[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"
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