What's On In London - 29th Nov - 6th Dec 1989
AS THE STAR OF POP BAND BLONDIE, DEBBIE, NOW DEBORAH, HARRY PROVIDED ONE OF THE MOST INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE FACES OF THE LAST DECADE, HER IMAGE MAKING IT ONTO MANY A BEDROOM WALL. JON HOMER LOOKS AT A CAREER CURRENTLY UNDERGOING SOMETHING OF RENAISSANCE.
DEF, DUMB & BLONDE
As one decade ends and another looms Deborah Harry, face of the late '70s and much of the '80s, is on the comeback trail. She's recently enjoyed her first UK hit in almost four years with I Want That Man, an unremarkable but workmanlike pop song penned by Tom Bailey and Allanah Currie of The Thompson Twins. Her third solo album, Def, Dumb & Blonde, has just attained silver status.
In October she played a string of low-key shows at the Borderline Club and, fuelled by their success, is currently embarking on a larger scale UK tour that will see her play three nights at London's Town & Country Club. Deborah Harry can still be considered a major attraction.
Born in Miami, Deborah Harry's first musical experiences were with a succession of folk-rock bands. In 1974 the first line-up of Blondie came into being. Fronted by Harry the band featured members of her old group The Stilettos. They played around New York, including shows at CBGB's, a club which was to play an important role in the emergence of the American punk and new wave movement.
The line up of the band changed fairly regularly but by 1976 it was stable enough for the band to sign to Private Stock, a small label with a good reputation. From here on Blondie would be regarded as the more accessible face of the American New Wave: they had an image that fitted with the times and yet they played a very catchy pop music that was radio friendly.
Blondie, the debut album, was released to good reactions in 1976. The following year the band toured America's West Coast, including a show at LA's famous Whisky A-Go-Go, and supported Iggy Pop. The album had caused quite a stir here in the UK and the band played their first British shows as support to the Tom Verlaine led Television.
Chrysalis, obviously impressed, bought Blondie's Private Stock contract and in October 1977 released Plastic Letters, the second Blondie album and the best indication so far of what was to come. It wasn't until the March of 1978, helped by the massive singles success of Denis, that Plastic Letters hit the UK Top Ten and charted briefly in America.
1978, on reflection, was a vital year in establishing Blondie as a major musical force and making Debbie Harry's face one of the most instantly recognisable on the planet. In May they enjoyed their second UK Top Ten success with I'm Always Touched By Your Presence Dear and started work on their third album, an album that was to cement their success.
Parallel Lines was released in September 1978, preceded by a single, Picture This, which reached number 12 in the UK chart. It was an album that presented the other side of the punk/new wave coin: it was glossy and in places a little tacky, but it overflowed with a tremendous sense of energy and, anyway, the little boys just went apeshit over Debbie.
Parallel Lines spent over a hundred weeks on both the UK and US album charts. In addition to Picture This it gave the band hit singles with the multi-million selling Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl and One Way Or Another.
Between March and November of 1980 Blondie had three UK number ones (Atomic, Call Me and The Tide Is High). By February the following year the Blondie bubble, if not burst, had certainly sprung a leak. Rapture, their only truly great record and one of the first to bring elements of Rap music to a wider audience, sold over a million in America but could manage only number five in the UK.
By the end of 1981 visible cracks were showing. In August, Harry released her debut album, a splendid Nile Rodgers produced set of arty dance tunes called Koo Koo. It was not a great success, scraping into the Top Ten in the UK and reaching only number 25 in America.
Two more Blondie albums were to emerge, 1981's Best Of Blondie compilation and the rather uninspired, not to mention uninspiring, The Hunter. In October 1982 the band officially split. Chris Stein, guitarist and long-time Harry's boyfriend, started his own label but fell seriously ill and was nursed by Harry back to good health.
Between October 1982 and December 1986 Debbie Harry's musical output ceased completely. She appeared in several films, most notably David Cronenberg's bizarre but underrated Videodrome alongside James Woods.
In December 1986 she had a solo Top Ten hit with the clever French Kissin' (In The USA). Her second solo album, Rockbird, also emerged at this time but failed to make any real impact. Now, three years on, she's back with a new lease of life and a new album that features contributions from The Thompson Twins, Chris Stein and Ian Astbury of The Cult. Called Def, Dumb & Blonde its an album that shows Harry to have an effective voice and an ear for a commercial song.
It is unlikely that Deborah (she's dropped Debbie) Harry, 1989 model, will have quite the impact Debbie Harry, 1979 version did. Arguably she provided at least some of the inspiration for a procession of girl rockers including Madonna and, more recently, our very own Wendy James.
As we enter a new decade it'll be interesting to see how high a pop profile Deborah Harry maintains. Her acting career has been threatening to happen in a big way for several years now, perhaps that's the medium that will attract her the strongest. For now, just close your eyes and pretend its 1979 again.