As a spotty youth the sight of Debbie Harry fronting the US New Wave group ‘Blondie’ on Top of the Pops in 1979 was certainly an arresting one. Having spoken to many blokes, and a few women it has to be said, years later about the group and Debbie in particular, I appear to not be alone in remembering that impact.
She looked amazing. A sort of Punk’d up Marilyn Monroe who was belting out some of the catchiest pop tunes of the day.
She also certainly had an individual look and the band in general captured the zeitgeist of those times from 1979 to ‘81 very nicely.
Debbie was born as Angela Tremble in July 1945 in Miami, Florida. She was given up for adoption at three months and promptly renamed Deborah Ann Harry as she moved with her new parents Richard and Catherine to New Jersey.
She moved to New York City in 1965 and worked various ‘pick up jobs’ such as a secretary at the offices of BBC Radio out there, as well as a Go Go dancer, Playboy Bunny and a waitress at the infamous Max’s Kansas City restaurant and nightclub.
Her musical career began as a backing singer for the group ‘The Wind in the Willows’ from 1968.
Then came ‘The Stilettoes’ in 1974, where she met guitarist Chris Stein and they became a couple. The band ‘Blondie’ formed not long after, named after the name calling Harry attracted after dying her hair platinum blonde. The band quickly became regulars performing at Max’s and the legendary CBGBs.
The hit singles ‘Denis Denis’ and ‘(I’m always touched by your) Presence Dear’ came from their 1977 album ‘Plastic Letters’, but their third album ‘Parallel Lines’ from 1978 cemented their fame as it and the many great songs on it became a worldwide success.
Tunes as ‘ Hanging on a Telephone ‘ ‘One Way or Another ‘ ‘Picture This’ ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Sunday Girl’ hit the charts time and time again.
By 1979, the famous line up of the band, drummer Clem Burke, bass player Nigel Harrison, guitarist Frank Infante, and keyboardist Jimmy Destri along with Harry and Stein, had made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Further big hits would follow with ‘Call Me’ ‘Atomic’ ‘The Tide Is High’ and ‘Rapture’ which featured graffiti artist Fab Five Freddy, who opened the group up to the nascent hip-hop scene in the Bronx.
Celebrated artist Andy Warhol then did a ‘Marilyn’ with Debbie capturing her in one of his own inimitable art works.
The band spilt in 1981 and then got back to together, but Chris Stein fell seriously ill and once again it all fell apart.
Debbie had already begun work as an actress by then and that continues today. To date she has appeared in over 60 films and TV shows, notably the films ‘Videdrome’ from 1979 and ‘Hairspray’ in 1986.
She also launched a solo career but with little major success and drummer Clem Burke went on to be a very much in demand session player.
The Stein and Harry romantic partnership ended in 1997. However, not long after that, they re-launched again as the band Blondie and had a UK number one hit ‘Maria’ from their 1999 album ‘No Exit.
Further major chart success eluded them however, but remain a demand as a live act on the festival circuit.
Of the original line up, only Burke, Harry and Stein remain.
Debbie Harry has a new memoir out this year and she continues to perform well into her 70s.
Now ain’t that making you feel old…
The Mumper of SE5