Blondie’s 20 greatest songs – ranked!

As they reissue their 1981 festive EP Yuletide Throwdown, we rate the best of the New York band who strutted through punk, disco and pop with absolute cool

20. The Tide Is High (1980)

When it came to picking cover versions, you couldn’t fault Chris Stein and Debbie Harry’s taste, hence this slickly appealing take on the Paragons’ John Holt-penned 1967 single. Extra points for the video, which involves Darth Vader, a flooded apartment and a dancer unaccountably dressed as Pan – it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

19. Fragments (2017)

Since reforming in 1999, Blondie’s albums have been of decidedly mixed quality, but their most recent, Pollinator, is easily the best. Its episodic seven-minute closer – a cover of a song by a Canadian YouTube influencer, would you believe – is stately, weary and angry. It sounds like nothing else Blondie have recorded.

18. Shayla (1979)

The exception that proves the rule about the quality of Eat to the Beat’s non-single tracks. The wistful, synth-heavy, slow-motion Shayla makes Blondie’s debt to 60s girl groups explicit once more. It’s a song you can imagine being swathed in reverb by Phil Spector circa 1965 and powered by Be My Baby drums.

17. Rip Her to Shreds (1976)

Camp, nasty fun that seems to speak of Blondie’s New York roots. The chugging guitar has an air of the Velvet Underground – whom Harry and Stein saw live – while the super-bitchy vocal captures the backbiting, vicious atmosphere of Max’s Kansas City, where Harry worked as a waitress.

Blondie in 1976 ... (from left) Gary Valentine, Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke.
Blondie in 1976 ... (from left) Gary Valentine, Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke. Photograph: Chris Walter/WireImage

16. Good Boys (2003)

The great lost Blondie single, marooned on their unloved 2003 album, The Curse of Blondie. A killer chorus, and a lyrical steal from Queen’s We Will Rock You, over a distinctly Giorgio Moroder-ish synth bassline; if it had been released in 1979, instead of 24 years later, it would have been a hit.

15. For Your Eyes Only (1982)

The final original Blondie album, The Hunter, is leaden, miserable listening, with glossy production that can’t hide uninspired songs. But there’s one exception, a would-be Bond theme with a killer chorus. Bond’s producers rejected it in favour of a Sheena Easton ballad, which was pretty much the final insult.

14. In the Flesh (1976)

From the opening, Shangri Las-inspired monologue to the production credit for Richard Gottehrer – writer of the Angels’ My Boyfriend’s Back – Blondie’s eponymous debut album was 60s girl-group obsessed; In the Flesh is a perfect update of a girl group in dreamy doo-wop-influenced ballad mode.

13. Denis (1977)

The original – Denise by one-hit-wonders Randy and the Rainbows – is a falsetto-voiced 1963 doo-wop single, utterly of its era. Blondie’s version drags it into the late 70s by throwing everything at the song – glam stomping, verses in French, synthesisers, frantic drum rolls – transforming its atmosphere. The UK charts were powerless to resist.

Live on stage in Amsterdam in 1977.
Live on stage in Amsterdam in 1977. Photograph: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

12. Fade Away and Radiate (1978)

Ballads aren’t really what Blondie were known for, but from its electronic intro onwards, Parallel Lines’ Fade Away and Radiate – about watching late-night TV movies in an altered state that shifts from blissful to paranoid – is eerily compelling. Harry sounds suitably zonked; Robert Fripp’s guitar solo is incredible.

11. Sunday Girl (1978)

“I wasn’t making a new wave album,” said producer Mike Chapman, of Parallel Lines, “I was making a pop album.” Nowhere is that clearer than on the effortlessly commercial Sunday Girl: teen romance lyrics, the irresistible sweetness of its melody given a hint of toughness by Harry’s vocal.

10. One Way Or Another (1978)

A highlight of Parallel Lines, the one Blondie album that’s great from start to finish, One Way Or Another boasts a ferociously aggressive Harry vocal that seems to be made up entirely of hooks. Perkily covered by One Direction, who seemed not to notice that the lyrics are a deeply unsettling depiction of a stalker.

9. Picture This (1978)

If you buy Chapman’s view of Blondie during the making of Parallel Lines – permanently stoned, perpetually at each other’s throats, musically inept – the sheer quality of the material seems incredible. Picture This is just a superb piece of songwriting in which everything clicks exactly, as its tone switches from sultry to raucous.

8. Union City Blue (1979)

A simple but effective drawing of a woman gazing wistfully out at the Manhattan skyline from the vantage point of working-class New Jersey, Union City Blue is a perfect example of Debbie Harry’s underrated skill as a lyricist: the music perfectly matches the lyric’s sense of yearning and melancholy.

Blondie in 1979.
Blondie in 1979. Photograph: Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

7. Rapture (1980)

The experiments on 1980’s Autoamerican – including string-laden instrumentals, spoken word and show tunes – might have worked better if Blondie themselves had sounded like they were enjoying them. But one experiment worked. Quibble about the quality of Harry’s rapping if you want, but the disco groove beneath the whole thing is magnificent.

6. (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear (1978)

The first sign that Blondie were more than stylish, 60s-obsessed CBGBs curios. The tune is magnificent, and the lyrics are alternately funny and sexy, Harry inhabiting them completely. But its genius is the subtlety with which it gradually builds from a jangly folk-rock intro to its thunderous climax, driven by Clem Burke’s superlative drumming.

5. Hanging on the Telephone (1978)

Sometimes, a song takes a while to find its ideal singer. The original of Hanging on the Telephone, a 1976 single by LA powerpop band the Nerves, is pretty good, but Harry’s commanding performance owns the song, while Blondie’s arrangement is louder, brasher, tighter and tougher: the stuff of which classics are made.

In 1977.
In 1977. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

4. Call Me (1980)

It’s an irony that one of the greatest Blondie singles isn’t by Blondie at all – Harry sings on and co-wrote Call Me, but the music is all the work of Giorgio Moroder and his regular session musicians. You would never know: the electronics, distorted guitars and glam-ish beat seem effortlessly Blondie-esque.

3. Dreaming (1979)

Unlike its all-killer-no-filler predecessor, 1979’s Eat to the Beat hinges on its singles. But what incredible singles they are, as exemplified by Dreaming: a perfect pop song, thrillingly underpinned by Burke playing as if under the impression the whole track was supposed to be a three-minute drum solo.

2. Atomic (1979)

A work of alchemy, Atomic is basically a series of musical fragments held together by a guitar riff. It’s also an utterly amazing song. In the album version, there’s no verse/chorus structure, just one fantastic melody and key-change after another. The soaring “oh your hair is beautiful” section is the most glorious moment in Blondie’s catalogue.

1. Heart of Glass (1978)

Blondie sat on Heart of Glass for years – they recorded Once I Had a Love (AKA The Disco Song) in 1975. You can see why they waited: a flick through Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s oral history Please Kill Me reveals the NY punk scene’s profound loathing of disco. Even in 1978 it was a bold move, although the greatness of Heart of Glass is that it’s disco entirely on Blondie’s terms, rather than vice versa, a gleaming pop song with garage-rock organ playing a lurching riff and a lyric that encapsulated Harry’s insouciant screw-you cool: “Once I had a love and it was a gas / Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass”.

The reissue of Yuletide Throwdown is out digitally and will be released on limited edition vinyl on 6 November by UMe-Capitol/Numero Group


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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