The Stories Behind Five Classic Blondie Songs (and One New Track)
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The immortally cool band that helped bring punk and new wave to the masses celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with a double album, Blondie 4(0) ever. Frontwoman Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein look back—and forward—at their work.
“RIP HER TO SHREDS”
Debbie Harry: We wanted to do something like the Velvet Underground, or a Lou Reed, New York kind of song. “Rip Her to Shreds” was this composite piece about a lot of female people in the scene, and it was kind of a gossipy thing. In that scenario, I’m both doing the ripping and the one being ripped. I was poking fun at other people but also at myself. It’s a tough song.
“HEART OF GLASS”
Harry: “Heart of Glass” was pretty set from the beginning. Once we had the track nailed down, it stayed that way since 1975—that’s when we first started working on it… People got upset because I sang “ass.” Maybe because it’s a three-letter word and not a four-letter word? I think we got banned in a few places because of that. We were very raw and minimalist then. Simultaneously, the advent of synthesizers came into play, and all the little gadgetry and rhythm machines.
Chris Stein: It was such a big deal just to get the damn synthesizer to sync with the rhythm machine. Now 8-year-olds are doing that stuff on GarageBand.
Harry: It took us three to five days just to get that track! I was always frustrated by the analog. It was so labor-intensive, that whole process. Your ideas sometimes sort of slide away or become less clear.
“ONE WAY OR ANOTHER”
Harry: Some of it is autobiographical. We started jamming on it in a rehearsal studio, and the lyric just popped into my head. “Drive past your house” and all that came a little later, but “One way or another” was such a good hook line. That was one of those magic moments where things really happen quickly. It happened with “X Offender,” though it was called “Sex Offender” then—and “Call Me,” too.
Stein: “Dreaming” is pretty much a cop of [ABBA’s] “Dancing Queen.” I don’t know if that was where we started, or if it ended up just happening to sound like that.
Harry: Sometimes Chris will come up with a track or a feel and pass it on to me, and he’ll say, “I was thinking ‘Dreaming/Dreaming is free,’ ” and then I’ll fill it out with a story line or some more phrases. A lot of times it’s the rhythm track that suggests what the lyric is going to be. I like working like that.
Harry: A lot of rappers have told me over the years that that was the first rap song that they ever heard, because rap really wasn’t on the radio in the beginning.
Stein: The most impressive was the Wu-Tang guys and the guys from Mobb Deep, they told us it was the first rap song they heard when they were kids. The KRS-One version is pretty great. And then they put it in that f—ing James Franco/Seth Rogen end-of-the-world movie [This Is the End].
Harry: [Fab 5] Freddy took us around to this live gig that was very exciting. I guess he introduced us to some of the Sugarhill [Gang].
Stein: And around that time we met Funky 4 and Cold Crush and Grandmaster Flash, all those guys. That’s how I ended up working on [the iconic 1983 hip-hop movie] Wild Style, which was very gratifying. It was so exciting to see this whole other world that was going on at the same time as what was going on downtown in New York, even though we were only vaguely aware of it. It took a while for all that stuff to start coming together later on. It’s ironic what’s happened to New York now, especially in comparison to what was going on back then.
“A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME”
Harry: That was a song that [keyboardist] Matt Katz-Bohen wrote. His wife was expecting, but they didn’t know what sex the baby was, and he came up with this song about whether you’re a boy or a girl, I’m gonna love you just the same. And it sort of became anthemic for transgender people and all sexes in every shape and form. So then Matt said bring Beth [Ditto, of Gossip] in on it, and I said of course. She’s one of my favorite singers.
Stein: A lot of [new studio album and second 4(0) Ever disc] Ghosts of Download, like the title suggests, was done in the digital world. I was in a different place than the producer until there was about a month left. Technology is great. Everybody is trying to figure out this new world of the music business, and there are problematic aspects to it, but it used to cost us $100,000 or more to make a record, and now you can make a record for $2,000—the price of a laptop—if you have your s–t together.