Best Of '99: Blondie Basks In Rapture Of Return To #1

One of new wave's seminal bands returns with hit single in U.K. and first album in 16 years.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Feb. 9.]

Twenty years after they first hit the top of the charts in England, the

reunited Blondie — one of the most successful acts to emerge from the

late-'70s New York punk/new-wave scene — is doing it all over again.

"Yeah, of course I'm surprised that we could go in and have a song go

to #1," original drummer Clem Burke said of the feat Blondie achieved

in England last week. With sales of more than 128,000 copies of the

pop-rock single "Maria" (RealAudio

excerpt) in the U.K. — according to British chart tracker

Musicweek — the band currently holds the top spot on the

British singles chart.

The out-of-the-box success comes nearly two decades after the band

first hit the top of the U.K. charts with their smash 1978 single

"Heart of Glass" (RealAudio

excerpt). During their late-'70s and early-'80s heyday, they

scored five #1 hits in England, a country that embraced their eclectic

sound early and often.

Now Blondie are preparing to release a new album, No Exit (Feb. 23),

their first full-length offering of new material in more than 16 years.

The album features all four of the founding members of Blondie: singer

Deborah Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, Burke and keyboardist Jimmy Destri.

"We're definitely bringing baggage to this thing," Burke said of the

group's reunion. "It's like any relationship, which is one of the reasons

it's called No Exit. You can't escape from it. No matter what else

we endeavor to do, there will always be that Blondie connection"

(RealAudio

excerpt of interview).

Instead of only targeting the baby-boomer crowd that first made the

band international stars, the group is smartly setting their sights on

the street as well, according to Sky Daniels, general manager of radio

trade magazine Radio and Records.

The soaring pop tune "Maria" has already been picked up by more than

50 U.S. adult contemporary stations, Daniels said, including ones in

such major cities as Los Angeles and Boston, where the song is getting

more than 30 spins a week.

In a nod to one of the band's most enduring early-'80s hits, the

pioneering dance/pop/rap crossover song "Rapture" — in which

dyed-blonde-bombshell Harry rapped her lines along with an MC — the group

hooked up with L.A. rhymer Coolio for the album's title track.

Blondie performed the song on last month's American Music Awards with

a crew that included Coolio and members of the East Coast rap groups

Mobb Deep and the Wu-Tang Clan.

"Debbie didn't feel comfortable doing the rap alone," Burke explained

of the collaboration. "She wanted some kind of legitimate rapper to do it

along with her" (RealAudio

excerpt of interview).

Meanwhile, Blondie has plans to service U.S. urban radio with a series

of remixes of "No Exit" (RealAudio excerpt

of original version) on the Loud Records label, home to the St0aten

Island rap collective Wu-Tang Clan. Wu-Tang members U-God and Inspectah

Deck will be heard on the remixes.

Daniels said the group's overt attempt to be as contemporary as

possible with the new mixes and street attitude shows their astuteness.

"Remember, this is the band that gave us 'Rapture,' the first pop

synthesis of rap in the mainstream. People in hip-hop still respect

what they've done," Daniels said.

In keeping with what Burke labeled the band's typically "atypical"

sound, new tracks such as "Screaming Skin" dabble in reggae grooves

while "Nothing Is Real" traffics in early-'80s new wave and "Boom in

the Zoom Zoom Room" is a smoky jazz number.

Blondie originally made a name with Harry's dry, sensual vocals and a

genre-bending style that fused pop, punk and hip-hop. They released

six albums over six years before disbanding in 1982.

Burke said the band had been approached several years ago with the

idea of recording a pair of new songs for a greatest hits album, a

notion he said they summarily rejected.

"We were adamantly opposed to the greatest-hits idea," Burke, 43, said.

"Once we decided to do this we knew what we wanted to do was make a

record. I definitely missed the camaraderie, because we had a lot of

success together and that sticks in the mind."

Burke said the group first began jamming together again three years

ago in Stein's basement, playing new songs that immediately struck the

reunited quartet as being potentially exciting new Blondie material.

After a few false starts with various producers, the group hooked up

with Craig Leon (Ramones) — with whom they'd worked early in their

career — and Burke said the reunion was sealed.

Former rhythm guitarist Frank Infante and bassist Nigel Harrison,

neither of whom are founding members of the group, filed a lawsuit in

New York County Supreme Court last summer claiming $1 million in

damages for alleged financial misconduct by the band's reunited

original members. In trying to prevent the band from using the name

Blondie, Infante and Harrison claimed they have an ongoing financial

interest in the group and therefore cannot be excluded from the album

and tour plans.

That did not stop the band from going ahead with its plans, however.

"I'm glad that we made the new record," Burke said. "We had to be a band

again first and not a business venture. It was only after we made the

record that we decided that we could actually go out and promote it and

were happy with it and go out on tour" (RealAudio

excerpt of interview