Review Summary: The album is a classic, with Debbie Harry's vocals, looks and charisma taking the starring role. For any Blondie or new wave fan, not listening to this is criminal.
Parallel Lines was the album that established Blondie as one of the biggest bands in the world, and kings of New Wave. Well, if the band were kings of New Wave, then singer Debbie Harry was queen. With her gorgeous looks, which graced many a poster on a teenage boys bedroom wall, and her distinctive, manson-ite voice, she was the face and voice of the band. Pretty much every poster, album cover, picture of the band featured her so heavily many thought she was Blondie.
When Blondie were formed in 1974 by Harry and her lover, guitarist Chris Stein, there was little to indicate they would eventually become global superstars. The songs were basic, and the band were amateurish to say the least. The band would perform at CBGB’s, a New York nightclub which usually “Smelt of beer, Chanel 5 and dog s**t” (this was because the owner of the nightclub, who never walked his dogs, would let them run round the nightclub, where they would do what came naturally to them). But as the band developed, no longer did they forget lyrics or play the wrong riffs. They released their first album (self titled) in 1976, scoring a top 10 in Australia with In the Flesh. Their 2nd album, Plastic Letters, featuring the fan favourite Denis, got to no.10 in the UK. But it was Parallel Lines that marked them out as a band for the ages.
The album starts with Hanging on the Telephone, a cover of a Jack Lee song, that is undeniably catchy and the sort of song that stays in your head for days, and shows some of Blondie’s punk roots. The 2nd track is the classic, anthemic One Way or Another. Never has stalking been described so tunefully. The song is a simple song about stalking someone your attracted to, and the aggressive guitar riffs and Debbie’s vocals barking “I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha!” make it a timeless classic. The next track is Picture This, a love song that is full of Debbie’s romantic desires (presumably with her lover, guitarist Chris Stein), while the line “I will give you my finest hour” will set many a male mind racing. The next track is Fade Away and Radiate, a very different song from the three before it in that it’s a slow song which at the start has weird studio effect sounds and throughout the song has an unusual electric guitar riff. Its not bad if you get to the middle, but it’s the sort of song you skip in the middle of an album. The next one is Pretty Baby, an uplifting song with a backing sound similar to the one you hear in Sunday Girl, with lovely lyrics from Debbie who speaks a lot in the song, a possible precursor to Blondie’s dabble in rap in future years with Rapture. The last track of side 1 of the album is I Know But I Don’t Know, which starts with more weird sounds, like you’d hear when messing about on a keyboard. Its a more rock oriented song which is oddly catchy, though the guy singing with Debbie doesn’t let her lovely voice come through, which is frustrating. A different song, and one you may skip and see as a filler track
Side 2 of the album starts with 11:59, a different song that starts with a dramatic riff but mellows into a tuneful yet more aggressive song that is one of my favourites on the album, the aggressive guitars and Jimmy Destri’s keyboards combine to make a great sound that combines melody and Blondie’s punk roots. After this its another fairly aggressive track with Will Anything Happen, which again has wild keyboards and loud electric guitars, creating an 80’s music feel to the song. After this its fan favourite Sunday Girl, possibly Blondie’s most anthemic song. it’s a classic still played often on radio 30 years after its been released, and doing a review of it is pointless as everyone’s heard it. And after this its Heart of Glass, Blondie’s disco anthem. Another classic, while in the video Debbie Harry is to die for. Many accuse the band of selling out here, but when the track is so good and you think about Blondie’s other reaches into different genres (pop, punk, disco, rap, reggae) you can’t disagree with it. And who would disagree with Debbie Harry anyway? After this it’s a return to aggressive keyboards and guitars with I’m Gonna Love You Too, a good track similar to 11:59 and Will Anything Happen. The last track of this iconic album is Just Go Away, track which is lyrically the opposite of One Way or Another, with Debbie Harry singing “Go away, just go away!”. Its filled with the usual guitars, keyboard and drums, and is a good track, just not a timeless classic.
To sum up succinctly, Parallel Lines was an album for the ages. It sold 20 million records, was the biggest selling album in the UK for 1979, it changed the face of music after punk crashed and burnt, and for any Blondie or new wave fan is great listening.
Chris Stein-Guitar, E-Bow