The Women of Rock Redux Part 3 – Debbie and Cyndi……and music. Chapter 1 – Debbie!

Hello everyone. Let’s give a warm welcome to Debbie and Cyndi. Two unique women who dance to their own drummers…..whose talents encompass a variety of musical fields in two decidedly different decades. These ladies can pop and rock, disco down or jazz it up, sing the blues, or pour their soul into a ballad. Their many talents run the full gamut and they have led the way for a new kind of woman in music, adding their own twist and turns to rock and roll.

Debbie Harry & Cyndi Lauper

Quirky, outrageous, individualistic, sexy, daring, entertaining, exuberant, clever, brilliant, artistic and ballsy. These two ladies continue to awe and inspire new generations of performers. Flexing their creative muscles, they’ve “pivoted” again and again, constantly pushing the envelope and challenging the norms…..breaking down barriers. But in the end…..these girls just wanna have fun!

Next week …Cyndi Lauper. This week …

Debbie!

What can you say about music’s Marilyn Monroe? Famous for her pouty red lips and two-tone blonde locks, there is much, much more to Deborah Harry than meets the eye. Born in Florida, adopted at three months and raised by the Harry family in New Jersey, Debbie worked at a series of jobs in New York after graduating from college — secretary at BBC Radio, waitress at Max’s Kansas City, go-go dancer in New Jersey and Playboy Bunny – before beginning her professional musical career.

In a March 2020 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, the opening paragraph sums it up beautifully, “By 29, she’d played housewife to (though never married) a blue-collar worker in New Jersey, escaped to New York and stumbled upon the Velvet Underground playing a hole-in-the-wall show on St. Marks Place, sang in girl-group backup bands, worked as a Playboy Bunny, and served steak to Miles Davis at Max’s Kansas City. In the years since, she’s acted for John Cassavetes, sat for Andy Warhol, played a literal fairy godmother to Jean-Michel Basquiat, made an iconic dress out of a pillow case and some duct tape, and topped the charts with rap, disco, and, of course, punk.” Add jazz singer and several appearances on the Muppet show, a new book and album and that about sums it up.

Performing at Max’s Kansas City and the Playboy Bunny years

Harry began her musical career as a back-up vocalist for folk-rock band, The Wind in the Willows. The band recorded and released one self-titled album in 1968 for Capital Records but it failed to achieve commercial success. Harry left and the band broke up shortly after, but not before recording a second album which was never issued. Unfortunately, these tapes have never been located and so are presumed lost to history.

Blondes do have more fun…..

After the breakup of The Wind in the Willows, Debbie’s next foray into the music business was joining the all female group the Stillettos with Elda Gentile and Amanda Jones. Her future partner – in love and in Blondie – Chris Stein joined a short time later.

The Stillettos –  l-r – Rosie Ross, Debbie Harry, Elda Stilletto

Within a year of joining the Stillettos, Harry and Stein decided to depart, forming a band with the less than compelling name of Angel and the Snake. Performing their first ever public gig at CBGB’s they were joined by two other blonde vocalists, formerly with a band called Pure Garbage. They played two gigs before changing their moniker to Blondie, so named after the term of address men often called Harry after she bleached her hair blonde. But, according to Harry, “The lead singer is always the focal point of any band. But we are They, not She.” The band quickly became regulars at the various clubs in New York including CBGB and Max’s, playing a type of rock music inspired by punk with a mix of reggae, ska and funk.

Blondie’s self-titled debut album was released in 1976. The first single, written by Harry and Gary Valentine, was originally entitled Sex Offender. Radio stations considered the title controversial and the song was renamed X Offender. Rodney Bingenheimer was the host of Rodney on the ROQ, an L.A. radio program that ran from 1976 to 2017. He was the first DJ to play a Blondie record and was publicly thanked by Clem Burke at Blondie’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bingenheimer had developed a reputation for introducing music from new artists such as Blondie, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Guns ‘n Roses, and so many others. He was also nicknamed “the Mayor of Sunset Strip”.

Rodney Bingenheimer & Debbie Harry

Blondie’s commercial and international success came with the issue of their third album, Parallel Lines. The catchy single Heart of Glass, written by Harry and Stein, sold two million copies and was one of the most popular tunes played in discothèques around the world. One Way or Another, written by Harry and Nigel Harrison,was the follow-up single and reached #24 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Parallel Lines was Blondie’s biggest success, selling over four million copies in the U.S. alone, 20 million copies worldwide. However, it has never been certified platinum.

