Deborah Harry

Blondie's Deborah Harry is the most recognizable female figure of the

'70s New York City punk-rock movement, and, along with Patti Smith, one of the most influential.

Harry's Marilyn Monroe-like looks and sultry vocals launched many hits for Blondie,

making the band one of the most commercially successful acts of the new-wave

movement.

Harry was born 54 years ago today in Miami. She was adopted at age 3 by Richard and

Catherine Harry and grew up in Hawthorne, N.J. After high school, Harry moved to

Manhattan, where she joined a folk band called the Wind in the Willows. In 1968 the

band released an album on Capitol Records.

Harry also worked as a hair stylist, a barmaid and a Playboy bunny to make ends meet.

In the early '70s she sang in the Stilettoes, featuring future Television bassist Fred Smith.

When guitarist Chris Stein joined the group, he and Harry took over and called it Angel

and the Snakes. The band morphed into Blondie.

Blondie were regulars at the famed punk club CBGB's when they released their first

single, "Sex Offender." Private Stock Records issued Blondie's eponymous debut LP in

1976.

The band also included keyboardist Jimmy Destri, drummer Clem Burke and bassist

Gary Valentine. The latter left the group before its sophomore release, 1977's Plastic

Letters, which included the UK hit "Denis."

Parallel Lines (1978) was helmed by veteran glitter-pop producer Mike Chapman.

The album sold slowly at first, but when the media began noticing Harry's sex appeal

and new-wave radio stations picked up on the accessibility of the band's pop-punk

hybrid, it rapidly climbed the Billboard 200 albums chart.

The release of the disco-tinged "Heart of Glass" single drove Parallel Lines into

the U.S. top five (it was already wildly popular in the UK). When the song made #1, it

marked the first time a group with punk and new-wave roots had achieved that feat.

Album-oriented radio also aired the LP's rock-oriented songs, such as the catchy "One

Way or Another" and "Hanging on the Telephone." Eat to the Beat (1979)

contained the single "Dreaming" and sold well. Blondie also had the biggest-selling

single of 1980 with "Call Me," the theme from the Richard Gere movie "American Gigolo."

With 1980's Autoamerican it became clear that Harry and Stein were not content

to stick with punk-influenced pop, despite their success. The LP dabbled in Eurodisco,

show tunes, reggae and other genres. Though it angered some fans, the album yielded

the #1 hits "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture," the latter effectively introducing hip-hop to a

mass market.

At the peak of success on the pop charts, Blondie began to unravel. The rest of the band

was not thrilled with Harry and Stein's experimental music and disagreements grew. The

comparatively poor-selling The Hunter was Blondie's final LP before they split up

in 1982.

Harry had begun acting in films such as "Union City" and "Videodrome." She had

already established a solo career with 1981's KooKoo, featuring the minor hit

"Backfired." She spent much of the '80s nursing Stein, who was suffering from a nerve

disease. But she managed to act in films such as "Hairspray" and issue solo LPs such as

Rockbird (1986) and Def, Dumb & Blonde (1989).

Harry's career was fairly quiet during the early '90s, yielding only one LP of new

material, 1993's Debravation. She continued acting in films, such as 1996's

"Heavy." But rumblings of a Blondie reunion began surfacing, and after a few false starts

it became a reality.

Harry, Stein, Burke and Destri re-formed Blondie for a few gigs late last year and

emerged with the new No Exit in February. Its first single, "Maria," was a UK chart

topper, but didn't do as well in the United States. The band mounted a successful tour in

support of the LP, which also included the rap title track with Coolio and cuts such as

"Nothing Is Real but the Girl" (RealAudio excerpt).

Other birthdays: Delaney Bramlett (Delaney and Bonnie), 60; Fred Schneider (B-52's),

43; Vito Bratta (White Lion), 38; Roddy Bottum (Faith No More), 36; and Willie Dixon,

1915-1992.