Giving punk rock catchy and accessible pop twists before it was cool, Blondie’s 1976 debut eponymous LP earned the group its rightful reputation as one of the central front-runners in punk’s transition towards ‘new wave’, exploding from the underground New York punk scene with a band and frontwoman capable of taking them to inevitable commercial success in later years.
Produced by former Brill Building songwriter Richard Gottehrer, Blondie is in many ways a tribute to the Phil Spector-era of pop music, flaunting tight and polished soundscapes not too dissimilar from the band’s New York punk contemporaries. Evoking the spirit of 60s girl groups, the opening number and lead single “X Offender” begins with a sultry spoken intro by lead singer Debbie Harry, a la The Shangri-Las or The Angels, which quickly escalates into a flurry of energetic organs, rapid drums and relentless rhythm and electric guitar. The B-side of that single, “In the Flesh” is another ode to early 60s bubblegum pop, a soothing ballad with light, breezy vocals by Harry featuring double-tracked “Ooooooh” refrains, and by pure accident (mistakenly played in Australia over the A-side) would be their very first charting single.
There are more than a few surprises in this album though, with Debbie Harry in “A Shark in Jets Clothing” taking on the persona of a character from West Side Story, utilising posse-style finger snaps and a buzzing overlay of synths from keyboardist Jimmy Destri. “Man Overboard” shuffles along courtesy of guitarists Chris Stein (lead, rhythm) and Gary Valentine (bass) brimming with funk, balanced out by Harry’s airy vocals that give it a distinct pop edge. Destri, as he often does throughout this record, really shines with a brief erratic synth solo, and not to be outdone, Stein matches it with a solo of his own. Debbie Harry’s famously cocky and alluring persona really comes to the fore in the third single “Rip Her to Shreds”, almost goading an imaginary disapproving audience into having a go at her – “She’s so dull / Come on, rip her to shreds”
What’s particularly striking about Blondie is that despite working very much within a pop framework, it’s still undoubtedly a punk album in nature, perhaps not in the instrumentation but rather the daringly explicit subject matter. “X Offender” details a prostitute’s attempts at seducing a policeman, “Look Good in Blue” has a rather saucy refrain by Debbie Harry, who lingers on the first part of “I could give you some head and shoulders to lie on”, and “Attack of the Giant Ants” is an absurd, rollicking tribute to the cult-like genre of monster movies, with drummer Clement Burke furiously providing a beat worthy of an apocalypse and Harry nonchalantly broadcasting the demise of Earth, complete with a soundbite of people fleeing in horror. I can’t think of anything more punk than a song describing giant ants melting people’s faces off.
Blondieepitomises what made the punk movement so liberating, in that there were no boundaries, limits or restrictions on what could be done, even if what was recorded wasn’t really punk at all (save “Kung Fu Girls”) so long as there was attitude, which is in abundance on this record. In the following years, punk contemporaries would continue to progress, adapting and bringing in additional sounds to their work, most notably The Clash (reggae, ska, hip hop) yet Blondie would surprisingly enough see one of their hits becoming a staple in the era of disco revival (“Heart of Glass”) as well as the unlikely achievement of being the first Caucasian group to have a #1 rap single (“Rapture”). Blondie definitely captures the band’s unapologetically exuberant and youthful style of early new wave, arguably not quite as refined as on the acclaimed Parallel Lines release, but still mightily fun and enjoyable either way.