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Parallel Lines

Chrysalis 1192
Released: September 1978
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 103
Certified Platinum: 6/6/79

Nigel HarrisonFrank InfanteJimmy DestriClem BurkeChris SteinDebbie HarryIn Blondie's third album, Parallel Lines, the band drops the brooding artiness of its previous records and comes on like and ambitious pop-rock group. Or rather, a rock & roll band with an ambitious pop vocalist named Deborah Harry. In the past, Harry has always managed to make a virtue of her stiff, severe crooning, and her vocals complemented Blondie's clipped, urban-raw playing. But the melodies were frequently lugubrious and much too involved with a Warholian despair that took the form of nonstop deadpan cheekiness. This cool demeanor provided some incredible pounding -- Clem Burke's drumming always carried the band beyond mere art rock -- but never gave Blondie's songs the jolt or hooks that Harry's blank-slate singing seemed capable of delivering so well.

Throughout Parallel Lines, however, the hooks cascade and Harry belts them out with a new expressiveness. On pop roller coasters like "Pretty Baby" and "Sunday Girl," her swoops and the simple guitar/drum backing reveal enthusiastic kids behind the pose of cynical artists. Producer Mike Chapman mixes the guitar of Chris Stein right up beside Deborah Harry's voice, and each of these twelve short, pungent tunes builds to its own little epiphany of pop, from girl-group sass ("Pretty Baby") to Rolling Stones seediness ("Just Go Away"). On "Sunday Girl," you sense the smile that Harry never exposes in her publicity shots, and the song is a triumph of saucer-eyed hard rock. The singer's cuteness has the bite of bitterness, while the perky melody is made ominous by the intensity of Stein's lead guitar.

Blondie - Parallel Lines
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
As if to drive home Blondie's new range, "Sunday Girl" is followed by "Heart of Glass," a mating of Kraftwerk and Donna Summer that adds humanity to the machinelike pace and steeliness to the imploring female narrator. And it's this steeliness -- this transcendence of all the romantic stereotypes Deborah Harry embraces -- that makes Parallel Lines so continuously enjoyable and moving. Harry's no longer the sexy zombie, and she won't take any more abuse without showing contempt for her abusers. Her gritty "I'm gonna getcha" (in "One Way or Another") and the entire sardonic dismissal of "Just Go Away" are witty flourishes that, in the course of this exhilarating LP, come to seem genuinely brave.

- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 11-2-78.

Bonus Reviews!

It would take a real curmudgeon to actively dislike the music on this album, but by the same token I can't say that I'm exactly enthusiastic about it either. Blondie, I'm afraid, is one of those groups that is a lot more fun on paper than in the actual execution, at least so far. The band itself plays rather well, but the songwriting... well, if your music is a pastiche of Sixties Phil Spector and surf stuff, while your lyrics are oh-so-Seventies-coy, the end result can't help but be kind of queasily self-conscious, cut but basically false. And Debbie Harry's gum-chewing pose isn't all that convincing, really; I was there, Jack, and the bad girls in my high school would have eaten her for breakfast.

Still, like I said, it's so obviously frivolous that it seems almost unfair to come down too hard on these kids; they're just having fun. It's worth noting, however, that the only time they really rock out is on a marvelous old Buddy Holly tune, "I'm Gonna Love You Too," in which the cuteness is appropriate for a change, bubblegum being eternal. Which only proves that Debbie and Co. are undoubtedly too smart for their own good, even they can't write really dumb songs Like They Used To.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 11/78.

Blondie's third album is less concentrated on infantile pop remakes of the '60s and focuses on creating its own sound within a contemporary pop framework. While still relying on the harmonious sound of the better girl rock groups of the '60s, producer Mike Chapman, master of commercially viable pop productions, steers lead vocalist Deborah Harry in a direction that is indicative of maturation in terms of rock delivery, credibility and sheer vocal power. The six-piece band plays solid rock with some masterful guitar riffs popping up in many a song. The melodies stick, the multilayered harmonies work, and the end result is witty, infectious rock. Best cuts: "Hanging On The Telephone," "Parallel Lines," "Picture This," "11:59."

- Billboard, 1978.

