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Monday, April 29, 2013

Blondie, "Parallel Lines"

"Parallel Lines"
Chrysalis (1978)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die

Few '70s albums had as many singles as Blondie's "Parallel Lines." Two of the six radio tracks have remained cultural staples however: "One Way or Another" and "Heart of Glass." "Parallel Lines" can be melted down into the same two tracks. Comparing these singles reveals two halves to the band, and which one is the better half.

I'll be upfront and acknowledge that "Heart of Glass" is the lesser single. That being said, it's probably the best disco track of all time. The band plays synth and syncopated bass in the way the genre requires, and Deborah Harry's voice is sugar sweet, hitting its highest register during the song. That being said, none of these things live up to the band Blondie aimed to be or is renowned for being. Harry and guitarist Chris Stein didn't write "Heart of Glass" to be disco, but suggestions were made and the genre was hot in 1978, and this rendering of the song happened. It's undeniably catchy, and the "pain in the ass" line shows more spunk than pop bubblegum, but "One Way or Another" is the true gem on the record.

Blondie rose within the New York CBGB scene, resurrecting Phil Spector girl group appeal and combining it with the light punk sensibility popular at the time. Unlike the Ronettes, there was only one girl fronting Blondie, but Harry was more than enough to fill the role. She proved on "Heart of Glass" that she had smooth vocals, but her rougher edges are of greater appeal. During "One Way or Another," she melodizes about her schoolgirl crush, but during the flashes of obsessive aggression she produces a growling effect reminiscent Tina Turner.

"One Way" also demonstrates the cynical approach Blondie took to the '60s sound. The song, which Harry wrote along with bassist Nigel Harrison, details a crush, but not a healthy one. The protagonist is clearly a fanatic, which adds a layer of humor to the track. Harry displays her character's unstable condition by delivering the song's catchphrase in a number of playful ways.

Harry's clearly the star (if the album art didn't clue you in), but the band helps set the tone for the group. The presence of the heavy guitars and keyboard harmonies during "One Way" define the song as power pop, and not just regular ol' pop. Stein gets to let loose at times, including a brief but animated solo during Crickets' cover "I'm Gonna Love You Too."

It's a tad unfair to ignore the other four singles that "Parallel Lines" spawned, but the two big ones go a long way in defining the band. "Heart of Glass" ain't bad, but "One Way or Another" truly defines Blondie in the long run.

INTERESTING FACT: Harry is more than just a face, but she does have a pretty good face. One of her roles before joining Blondie was Playboy bunny...but I suppose that doesn't necessarily say anything about her face.

One Way or Another by Blondie on Grooveshark

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