Narrow Black Ties Over Hearts of Glass

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“Hanging on the Telephone” probably makes no sense to the cell phone generation.  Deborah Harry is singing about a now weird aspect of a departed world of phone booths.  It’s the song that starts off Blondie’s best album, 1978’s Parallel Lines.  “Hanging on the Telephone” set the tone for the album, tons of attitude in a mix of New Wave and straight-up pop, with punk undertones.

Even the quieter songs on the album, such as “Picture This” and the retro “Pretty Baby,” had an edge to them, a nod toward the roots of rock and roll and away from the orchestral, arena rock excesses of the early to mid 70s. In other songs such as “I Know But I Don’t Know,” Blondie were a fully fledged New Wave band.  There was certainly lots of variety in this widely popular release.

Disco?

Parallel Lines was part of that movement away from arena rock, but its success was also based upon radio pop and ultimately on the success of its most mainstream tune, “Heart of Glass.” The simplest of the songs on Parallel Lines, “Heart of Glass” hit the AM airwaves and the discos and came to be synonymous with Blondie itself.  The result was that some who purchased the album for the hit were displeased with the rest of the tunes and—likewise—those who liked the rest of the album often declared the hit “disco” with the appropriate derogatory tone of disgust it deserved. But, even for those of us who hated the bounce-up-and-down frivolity of disco, this song somehow rises way above the worst of that era. “Heart of Glass” sounds pretty darn good even today, while many a mirror-ball gem is better left to memory.

Or Rock and Roll?

Right after “Heart of Glass” is a remake of a Buddy Holly song, “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” and it sums up what is best about Blondie in 1978 and about New Wave in general.  Here was a renewal that recognized the value of entertainment in songs, a harkening back to the days of Buddy Holly and rock and roll. The longest song on Parallel Lines is the megahit “Heart of Glass,” coming in at just under six minutes.  The rest of the tunes are all rock-and-roll length, from just over two minutes to just under four.  No pseudo-jazz extremes, just pop-oriented solid tunes.

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