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Pitchforkmedia.com - 10th March 2006
Greatest Hits: Sound and Vision
Blondie's conceptual coup wasn't pairing punk's tautness with bubblegum hooks. It was being good at it, in the actual putting-records-in-the-charts sense. Arguably the Ramones got there first and certainly had a more lasting impact on whatever we think of as pop-punk (or punk-pop depending on your feelings on modifiers). But Blondie were also never going to inspire someone like avant composer Rhys Chatham to start a punk guitar trio as an adjunct to his explorations in post-academic minimalism. The Ramones were as much a conceptual art project with pudding bowl haircuts as a pop band.
It certainly didn't hurt that Blondie had one of the most appealing frontwomen of the late 20th-century-- who looks positive H-O-T on the cover of Sound and Vision, the latest repackaging of their greatest hits, despite (because of?) wearing just a pillow case and red electrical tape. Whereas the Ramones had four praying mantis in girl's Jordache. And while the Ramones were positively vicious in their devotion to pre-hippie rock (recording with Phil Spector, for one) and transforming the starchy blandness of '70s suburbia into a positive aesthetic, Blondie embraced what we now know as The Future-- disco, hip-hop, reggae-- while helping to invent new wave. (Your feelings on that one may vary).
It's hard to imagine a time now when that seemed heretical, probably because it's hard to remember a time now when Blondie was a punk band with a capital P, trading dirty looks with Legs McNeil and waiting backstage with Richard Hell. All of these songs, most especially the big hits, have become part of the shared classic rock heritage of anyone born after 1970. They belong to the Two-Fer Tuesdays and budget priced '80s comps now. And it's hard to imagine the members of Blondie-- don't forget, "Blondie is a Band"-- seeing this as anything less than a total good. Through sheer willpower they achieved their goal: to become one of the great pop bands of all time.
So why buy another reiteration of songs everyone knows? Well, if you don't already own a Blondie best-of for one thing. I've had a copy of The Best of Blondie since I was about 8, but those Fisher Price record player needles were hell on vinyl, so I'm happy to have Sound and Vision in lieu of looting through Goodwill bins. (The Best of Blondie is still available on CD, of course, and that's an A+++/five star/10.0 record. So take that for what it's worth.) Everyone knows the songs, but I'll give special shouts to: "Hanging on the Telephone" (gender flip-flop new wave frustration); "One Way or Another" (the Pretenders in situ, with added sass); "Heart of Glass" (Abba for the legwarmers generation); "Atomic" (the single having the best record sleeve ever); "Dreaming" (buzz-saw bubblegum with caveman drums); "The Tide Is High" (proto-Gwen Stefani cod-reggae); "Rapture" (the first time I ever heard of anything called "rap" though I wouldn't have known it from Adam).
Marks against: it contains neither "X Offender" or "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear", both of which are on the European version. (Not really a reason to book that ticket for Berlin but there was certainly room on the CD.) It also contains a few au courant (if this was 2001) electro-flavored remixes in favor of the originals that need to get gone yesterday. It ends with a goofy mash-up of "Rapture" with the vocals from "Riders on the Storm", which is fun the first time, but the compilers made the right decision sticking it where they did.
The other reason to buy is that Sound and Vision comes with a DVD of all of Blondie's videos, which, yes, may seem like a cynical grab at your wallet, especially if you already forked out for another compilation or the album re-masters that came out in 2001. With the advent of VH1 Classic-- and stand alone DVD collections-- owning your own copy of "Heart of Glass" might not seem so cool as when we were all fussing with VHS doorstops but you'll want it if you get off on the cheap charms of early music video. Plus there's the always luminous Deborah Harry, who could give boiling asparagus an erotic charge, all while looking too bored to live.
Pitchforkmedia.com - 10th March 2006