie – ‘Parallel Lines’: Why It Mattered

Musical innovators and fearless in experimentation, Blondie knew no bounds. Parallel Lines was the epitome of their philosophy.

Blondie’s Parallel Lines — the band’s breakthrough album — spawned some of their biggest hits. Known for their vivacious stage presence and will to experiment, Blondie was always ready to push the boundaries of the new wave and punk genres.

Parallel Lines became the record born out of Blondie’s stubborn sense of individuality. Flirting with pop, it transcended their New York roots and took over mainstream America. So, in the name of all things punk rock, and Debbie Harry’s singular voice, this is why Parallel Lines matters.

Blondie: Parallel Lines

Blondie: the new band on the block

Co-founded by Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, Blondie pioneered a new incarnation of punk rock. A style that was effervescent, with their creative stew born out of New York City’s rustic and colourful charm, fostering the band’s development in the 1970s. Although, following the release of their first two studio albums, Blondie and Plastic Letters, which garnered strong fan bases in both the UK and Australia, the band were still considered relatively underground in the US.

During this time the country was experiencing a financial crisis which became detrimental to New York City’s capital and employment, however, the band continued on. While touring Plastic Letters, the band met Australian producer Michael Chapman whose musical wizardry had already championed the likes of Suzie Quatro, The Sweet, and Mud.

From this, the band’s manager Peter Leeds conspired with their new record label, Chrysalis Records, to involve Chapman’s expertise and eclectic taste to aid in Blondie’s newest musical endeavour. There was overall enthusiasm towards this idea from all band members bar one: Debbie Harry. Her cautiousness catalysed from Chapman’s ‘reputation’, merely boiled down to him being from LA and her New York, the notorious east coast and west coast rivalry that has been a mainstay of the music industry.

Yet, upon the primary cuts of Heart of Glass and Sunday Girl, the band (including Harry) knew they were on to something special: Chapman was the missing piece of the puzzle. And thus, with a deadline of six months to pump out a hit album, Parallel Lines was born.

The breakthrough

Home to the likes of Heart of Glass, Sunday Girl, One Way or Another and their cover of the Nerves’ Hanging on the Telephone, it appeared they had put together something amazing. But upon revealing the songs to the record label they were told they had no hits.

I’m sorry…what?! It’s hard to believe that such songs — which have since become some of Blondie’s best known — was met with such a reaction.

This followed a recording process riddled with drama. The conflict between the band and Chapman was fuelled by extended working hours and drive for perfection. Guitarist Chris Stein’s marijuana intake hampered the process too.

In an interview with Sound On Sound in 2008, Chapman says, “The Blondies were tough in the studio, real tough. None of them liked each other, except Chris and Debbie, and there was so much animosity. They were really, really juvenile in their approach to life — a classic New York underground rock band — and they didn’t give a fuck about anything. They just wanted to have fun and didn’t want to work too hard getting it.”

The album was released by Chrysalis in September of 1978 and despite its tortured birth and lack of appreciation by the label for the song lineup, it garnered international success. Parallel Lines reached number one in the UK the following year with singles Hanging on the Telephone, Heart of Glass and Sunday Girl, all charting in the Top Ten. It became the country’s biggest selling album of 1979.

It also garnered major success in Europe, Australia and finally the US where the band had originally struggled to achieve recognition. Heart of Glass became their first number one hit in the States and was deemed responsible for turning the band into superstars, marking their deviation from new wave to pop-rock.

The lineup

Parallel Lines marked the band’s musical transition as they experimented with new sounds. Heart of Glass became their most successful track and as the only disco-flavoured tune, it played around with jittery keyboards, sizzling hi-hats, in conjunction with a more circular rhythm. Sunday Girl explores elements of teen loneliness, whilst One Way or Another juxtaposes its upbeat and catchy delivery with a darker meaning, alluding to Debbie Harry’s experience with a stalker, forcing her to move away from New Jersey.

Cutting through New York’s grungy underground new wave and punk scenes, Parallel Lines was Blondie’s ticket to superstardom. Yet, it was a journey that only enhanced the band’s cool, effortless charm. Parallel Lines lives on as a timeless reminder of what a pop record can be: fun, catchy as hell, flirtatious, and ultimately, fearless.