It’s hard to imagine how rock would have evolved without Blondie’s landmark third album, Parallel Lines. Its influence is easily detectable in the DNA of successive generations of New York bands, from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem, and its seemingly ageless cool has led to it moving over 20 million copies worldwide.
Widely regarded as Debbie Harry and company’s signature disc, Parallel Lines also succeeded in silencing the harshest of critics, with notoriously cranky Village Voice writer Robert Christgau even proclaiming it to be “as close to God as pop-rock albums ever get”. However, while the record has long since earned its stripes as one of the high-water marks of the post-punk era, its stellar success was by no means a given when the band embarked on the sessions with producer Mike Chapman in June 1978.
Admittedly, Blondie had both outstripped punk and attracted international recognition prior to Parallel Lines. US success continued to elude them, but Europe started to capitulate early in 1978 when the band’s sprightly cover of Randy & The Rainbows’ 1963 hit ‘Denise’ (retitled ‘Denis’) shot to No.2 in the UK. On the back of this breakthrough, Blondie’s second album, Plastic Letters, cracked the UK Top 10, and they returned to Top Of The Pops when the sublime ‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear’ also scraped the British Top 10.
While Blondie’s star was in the ascendancy overseas, however, there was ground to make up at home, where Chrysalis Records arranged for a new producer to oversee the band’s third album. Having already produced a series of glam-era hits for The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, LA-based Mike Chapman seemed an astute choice. After expressing his enthusiasm for several of Blondie’s new songs – including guitarist Chris Stein’s ‘Sunday Girl’ – he signed up for the Parallel Lines sessions at New York’s Power Station Studios.
Chrysalis reserved six months of studio time for Parallel Lines, yet band and producer emerged after just six weeks – and when they did, they were clutching pure gold. Though it retained the energy of punk, the new material was diverse and highly assured, taking in everything from the swooning pop of ‘Pretty Baby’ to Stein’s cinematic ballad ‘Fade Away And Radiate’ and keyboardist Jimmy Destri’s dramatic ‘11.59’. Debbie Harry also seized the opportunity to show off her growing confidence and versatility as a vocalist, investing the intense, stalker-related ‘One Way Or Another’ with streetwise grit and sprinkling girl-next-door sweetness on the classic 60s pop of ‘Sunday Girl’.
Parallel Lines’ tracklist also included several well-chosen covers, including a rousing version of Buddy Holly’s ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ and a brash reshaping of LA power-popsters The Nerves’ ‘Hanging On The Telephone’. Chapman’s quest for studio perfection, meanwhile, pushed the band close to breaking point on the album’s most daring track, ‘Heart Of Glass’. Originally entitled ‘Once I Had A Love (aka The Disco Song)’, this Harry-penned song dated back to 1975, but after a radical studio overhaul the track emerged riding a shimmering, Giorgio Moroder-esque groove which reflected both the disco sound of Saturday Night Fever and Blondie’s collective love of electronic pioneers Kraftwerk.
Housed in an iconic – and instantly recognisable – sleeve shot by photographer Edo Bertoglio, Parallel Lines was first released on 23 September 1978, receiving almost uniformly good reviews. Blondie’s adoring public were also in no doubt the band’s time was at hand: after singles ‘Picture This’ and ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ ripped up the UK Top 20 and, on 17 February 1979, Parallel Lines shot straight to the top of the UK charts, Harry and co played a sell-out UK tour which descended into Beatlemania-esque chaos when the band were mobbed by thousands of fans at a signing session at Our Price Records on London’s Kensington High Street.
Fittingly, it was the genre-defying ‘Heart Of Glass’ which provided Blondie with their first UK No.1 in January 1979, but this time round the band’s success in the UK, Europe and Australia was mirrored by their commercial performance in the US. Indeed, with a further push from Stanley Dorfman’s iconic promotional film of the band performing the song at chic NYC nightspot New York New York, the timeless ‘Heart Of Glass’ soon became Blondie’s first Billboard 100 chart-topper and the record responsible for turning the band into bona fide superstars.
Parallel Lines can be bought here.