Among that small elite of American bands who enjoyed strings of Top 40 hits during their respective heydays, Blondie stands out. The New York-based group may not have shifted as many units as The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival or even Hall and Oates, but they managed to stay on top without the benefit of a signature sound.
Formed at the peak of the arena rock craze in 1974, Blondie initially reached back to pre-Beatles pop for inspiration, and once the New Wave they helped to create crested, they rode it by anticipating the future. Reggae, Eurobeat, even rap figured in their singles, many of which went platinum before a lot of the people who bought them knew what reggae, Eurobeat or rap were.
It wasn’t just good timing. Lead singer and former Playboy bunny Debbie Harry was older than most of her CBGB-playing peers. She was even older than her bandmates — 10 years older than the youngest member, five years older than her life partner, Chris Stein. Her storied sex appeal was that of the “experienced” woman, a quality that has always come out in her singing, which, despite the stylistic debt it owes to ingenue vocalists of an earlier era, doesn’t sound like that of an ingenue. There’s that vintage New Jersey sarcasm, that actor’s flair for the telling vocal mannerism, both of which are in full evidence on the two underrated studio albums that Blondie has released since reforming in 1999. It’s why nobody has ever tried to copy her. How could they? She’s one-of-a-kind.