"They thought we were trashy – unmusical," said bassist Nigel Harrison. "A novelty band." Fortunately for them – and us – they weren't. They were Blondie. Even more fortunately for them – and us – they were discovered playing in CBGB – which was, in the early 1970s, the heart of punk music in New York City – and then brought into conjunction with pop music maestro Mike Chapman.
Their evolution from 70s underground band to chart-topping, still-not-wholesome 80s pop band was traced on Friday night in Blondie's New York … and the Making of Parallel Lines (BBC4). Chapman – a cheery man with much to be legitimately cheery about, which is itself cheering – basically picked them up, shook the worst of the city grime off them and put them to work, building their third and breakthrough album virtually bar by bar. Here, they broke their best-known hits back down for us.
Picture This (about the then all-conquering child star Brooke Shields), Sunday Girl, One Way or Another (written by Debbie Harry about an ex-boyfriend who had stalked her), 11:59 and Heart of Glass were all reverse-engineered. "D'you hear that?" Chapman would say with glee as a bass riff or a snare or another couple of magical chords were added, and the sound coalesced into something compelling before your very ears. Jimmy Destri, Chris Stein, Harry and the rest of the band were on hand to remember and recreate the rest, moving smoothly and ceaselessly back and forth between words and instruments whenever they reached an untranslatable phrase. It was as eloquent an expression of how a band thinks, works and creates itself as you could wish for – a group of people on exactly the same (new) wavelength and talking the same dual language.
They grew out of the creative and cultural ferment in the decaying, near-bankrupt New York 40 years ago, living and rehearsing in a shared loft in the Bowery that is now probably home to someone who makes more money in a day than Blondie did off the album. It went on to sell 20m copies and make a musical, fashion and just about every other kind of icon out of the impossibly potent, lividly beautiful and fiercely uncompromising Harry. And so the world turns – one way, not the other.