College Countdown, The First CMJ Album Chart, 11



11. Blondie, Parallel Lines

“Heart of Glass” was the fourth single released from Blondie’s Parallel Lines. Okay, technically it was the third single released in the United States, their label, Chrysalis, opting against issuing “Picture This” as the opening shot to radio and 45 buyers here as they did on the other side of the Atlantic (where it charted at #12 in the U.K.). Still, it represents notable persistence on the part of Chrysalis, Blondie’s label, that they kept working the album in the face of tremendous indifference. Before “Heart of Glass,” Blondie didn’t have a single even dip a toe into any of the Billboard charts. Beyond the devotion the band had among its limited fan base, there was no indication that a breakthrough was imminent. It was, though. In April of 1979, some seven months after the release of Parallel Lines, “Heart of Glass,” Blondie’s first charting single in the U.S., topped the Billboard Hot 100. It would be the first of four chart-toppers over the course of the next two years.

If Chrysalis didn’t have indications from earlier tentative chart interest to keep them devoted to working Parallel Lines, they had something perhaps even more compelling: a truly excellent record. Parallel Lines is one of those albums that deserves to be a band’s commercial turning point because it’s so exceptional. It was the third Blondie album, but, crucially, it was the first produced by Mike Chapman. The man who was instrumental to the sound of the British glam rock band the Sweet (he co-wrote and co-produced “Ballroom Blitz,” among many others) met Blondie while they were touring in 1977 and ingratiated himself well enough that we recruited to take over production chores from Richard Gottehrer, who had overseen their first two albums. As the sound of his prior production efforts suggests, Chapman brought a great deal of rigor into the recording process, surely a level of focus likely unfamiliar to a band that made their name in the proudly slapdash environs of New York City’s CBGB. The added discipline would mean little, however, if the band didn’t have the goods. Blondie did, as Parallel Lines proves over and over again.

The range displayed on the album is remarkable. This is especially true for lead vocalist Debbie Harry, who delivers whether called upon to be spookily ethereal (“Fade Away and Radiate”), deliver updated girl group sweetness(“Pretty Baby”), or unleash artfully repurposed punk rock snarl (“One Way or Another,” the album’s other Top 40 hit). Of course, the only reason Harry has to traverse so many styles is because the band is effectively proving they can go just about anywhere while still remain true to themselves. There’s an exciting unification to the album, but interesting breadth, as if they’re widening the road as they travel on it. Maybe the better way to express it is to simple assert that it feels like Blondie is doing nothing less than inventing a fully defining the possibilities of new wave music in the grooves of the record. Parallel Lines has a humble boldness that runs all the way through it.

Blondie only got bigger from this point, though the continual success didn’t lock in right away. Their next album, 1979’s Eat to the Beat, could almost be viewed as a disappointment, yielding only two very modest Top 40 singles. In between those, however, came “Call Me,” from the soundtrack to the Paul Schrader film American Gigolo. Co-written by Harry and Giorgio Moroder and produced by Moroder, the single spent six weeks atop the Billboard chart and was deemed by that publication to be the biggest hit of 1980. Blondie only lasted a couple years longer, although the inevitable reunion got under way in 1997 and continues to this day.

An Introduction
–26: Darkness on the Edge of Town
–25: Give Thankx
–24: Caravan to Midnight
–23: Next of Kihn
–22: 52nd Street
–21: Crafty Hands
–20: Luxury You Can Afford
–19: Some Girls
–18: Mr. Gone
–17: Stage
–16: Pieces of Eight
–15: Bloody Tourists
–14: Along the Red Ledge
–13: The Bride Stripped Bare
–12: On the Edge

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