Q Songs That Change The World - Special Edition - December 2002
53 - HEART OF GLASS - Blondie
Released - 1979
Writers - Debbie Harry, Chris Stein
Label - Chrysalis
UK Chart - 1
US Chart - 1
Available on PARALLEL LINES - CHRYSALIS
THE CASE FOR: NEW WAVE GOES DISCO.
A prophet is never honoured in his own country - or so the saying goes. So it seemed with New York's Blondie, unlikely foot soldiers in punk's grass roots war, destined, it seemed, to be treated with either suspicion by punk purists or complete indifference by Middle America. All the same, the group's arch blend of Phil Spector-esque pop and New York Dolls swagger had garnered sizeable audiences in the UK, Europe and Australasia, and launched Debbie Harry as the poster girl of the new wave. Their self-titled 1977 debut and Plastic Letters follow-up had been jammed with singalong gems, yet America had no truck with the likes of Denis, Hanging On The Telephone etc. It would take a drum machine and a British glam-rock producer to turn things around.
Hiring Mike Chapman to produce Parallel Lines in 1978 was critical. Hearing the demo of an ancient Blondie song - known variously as The Disco Song and Once I Had A Love - Chapman insisted on its inclusion, spending a day-and-a-half just getting the Roland rhythm machine part right. His efforts were rewarded. Essentially a parody of disco (with drummer Clem Burke still managing to crowbar some Ringo-like rolls between the electronic throbs), the song, now named Heart Of Glass - with a knowing nod to the 1976 Werner Herzog film of the same title - proved irresistible.
A watershed moment in the development of post-punk pop, Heart Of Glass fused the generally mutual exclusives - rock and dance music - with an alacrity not heard since David Bowie's Young Americans. Lacking the latter's arch conceit, its see-saw rhythm and Harry's autobiographical lyric about a defunct love affair (the line "soon turned out to be a pain in the ass" causing a few raised eyebrows at radio stations) remain timelessly addictive.
Topping the charts all over the world, Heart Of Glass finally endeared Blondie to a US audience, where most remained entirely ignorant of the band's earthier punk credentials; content to venerate a glamorous new female star named, so many assumed, Blondie. Naturally, the band's commercial deification meant no easing up on the brickbats from died-in-the-wool punks - and going disco was one heresy too many for some. As Deborah Harry recalls. "We blended different elements which really up till then hadn't been considered as legitimate. We really did get a lot of criticism for Heart Of Glass."
For all that, the song turned Blondie into a cultural phenomenon. And though it must have irked the CBGB's hardcore to observe, it was Blondie, rather than Television or the Ramones, who would now become New York art icon Andy Warhol's favourite band.