As unlikely as it seemed three years ago, they've actually achieved their synthesis of the Dixie Cups and the Electric Prunes -- their third is as close to God as pop-rock albums ever get, or got. Closer, actually -- even on side two every song generates its own unique, scintillating glitz. What seems at first like a big bright box of hard candy turns out to have guts, feeling, a chewy center, and Deborah Harry's vocal gloss reveals nooks of compassion and sheer physical give that make the protagonists of these too-too modern fragments seem as tragic (or untragic) as those of any other epoch. Plus the band really New Yawks it up -- try the chorus of "Just Go Away." A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Blondie's massive international success was based on the band's ability to write good commercial pop, to blend it with the tartness and freshness of punk and new wave before entrusting the songs to the undoubted vocal talents of Debbie Harry, the group's vocalist and publicity figurehead. Parallel Lines -- containing Blondie's first trans-Atlantic No. 1 -- "Heart of Glass," and the UK No. 1 "Sunday Girl" -- was produced by Mike Chapman who managed to craft a commercial singles sound without sacrificing the underlying rock authenticity. The Compact Disc however is a little disappointing, lacking the precise focus expected of a modern recording. The reverberant drum sound on "Fade Away and Radiate," for instance, seems to be missing both punch and slam. The disc, however, does offer high value in terms of hits and hook lines.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

Blondie turned to British pop producer Mike Chapman for their third album, on which they abandoned any pretensions to new wave legitimacy (just in time, given the decline of the new wave) and emerged as a pure pop band. But it wasn't just Chapman that made Parallel Lines Blondie's best album; it was the band's own songwriting, including Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and James Destri's "Picture This," Harry and Stein's "Heart Of Glass," and Harry and new bass player Nigel Harrison's "One Way Or Another," plus two contributions from non-band-member Jack Lee, "Will Anything Happen?" and "Hanging On The Telephone." That was enough to give Blondie a #1 on both sides of the Atlantic with "Heart Of Glass" and three more UK hits, but what impresses is the album's depth and consistency -- album tracks like "Fade Away And Radiate" and "Just Go Away" are as impressive as the songs pulled for singles. The result is state-of-the-art pop-rock circa 1978, with Harry's tough girl glamour setting the pattern that would be exploited over the next decade by a host of successors led by Madonna. * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Parallel Lines encompasses everything that made the band great: winsome pop, exhilarating guitar rock, danceable grooves, some arty touches and Harry's tough, droll, infinitely appealing persona. Parallel Lines includes the dance floor standard "Heart of Glass," the rocking "Hanging on the Telephone" and the luminous pop ditty "Picture This" among its outstanding tracks. * * * *

- Simon Glickman, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

With U.K. glam rock svengali Mike Chapman at the helm, Parallel Lines saw punk pop band Blondie step into the mainstream. It sold by the shedload. Four classic singles define the album. "Hanging On The Telephone" is just over two minutes of pure lust wrapped in a pleading, insinuating vocal. "Picture This" is a truly sublime pop moment, a worshipful vocal, thrilling harmonies and a spine-tingling guitar solo from Chris Stein. Deborah Harry is innocence itself on "Sunday Girl," which effortlessly couples sharp lyrics with an infectiously catchy tune, while the disco-style "Heart Of Glass" was a global No. 1. Parallel Lines consciously borrows from pop's gaudy past. The cover is a mid-60s throwback: stark black and white lines and the band in Mod-ish black suits. Harry is unsmiling in a classy white dress, hands on hips; confrontational. "I'm Gonna Love You Too" and Jimmy Destri's keyboard solo on "11.59" are straight out of a 60s beach movie; "Pretty Baby" opens with a spoken bit that recalls the Shangri-Las (Harry's pre-Blondie band The Stilettos sang girl-group tributes). And of course, Clem Burke was a full-time advert for the 60s. Unforgettable tunes sung by the sexiest woman in pop. They couldn't miss.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

Blondie's "sellout" record sent punk purists into apoplectic fits: The darlings of New York irreverence had recorded eleven pop songs and a monster disco number. Worse, civilians inflamed by "Heart of Glass" were flocking to buy what masqueraded as a New Wave artifact -- black and white and saucy all over. Parallel Lines didn't drive a stake into New Wave's heart, but it ripped its mask off. Without the cartoonish postmodernist referencing that Blondie excelled at on their first two albums -- the giant ants, spy-film romance, tabloid-headline goofs and French fluff -- the ugly truth was advanced in the prettiest way: This music had never been anything but contagious, glossy melodics ("pop"), some of which one could dance to (argh, "disco").

Parallel Lines made a hash of the genre distinctions that kept snobs warm. Guitar-god posturing is toyed with and discarded on "I Know but I Don't Know." East Village sass spat out like chicken bones on "Just Go Away." The melting, metallic "Sunday Girl" features Debbie Harry's voice at its thickest and most cynically sweet, proving she was always a one-girl group in Candie's. "11:59" has the cheesy organ break and fugitive scheme that later became the stuff of sendups, but its trench-coat posturing is less caricatured than desperate.