Albums Eat to the Beatand Autoamerican quickly followed and the single Call Me, from the 1980 album Autoamerican, became the soundtrack for American Gigolo and Billboard’s #1 song of 1980. Harry and the band embraced all genres of music – they like to play mix and match — and Blondie took a sharp right with Autoamerican. Unlike their preceding albums, this one is a mix of jazz, blues and reggae with a little bit of ska, some orchestral arrangements, and an unusual choice for a closing song, Follow Me, a cover of the torch song from the Broadway musical Camelot starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews.

The hit single Rapture had everyone sit up and take notice — it was the first time rap had been fused with rock – and Debbie was not your typical rap artist. Blondie took a risk and Rapture charted number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was the first #1 song in the U.S. to feature rap.

Riding solo…..

While Blondie was riding high, Harry also released her first solo album KooKoo, in 1981. The look and design of the album, as were several of the videos, was inspired by the designer H.R Giger who also designed the movie Alien. Her voice in the song Now I Know You Know is strongly reminiscent of Kate Bush. A comment regarding the 1981 video, “as for this clip and the song, it’s not important if you like it or thinks it’s too self consciously arty, the fact is there was nothing like this music or visual presentation style at the time it was made.” Two singles were released from the album – Backfired and The Jam Was Movin, the latter written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of CHIC. The fusion of funk, rock and dance was got the album certified silver by the BPI. It reached #25 in the U.S. and certified gold.

Shortly after this, Stein fell seriously ill and Harry disappeared from sight to nurse him. It would be another five years before she would sing again. In 1986 she released her next solo album, Rockbird, follow by Def, Dumb and Blondein 1989. Harry continued her solo career, keeping the band’s name in the public eye, recording and releasing a total of five studio albums.

Harry started focusing on jazz and joined The Jazz Passengers, a New York avant-garde jazz ensemble, as a permanent member from 1994 to 1998, touring Europe and North America with them. Harry has also collaborated with a number of other artists including Talking Heads, German heavy metal band Die Haut, Argentine band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Andy Summers and Elvis Costello, to name just a few.

Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello singing with The Jazz Passengers

Harry has always managed to keep her fingers in two pies — music and acting.  On the acting side she has over thirty film credits under her belt including Videodrome and Hairspray, and numerous TV appearances — The Muppet Show, Wiseguy and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch among others.

Back together again

The original five-piece band regrouped in 1997 and Blondie headed to the studio. Harry, Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri began recording Blondie’s seventh album No Exit, released in 1999. It was the first time Blondie had worked together in 15 years. Seven years later in 2006 they were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In May 2014 Blondie finally released their long awaited double album, Blondie 4(0) Ever, Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux/Ghosts of Download. The two-disc set experienced a number of delays through the end of 2013 and early 2014. Regarding the recording and writing process Harry commented, “It’s always the music; the music is the primary inspiration. Every piece has its own mood, its own arc and a lot of times, the lyrics sort of suggest themselves.” Their eleventh studio album, Pollinator, was released in May 2017. Harry is a fledgling bee-keeper and is deeply concerned about the plight of the bees, hence the name of the album.

2021 Update….

Harry’s autobiography, Face It, was published in 2018 while Blondie co-founder Chris Stein published his photography book, Point of View: Me, New York City, and the Punk Scene at the same time. In a 2020 interview with Dazed, Harry conceded, “living through this pandemic has certainly made us take a long look at the value of what we’ve got with our body of work.” A new archive set, Blondie: Against the Odds 1974-1982 will be released this year (2021). The group will also hit the road, coronavirus permitting, for a fall Against the Odds UK tour with Garbage.

Photo by Celeste Sloman for the NY Times 

Blondie are back in the studio working on a new album. When Harry was asked to select one track that encapsulated the essence of Blondie, Harry immediately picked their 1981 U.S. number one singe, Rapture. Debbie Harry will be 76 in 2021. Her advice to her younger self, “Don’t be cruel. That would be it. Whether it’s in thought or in action, just leave cruelty alone.”

DEBBIE!

Djini Judy – Debbie Harry (1968)

Moments Spent – The Wind in the Willows

Heart of Glass – Blondie

Call Me – Blondie

Follow Me – Blondie

Rapture – Blondie

Now I Know You Know – Debbie Harry

The Jam Was Moving – Debbie Harry

Don’t You Go Away Mad – Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry & The Jazz Passengers (1997)

Rainbow Connection – The Muppet Show, Kermit & Debbie Harry

A Rose by Any Name – Blondie

I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I enjoy researching and writing them.

Next week, Chapter 2 – Cyndi Lauper!

Cheers!

This week’s podcast is Juno award winning producer/pianist/composer Eddie Bullen

https://luvthemusic.podbean.com

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

2 Responses to “The Women of Rock Redux Part 3 – Debbie and Cyndi……and music. Chapter 1 – Debbie!”

  1. Marlene Schuler Says:

    Where does the time go? Can’t believe she will be 76 this year.

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