Def Dumb & Blonde Press Kit - 1989
Photograph by Arthur Elgort
Many people still associate Deborah Harry with her former band, even though Def, Dumb and Blonde is her third solo album, and Blondie hasn't recorded since 1982. True, that group's significance has made the past tough to forget. Along with the Ramones, Talking Heads and others, Blondie shocked the music industry out of its late seventies slumber as pioneers in the New Wave era. They managed to land four top 20 singles in the UK in 1978 alone. Stateside, Blondie racked up four #1 hits in their brief history, but chart success is only part of the story.
Blondie added rock respectability to the much maligned dance club scene in 1979 when "Heart of Glass" became #1 in virtually every country in the world. And, "Rapture" broke ground as one of the first rap records to succeed on pop radio (we're talking #1 in 1981).
Besides the fact that she sang all lead vocals and co-wrote most of Blondie's hits, Debbie Harry immediately became a true multi-media artist on her own terms. She acted in a number of critically praised films (including Videodrome, Union City, and Hairspray, and she also wrote and sang several motion picture theme songs (Scarface, American Gigolo and Polyester). She co-hosted "Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes" on MTV and her comments were featured on the jackets of books authored by cultural icons as diverse as Timothy Leary, John Walters and Iggy Pop. Her face has been featured on the covers of just about every fashion magazine and her concert performances with Blondie were some of the most electrifying in recent rock history.
Recently, Debbie's last solo album produced yet another international top 10 hit, "French Kissin' In The USA." Her role on the CBS season premier of Wise Guy feature her performance of the haunting ballad "Bright Side," which is included in Def, Dumb, and Blonde in a remixed version by the legendary Arthur Baker.
So, although she has been chillin' through most of the late '80's, Def, Dumb and Blonde is proof enough that Debbie is definitely back. Naturally, songwriting partner Chris Stein is on board, and he and Debbie have come up with some of their strongest material ever. Two songs were co-produced by Thompson Twin Tom Bailey, including the first single "I Want That Man," which is accompanied by a video directed by Mary Lambert (who has been causing a commotion with videos for most of Madonna's hits, including "Like A Prayer").
Def, Dumb and Blonde also reunites Debbie with Blondie producer Mike Chapman on several outstanding tracks, including "Maybe For Sure" and "He Is So." And, even though this is Debbie's first release for Sire Records, both the label and the artist have played such important roles in the New Wave/CBGB days that it feels like a reunion for us, too.
But, enough of the past.
Like Debbie says, "Here comes the 21st century..." so start spinning Def, Dumb and Blonde and have some fun getting there.
STUFFED MONKEYS, MIGRATING BIRDS AND WISE GUYS:
DEBBIE HARRY TALKS ABOUT DEF, DUMB AND BLONDE
Q: It's been a while since your last album. Could you catch us up on your activities over the past couple of years?
A: Well, Rockbird, which I worked on with Seth Justman, was released at the end of 1986. I didn't tour for the album, but it was around then that I got the part in John Water's Hairspray and, more recently, on Wiseguy. I've always done acting simultaneously with music. When I first came to New York it was to perform and while music has always been more of a natural inclination, I've been doing cameos and supporting roles for years.
Q: What was the impetus for the current LP, Def, Dumb And Blonde?
A: Chris [Stein], my collaborator and guitarist from Blondie was ready to start work again. We talked a lot about the direction we wanted this record to go and decided that we wanted to work with Mike Chapman, who had produced most of the Blondie albums. We wanted to put that team back together, take all the stuff we learned from Blondie and strike out in a new direction. We were after a balance, a mix of what everyone knew and remembered, but at the same time reaching beyond Blondie for something fresh. We wrote most of this material almost two years ago and put down the basic tracks in Los Angeles back in November. We had pretty much finished the whole thing by April of last year. I had also decided to switch my manager and label, all of which took time. Knowing that I wanted to tour with this record, it seemed important to get the business end together up front and while that was getting straightened out I went back and recorded three more tracks with the Thompson Twins. I also had a song that we'd written a few years before and when I got the job on Wiseguy they asked me if I had something I could sing for the show, so I reworked it and it turned out so well, we included that also. Then Toni C. and I put our heads together on a sort of dance number.
Q: What was the reasoning behind drawing on and updating the Blondie sound?
A: Chris and I wanted to go with our strong suit, which meant, for us, going back to work with Mike again. I guess, like migrating birds, we were returning to that familiar place.
Q: Was the magic still there?
A: It was fun. As a singer and songwriter I'm very flexible. I don't have a particular sound in my head that I'm trying to capture. I have a lot of different sounds and with Mike and Chris there's freedom to try and realize all of them. We had a lot of material to chose from and I think you can get a sense of the range by the cuts we chose.
Q: Can you run down the cut on Def, Dumb And Blonde?