Parallel Lines is infused with a new, and appropriate, romantic fatalism. Jack Lee's two songs -- the backstage lament "Will Anything Happen" and the immortal, breathless "Hanging on the Telephone" -- established Harry's persona firmly between vulnerable but skeptical lover and pop tigress. Nice young couple Harry and Chris Stein wrote (with Jimmy Destri) the tenderest New Wave love song put to vinyl, "Picture This," in which Harry smolders with longing by degrees, then crabbily hangs up the phone. In "Pretty Baby," she's already mourning, with infinite empathy, the fleeting blossom of someone else's youth. As for that maddening, damnable disco number, it's not propelled by dithery space keyboards or the inimitable circular rhythm, but by Clem Burke's swishing cymbal work, which hits all the heart-bursting peaks that Harry's ice-cream-cool vocals won't. * * * * 1/2

- Arion Berger, Rolling Stone, 6/8/00.

American pop perfection, this attitude-heavy combo's brilliant breakout album featuring "Hanging on the Telephone," a classic of the highest order, and "Heart of Glass" launched new wave as a commercially viable genre while cementing the visage of Debbie Harry, punk rock's Marilyn Monroe. Capturing the sound of CBGB's, producer Mike Chapman turned this rock-disco fusion into the best thing to hit radio since the Ronettes. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Single Review:
"Heart Of Glass"

Chris Stein - Book Review:
Point Of View: Me, New York
City, And The Punk Scene

Article: "A Highly Selective
Basic Library of Punk Rock"

Blondie Lyrics

Blondie Videos

Debbie Harry Mugshots

Here's where punk and New Wave broke through to a mass U.S. audience, thanks to the Number One hit "Heart of Glass," also known to Blondie fans as "The Disco Song." "I was trying to get that groove that the drummer for the Bee Gees had," said drummer Clem Burke, who credited Kraftwerk and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as influences on "Heart of Glass." Parallel Lines is a perfect synthesis of raw punk edge, Sixties-pop smarts and the cool New Wave glamour Blondie invented. Deborah Harry, of course, invented a new kind of rock & roll sex appeal that brought New York demimonde style to the mainstream. Madonna was surely watching.

Parallel Lines was chosen as the 140th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

September 1978: Israeli-Egyptian Accords are signed. More importantly, Parallel Lines is released! Bleach-blonde bombshell Debbie Harry and her quintet, led by guitarist/boyfriend Chris Stein, hurtled into the pop firmament with their third set. It topped the UK chart, reached No. 6 Stateside and sold by the million.

The sleeve -- shot by the Goddard Brothers, from an idea by manager Peter Leeds -- aped 1960s simplicity. Harry thought it stank, but its sophistication reflected the band's new sound -- which melded their punk roots with Mike Chapman's glam-based commerciality. The producer "conducted us as we played," said Harry. "We weren't prepared for his expertise."

The result was new wave par excellence. Infectious harmonies complement Harry's vocals, by turns raucous and luscious. "Hanging On The Telephone," originally by The Nerves, is 2:22 of electrostatic verve, while "Fade Away (And Radiate)" -- replete with Robert Fripp's psychedelic guitar -- creates a dreamy canvas. The UK chart-topper "Sunday Girl" adds a layer of ice cream sweetness and "Pretty Baby" is the cherry on top.

Hit-makers in Europe a year before they were accepted at home, Blondie finally struck the United States with "Heart Of Glass." Chapman took their James Brown-esque original and turned it into disco, much to the chagrin of drummer Clem Burke.

Recorded in a sweltering New York summer, Parallel Lines was worth the sweat. Billboard summarized the result as "witty, infectious rock" demonstrating "maturity in delivery, credibility, and vocal power." It remains a classic -- much imitated, rarely equaled.

- Tim Jones, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Looking at the publicity shots and listening to the first two Blondie albums, it's tempting to dismiss the band as a trend-chasing marketing creation. Singer Debbie Hary and her musicians are accessorized to the nines, trying to at least look like denizens of the New York punk scene that birthed the Talking Heads and the Ramones. Musically, though, they're not nearly as assertive; Blondie sounds like it's a little bit afraid of punk, not sure whether to charge fully into its confrontations.

Those first two albums are warm-ups for Parallel Lines. This time, Blondie blows past the punk trappings in pursuit of a postmodern amalgam of the Dixie Cups and the Ronettes and David Bowie glam. And, oh yes, a crucial visionary pinch of disco (check out the huge single "Heart of Glass"). The singles and the songs that could have been singles filter girl-boy relationship woes into thrilling pop constructs that depended not just on Harry's attitude, but her ability to channel the exuberance of the Phil Spector girl groups (especially on "Picture This"). Though they hit common themes (love as a drag is one), the songs of Parallel Lines each claim their own spots on the spectrum that starts at punk desperation and ends at bubblegum bliss.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

Here's where punk and New Wave broke through to a mass U.S. audience, thanks to the Number One hit "Heart of Glass." Parallel Lines is a perfect synthesis of raw punk edge, Sixties-pop smarts, and the cool New Wave glamour that Blondie invented. Debbie Harry, of course, invented a new kind of rock & roll sex appeal.

Parallel Lines was chosen as the 146th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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