ALBUM (1978)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am


Parallel Lines

In 1978, producer extraordinaire Michael Chapman, a one-man hit factory for 1970s rock and pop groups, got a call from Terry Ellis, the co-founder of Chrysalis Music, asking him to help put New Wave band Blondie at the top of the charts. The group, fronted by blonde stunner Debbie Harry, were considered underground at the time, with just two albums to their name: 1976's self-titled debut and 1978's Plastic Letters.

Ellis gave Chapman six months to knock the band into shape. It would be a challenge. The band - singer Harry, drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, bass-player Nigel Harrison, and guitarists Frank Infante and Chris Stein - didn't really like each other.

'They were really, really juvenile in their approach to life - a classic New York underground rock band - and they didn't give a f*** about anything,' Chapman told Sound on Sound magazine in 2008. 'They just wanted to have fun and didn't want to work too hard getting it.'

Chapman loved Blondie's first two albums and the group's quirky sense of humour, but thought they were 'musically the worst band I ever worked with'.

Despite the obstacles, Chapman told the group bluntly that he would make them a hit record. 'If you're going to be in the music business, you've got to make hit records,' he said. 'If you can't make hit records, you should f*** off and go chop meat somewhere.'

Chapman certainly had an impact. Parallel Lines took just six weeks to record and, soon after its September 1978 release, it shot to No 1 in Britain and the US. It catapulted Blondie into the mainstream, largely on the strength on several singles that are now some of the band's best-known hits, including the spunky Hanging on the Telephone, the wistful Sunday Girl, the sex-soaked punk anthem One Way or Another and, particularly, the disco hit Heart of Glass.

Heart of Glass was a huge success, striking gold on the singles charts in both Britain and the US in January 1979, but it was also controversial. Its disco groove and Donna Summer-channeling vocals (Harry was a Summer fan at the time) didn't sit well within the rock community, which - to say the least - eyed disco with suspicion. The band were accused of selling out and Harry said fellow musicians in the New York scene considered them pariahs.

History would ultimately side with Blondie who, despite their new-found popularity, never lost their credibility. Heart of Glass, which started life as a slower, reggae-infused number called Once I Had a Love, was ranked by Rolling Stone at 255 on its list of the top 500 songs of all time, and NME ranked Parallel Lines at No18 on its list of the best 100 albums of all time.

Blondie kept evolving their sound through six more albums, which encompassed a break-up (in 1982) and two reformations (in 1997 and 2008), and produced five more No1 singles, the latest of which was 1999's Maria. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Parallel Lines, in 2008 Blondie took to the road once more for a world tour - this time as sexagenarians.