A: "I Want That Man" was written for me by the Thompson Twins who I'd never worked with before but knew through their music. The interesting thing lyrically for Alannah was that she was writing for a woman. She's usually writing lyrics that Tom can sing and this time out she was able to make a very direct statement from a female point of view. It was one of three songs they submitted for the album and it's ended up as the first single. "Love Light" was written entirely by Chris and reflects his interest in metaphysics, the occult and espiritu. He's very curious about those things and the lyrics are full of rich images and kind of dark and certainly like nothing I would write, which makes them interesting for me to sing. Musically, it's also sort of a tribute to Dr. John.
Q: What about "Kiss It Better?"
A: That was an idea inspired by Prince and his music. I really wanted to write a song in that mold and I had this lyric hook and then got together with Tom and Alannah to work on it. Musically it came out differently that I expected, more a twelve bar than a James Brown funk, but the results of collaboration are often unpredictible.
A: The next cut is "Maybe For Sure."
A: This is a song from the Blondie days that Chris wrote for a Canadian rock'n'roll animated film called Rock And Rule. There was a character in the show that was modeled after Blondie and this was the song she sang. We dusted it off, wrote some new lyrics and polished it up for the album. It seems to fit. "Calamarie" is a samba by Nana Vasconsuelos and Mario Toledo. Nana is a wonderful Brazilian percussionist and this is a track from his solo album. When Chris heard it he thought it would make a great contrast with the rest of the album and I agreed. It's a very pretty song.
Q: How about "Get Your Way?"
A: This is our bid for a crossover dance hit. I'm looking forward to doing a great house mix on this one. I love rap music and have for a long time. The rappers are so hip, so funny and I've tried to work elements of that sound into my music for a long time. "Sweet And Low" is the cut I wrote with Tony C, a great songwriter and DJ known for her work with Jellybean. I'd written with her before for the Krush Groove soundtrack and the Rockbird album. Musically she's got a really distinctive point of view and you can hear it on this song, although she's written for all kinds of artists, including Whitney Houston. "He Is So" is a Chris Stein song all the way, with a real "Heart Of Glass" feel to it. The cut speaks for itself.
Q: What about "Bright Side?"
A: "Bright Side" is the cut we did for Wiseguy. I had two different sets of lyrics for it and when the producers called up to tell me about the character, Diana Price, that I was playing, Chris and I knew that one set of lyrics to "Bright Side" fit who she was; a down and out singer who's trying to pull her life together.
Q: "Bug Eye" is an interesting cut.
A: One day we were walking and saw this little stuffed monkey in the garbage. He had one eye and a hole where the other one was, so we found these glass eyes from a taxidermist and glued them on and they popped out so much that we named him Bug Eye. Whenever you're writing songs you give them tags, just to keep them seperate, so Chris tagged this one "Bug Eye" after that monkey.
Q: "End Of The Run" is a striking cut. What's the theme here?
A: I call this one a documentary ballad. It could really be a movie theme or something. I hear kids talking about how great everything was six months ago but now there's nothing happening and where did it all go? There are always these little time capsules that are significant events in your life, things that are really important to you. Like the CBGB's era, which was so so meaningful to so many people and inspired so much of what's still going on. More recently it was the Ritz on 11th St. here in New York, which was really a great scene. And when it closed a lot of people must have wondered where they could go and what they were going to do next. This song is about that nostalgia and also about how some things become more important the further away they get and how it feels to be part of something so unique and special. It's sad when those great personal moments pass away, but it's also great to be part of them while they're happening.
Q: There's some additional cuts on the cassette and compact disc editions of the album.
A: "Bike Boy" is about all the messenger kids on bikes you see here in Manhattan. They're such dare devils. "Never Fall In Love" is a cover song by The Sensations. "Comic Books" is also a cover song written by Mickey and Paul Zone from The Fast, who later became Man To Man and had a European and club hit with "Male Stripper." "Forced To Live" came from a New York Post headline which pictured a man with AIDS, lying in bed with an oxygen mask and all kinds of life support systems. It was so intense, the ultimate horror and it became the only political song on the album. It's co-written by Lee Foxx and myself.
Q: There's a lot of music here.
A: It takes so long to make a record. You're in the studio for so long, things start to pile up. We had even more material that didn't make the final cut.
Q: What happens now?
A: I'm definitely going to tour in the fall. I haven't been on the road for a long time and I've been working out, getting in shape for it. I've got a great band lined up and a new video for "I Want That Man" directed by Mary Lambert. I'm really excited about this new album because, for me, it's coming from a whole new perspective. Having been what's called a "pop phenomenon" it's refreshing to be able to go back to your roots, rethink everything and bring something new to that character everyone knew as Blondie. There was a time when I was hesitant about bringing her back. I wanted to move on, but, with this album, I found that she's still part of me and I'm still part of her and it feels good. Blondie was oddly naive. Debbie Harry has grown up. There's some of both of us on this album.