After 40 Years, New Wave Pioneers Blondie Continue to Look Forward

Concert Preview

Plenty of New Wave bands haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The Cars have been eligible for 11 years but never nominated. Duran Duran has been eligible for 8 years but never nominated. The Eurythmics have been eligible for 8 years but never nominated. The B-52s have been eligible for 10 years but never nominated. We could go on and on.

It’s a testament to Blondie’s far-reaching impact that the group, a forward-thinking act that draws from punk, rock, reggae and hip-hop, was inducted way back in 2006, just a few years after it would have been eligible.

“That [Rock Hall Induction] was great because it was just so weird,” says guitarist Chris Stein in a recent phone interview from his New York home where he had just returned from playing a private show for “some dude” in Italy.” “I’m a little ambivalent about the Hall of Fame, but a lot of people think highly of it. I kind of was excited by other people’s reactions. I got so many congratulations for it. If it was something that existed since the ’50s or ’60s I might have felt differently. But it’s kind of a corporate entity. And there’s so many damn people that should be in it that aren’t. It was an interesting experience.”

Stein says he still gets a kick out of the drama that unfolded on stage as guitarist Frankie Infante expressed a desire to perform with the band during his acceptance speech.

“[Guitarist] Frankie [Infante] deciding that was a good moment to complain in front of millions of people was great,” Stein laughs. “People frequently asked me how much we paid him to do that.”

Prior to the band’s formation in 1974, singer Debbie Harry was in a folk rock group. She and Stein formed Blondie, and Stein says they didn’t exactly know what kind of music they would make when they first got together.

“She had done a record with the Wind and the Willows, which was a hippie folk band,” he says. “She had been at it for a while. I don’t think there was pre-thought to what we were doing. We were going forward. There wasn’t much planning to any of it.”

A trip to the Bronx in the late ’70s proved to be significant.

“I heard [the Sugarhill Gang’s] ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and a couple of things around,” says Stein. “[Fab Five] Freddy who was later known for MTV took us up to this event in 1977 in the Bronx. It was really exciting. It was all going on at the same time so there was a connection.”

Blondie would invite Freddy to rap on their funk-inspired song “Rapture,” and the track would become the first No. 1 song to feature rapping. That song along with punky “Call Me” and the reggae-tinged “Tide is High” were staples on commercial radio in the ‘80s and showed just how adroitly the band had picked up on underground sounds and made them something into palatable for the mainstream.

“When I listen to the old tracks, they hold up in the modern environment, that’s for sure,” says Stein. “It’s hard to say where all this is going to go. We’re talking about 40 or 50 or 60 years of recorded music. What’s going to be going on in 300 years, who knows?”

Blondie recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a double-disc album Blondie 4(0) Ever and Chris Stein’s acclaimed book of photography Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk. The best-of disc includes newly recorded versions of songs from the band's back catalog (Stein says the band doesn't own the masters and wanted to recut its hit for "financial reasons). It was also bundled with the band’s most recent studio album, last year’s Ghosts of Download, yet another forward-thinking project. Because of the way it was recorded, it took about two years to complete Ghosts.

“That record was done with a lot of file sharing and everyone being in different places,” says Stein. “It was very computer-driven. The next thing will be more of a band, organic thing and a little less electronic-y though it will still have some of those elements because we all like that stuff. I like everything. I like all kinds of music. I’ve been a big fan of modern Latin music and reggaeton. I like modern cumbia and I think [the Puerto Rican reggaeton act] Plan B is touring around the States. They just sold out the Garden here. I love Skrillex and Diplo and all those fucking guys.”

For the next studio album, Stein says the group is fielding songs from outside songwriters. He says the band has been collecting songs from “lots of different people.” The collaborative nature of Ghosts, which has a real Latin flavor to it as songs such as "I Want to Drag You Around" and "Sugar on the Side" mix Latin beats with modern electronica, and whatever the new project becomes suggest the way in which band leaders Stein and Harry have set aside their egos to explore new sounds.

“I’m less egomaniacal than I have been in the past,” says Stein, who adds that he has enough material for a second book of photography. “Debbie is certainly like that. I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up by having other people do stuff with us. We still get to put our two cents into everything.”

Blondie, 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 29, Packard Music Hall, 1703 Mahoning Ave NW, Warren, 330-841-2619. Tickets: $28-$59.50,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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