(…and perhaps a bit of opinion. But, shhhhhhhh.)
Founded by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, the band was one of the true pioneers of early American new wave and punk, having been regulars in the CBGB scene alongside bands like Television, Iggy and the Stooges, The Ramones, Patti Smith and a ton more. But Blondie, like a lot of my other favorites, was able to bridge the gaps between genres, dabbling in reggae, hip-hop, disco, and pop. You name the genre – they attacked it head-on with panache. Because they are fucking legends.
What some music fans might not know is that two of their biggest hits are actually cover songs, one of which I recently discovered myself. Up first:
“The Tide is High” from 1980’s Autoamerican:
The Blondie version swells with horns, steel drums and ska guitars making for the band’s first (only?) reggae hit. The track gained international attention becoming a number 1 hit in both the U.S. and the UK. (Aside: The B-Side for this single was “Suzie and Jeffrey” and it’s a really good track to check out. It can now be found on the album’s 2001 re-issue. /Aside)
Five albums deep at the time of its release, Blondie’s version of “Tide” solidified what everybody had already known at this point: Nobody puts Blondie in a corner.
The original track was done by The Paragons in 1967, written by John Holt, the band’s singer-songwriter. Initially active in the 60’s, The Paragons were an authentic rocksteady band from Kingston, Jamaica, and dammit, I love both of these versions so much, I can’t even pick a winner here. This cut can be found on the band’s 1970 collection On the Beach, and it’s a seminal reggae classic that’s not to be missed.
“Hanging on the Telephone” from 1978’s Parallel Lines
“Hanging on the Telephone” is another track that really makes you ponder the excellence of Debbie, Chris and co. “Hanging” was yet another tune that the band ended up popularizing more than the original artist – in this case, the short-lived U.S. west coast band The Nerves. Blondie’s version also ended up sparking a slew of additional covers years down the line.
This track, along with the band’s “Sunday Girl” among others, really accentuates Clem Burke’s drumming. Here, he employs a double backbeat rhythm, which is a fancy, technical phrasing for saying he’s really fucking good. Seriously – listen to older Blondie records and pay attention to Burke. He was on fire.
And not that this has anything to do with the music…but Debbie looks super smokin’ hot in this video. Parallel Lines was such a prime era for Blondie for reasons that can’t even be fully calculated and appreciated here.
This is the song I didn’t know existed. The Nerves’ version is just as good. Guitarist Jack Lee penned the track. The vocals are gritty (compared to other west coast music at the time) and totally would’ve fit into the N.Y. scene in the 70’s. The songs are fairly similar, but The Nerves’ track has a slower tempo, male vocals, and lower-quality production which sort of gives it its charm. The song can be found on the band’s 1976 EP, its only official release ever.
In sum: Blondie is amazing. But knowing where tracks originate from is also amazing because music history.
So let’s talk about Blondie forever. Startingggggggggggggggg now.