Blondie Scored Big in the U.S. Forty Years Ago

Synopsis by Rick Hiduk

Blondie seemed to come out of nowhere when “Heart of Glass” burst on to pop radio in America in the spring of 1979. Radio seemed poised for change that year, as disco backlash grew ever stronger, and rock seemed to be headed toward a new wave. Punk was still more of a European or L.A. thing. But somehow “Heart of Glass” seemed to embody all of the above in a year when there was still plenty of bland pop and country crossover hits on the chart.

Debbie Harry sure was a strange bird…alluring but waifish…distant but so hip. The grandmother of my girlfriend at the time declared Harry a heroin addict. “Once and addict, always an addict,” she snarled. I didn’t even know what heroin was, but those words would come back to me when 20-something kids started dropping like flies around me 40 years later.

I loved Blondie. After two 45s, I started buying the albums. “The Hardest Part” was one of the three songs that I used in my radio audition to get on the air at WPSU fm, the Penn State/Wilkes-Barre college radio station. I found their 1977 “Plastic Letters” lp in a cutout bin at Joe Nardone’s Gallery of Sound and played the hell out of “Denis,” their partially french remake of the old Randy & the Rainbows’ “Denise.”

Blondie also makes me remember two references in particular by Casey Kasum’s. He remarked when “One Way or Another” re-entered the top 40 – after falling out for a few weeks – how unusual that was in those days. On his televised Top Ten Videos show, Casey debuted Blondie’s “Rapture” and told viewers to pay attention to “the strange rap toward the end of the song.”

Rapture” is in fact considered the first rap record to hit #1 on the pop charts, while not being from the hip hop genre, much like Bill Haley & the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” is considered the first #1 pop rock’n’roll record while also being lily white.

In the summer of 1982, I saw Blondie at the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in a line-up that also included A Flock of Seagulls, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and Genesis. One of my blurred memories from that day was Debbie Harry yelling at the audience because we’d turned away from the stage to cheer on a guy climbing the sound tech tower.

Ignore him!” she shouted. “You’re here to see me!” She was subsequently booed. We’d already decided that her live singing was only mediocre and she was a bitch, even though her band was great. They did a cover of the Rolling Stone’s “Start Me Up” as an encore that was very cool.

The quirkiest thing about Blondie’s career is how “hit and miss” the band actually was on the charts. The chart below ranks their ten American hits in order of their overall success. But, chronologically, the band either seemed to blow audiences away by hitting #1 or miss the top 20 altogether. The group disbanded in 1982 after poor sales of “The Hunter” album. I still love every song here and truly can’t pick a favorite. I have fond memories of all of them, even “Marie,” which my friend Mark tipped me off to when no radio stations around me were playing it. My favorite (American) non-charter was “Hanging on the Telephone,” which was a #5 hit in the UK in 1978.

  1. Call Me         #1(6) 25 weeks on Hot 100, peaking Spring 1980
  2. Rapture      #1(2) 20 Spring 1981
  3. The Tide is High      #1(1) 26 Early 1981
  4. Heart of Glass      #1(1) 21 Spring 1979
  5. One Way Or Another      #24 14 Summer 1979
  6. Dreaming      #27 14 Autumn 1979
  7. Island of Lost Souls      #37 10 Summer 1982
  8. Atomic      #39 9 Summer 1980
  9. Maria      #82 6 Spring 1999
  10. The Hardest Part      #84 3 Early 1980

Ties for the #1 hits, each of which sold at least a million copies in the U.S., were broken by how many weeks each was at #1 (in parenthesis) and how long on Billboard’s Hot 100.

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