Blondie's Chris Stein

Just as 1997 marked the return of '70s supergroup Fleetwood Mac, 1999 could be the

year for the comeback of another highly successful '70s band, Blondie.

New-wave pioneers Blondie plan to make their first television appearance since 1982 on

the American Music Awards, Jan. 11. Rapper Coolio is scheduled to appear with the

band when it performs the title track from its upcoming album, No Exit. The LP,

due in stores Feb. 23, is the first set of new material from the group -- now comprising key

members including singer Deborah Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, drummer Clem Burke

and keyboardist Jimmy Destri -- in almost 17 years.

Though the quartet had been threatened last year by legal action from former members

Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante (who are not part of the reunion at this point), it appears

all systems are go.

Stein, whose musical visions -- along with those of then-girlfriend Harry -- shaped the

band in the '70s, was born 49 years ago today in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1973, after graduating

from New York's School of Visual Arts, Stein joined the glitter rock band the Stilettoes,

which included Harry. As the lineup shuffled, Stein and Harry took over the direction of

the band, which morphed into Angel and the Snakes and then Blondie.

Blondie were a fixture at the Manhattan punk mecca CBGB's in the mid-'70s; there, they

gained attention with their quasi girl-group punk sound and Harry's Marilyn Monroe-ish

looks. Blondie's eponymous indie debut, featuring the single "(Se)X Offender," increased

the band's audience in late 1976. Plastic Letters followed the next year.

At first, Blondie's signing to Chrysalis Records for the Mike Chapman-produced

Parallel Lines (1978) didn't seem to be the commercial break the band needed.

But by mid-1979, the disco-tinged "Heart of Glass" (RealAudio excerpt) hit #1

in the U.S., propelling the LP to platinum status and making Blondie a superstar act.

Eat to the Beat (1979) also went platinum and Blondie had the biggest-selling

single of 1980 with "Call Me," the theme to the Richard Gere box-office hit, "American

Gigolo."

Two subsequent #1's -- the reggae-ish "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture" -- from 1980's

Autoamerican were a mixed blessing for Blondie. While they added to the group's

chart success, the songs' divergent styles were emblematic of a musical rift growing in

the band.

Stein and Harry, who wrote most of the songs, were becoming more eclectic in their

tastes, while the other members generally wanted to continue with the band's successful

punk-pop formula.

By the release of 1982's The Hunter, Blondie had split. Despite continuing with a

solo career, Harry spent much of her time nursing Stein, who began suffering from the

rare genetic illness pemphigus. After nearly dying, Stein recovered and continued to

assist Harry with her solo records. He also produced acts for his Animal Records.

But Stein largely was absent from press coverage until last year, when rumors

increasingly surfaced that Blondie were re-forming. Along with Harry, Burke and Destri,

Stein re-entered the studio in 1998 to record the forthcoming No Exit.

The first single from the album, produced by Craig Leon (Ramones), will be "Maria."

Other tracks include "Screaming Skin," "Forgive And Forget," "Nothing Is Real But The

Girl," "Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room" and "Happy Dog."

"When a band like Blondie re-forms, you wish them the best," said Joey Ramone, a friend

and contemporary of Blondie during his years with punk legends the Ramones.

"Because they were a great band and there's so much sh-- out there, you hope

something good comes of this thing."

"[Blondie] decided they didn't want to put out a greatest-hits album," Blondie manager Ed

Thomas said. "They wanted to make a record that doesn't feel like a comeback record.

They wanted to make an album that sounds like a Blondie record taken to the next level."

Other birthdays: Thom Mooney (Nazz), 51; George "Funky" Brown (Kool and the Gang),

50; and Grant Young (ex-Soul Asylum), 35.