Blondie's New York … and the Making of Parallel Lines – TV review

Blondie's hit album was broken down for the viewer in this show about the group's rise from out the grime of New York

"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.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Joy of the Guitar Riff – TV review
Sam Wollaston grabs his air guitar to play along as Johnny Marr, Joan Jett and others riff on rock'n'roll in this BBC4 documentary

Sam Wollaston

19, Jul, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
Gregory Porter’s Popular Voices review – glorious survey of powerful pipes
From Prince and Whitney Houston to Mahalia Jackson, the first episode of the jazz star’s three-part series is a languid, loving celebration of vocal showstoppers

Lucy Mangan

18, Nov, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
People's History of Pop review – 'We’re on the cusp of something terrifying!'
No noodling musicans, no massive mixing desks, no show-off journos … this romp through recent pop was all about the fans – and they were an absolute treat

Sam Wollaston

11, Mar, 2017 @6:20 AM

Article image
Play It Loud: The Story of the Marshall Amp review
Guitar geeks, you owe it all to a tap-dancing boy, writes Sam Wollaston

Sam Wollaston

29, Nov, 2014 @7:02 AM

The Ballad of Mott the Hoople – TV review
Mott the Spinal Tap? Almost, says Tim Dowling of a wonderful Hoople rockumentary

Tim Dowling

09, Mar, 2013 @8:00 AM

Article image
When Pop Ruled My Life review – diaries, screams and wee in the story of fandom
Siouxsie Sioux and Alan Johnson, former Beatlemaniac and mod, contribute to an entertaining documentary about pop obsession

Sam Wollaston

30, May, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
Girl in a Band: Tales from the Rock'n'Roll Front Line review – alas, how strange to see women play guitars
A glittering parade of female musicians stepped up to bear witness in this shaming history of sexism in the music business

Lucy Mangan

31, Oct, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Roy Orbison: Love Hurts review – enough tragedy to fill several lifetimes
This Friday-night music documentary by Orbison’s sons tells the story of a songwriter haunted by the loss of his children and wife – and the heartache of a son left behind

Michael Hann

16, Dec, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
TV review: Punk Britannia (BBC4)
This entertaining documentary makes you hanker for a time when Johnny Rotten could still spoil a jubilee, writes Sam Wollaston

Sam Wollaston

09, Jun, 2012 @5:30 AM

Article image
Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America review – all hail Kanye
A series of deep dives into six hip-hop masterpieces, by artists including Run DMC and Kendrick Lamar, begins with industry legends deconstructing West’s gospel-rap hit Jesus Walks

Ellen E Jones

29, Jan, 2021 @10:40 PM