Happy 40th Anniversary to Blondie’s third studio album Parallel Lines, originally released September 23, 1978.
When Blondie went into New York’s famed Record Plant studios in June 1978 they were allocated 6 months to record their third studio album. Six weeks later, producer Mike Chapman deemed the job done and Parallel Lines was born.
Following on from their punk-meets-new-wave sound, Parallel Lines was a more focused and deliberate effort than their previous two albums, despite the band’s best efforts to achieve otherwise. With the central focus of Chapman behind the boards, he led the band to push themselves musically and at times beyond their own musical abilities.
The result was an album that came to define pure post-punk pop. And Blondie’s days as a charmed underground group out of New York were numbered, as a larger world would open up to them on the heels of its release.
Kicking off with the rocking stalking anthem of “Hanging on the Telephone” (a Jack Lee cover) Debbie Harry delivers her strongest vocals to date, inhabiting the song with a sweet yet dangerous delivery.
Harry’s dangerous persona grows with the uber catchy “One Way or Another” with its signature guitar hook and sweet boppy beat that underscores the threat and menace on display in the lyrics. Long before Adele made a career out of being the obsessed jilted lover, Harry was taunting and preening with jealousy like a pro. With every line, Harry grows in strength and showcases the power needed to front an all-male band in the late ‘70s (and be taken seriously). She became the prototype and poster child for the likes of Shirley Manson, Alanis Morissette, and Gwen Stefani to follow. She didn’t open the door for other strong women of rock and pop to follow, she kicked it in.
Completing the opening trio of pop perfection, the band shifts gears with the lovelorn promise of “Picture This.” Amidst swirling guitar riffs and a classic backbeat by drummer Clem Burke, the song mixes early rock nostalgia with a burning sexuality and does so while still remaining sugary sweet.
As Blondie moved further from their punk roots and stepped into new musical territories, they began to incorporate synths into their sound and created a broader, fuller sound. This musical growth is evident on the modern torch song of “Fade Away and Radiate,” the pulsing driven beat of “I Know But I Don’t Know” with its borderline psychedelic melody, and the urgent rock swing of “11:59.”
Even the album’s filler songs such as “Just Go Away” and “Will Anything Happen” rival the hits on other band’s albums of the era.
And then there’s the bouncy pop of “I’m Gonna Love You Too” and “Sunday Girl” that present a softer, more playful side to Blondie’s sound with songs perfectly crafted to cross over to the mainstream without giving even the slightest whiff of selling out.
But the game changer of the album, and for the band, was the soon to be disco anthem “Heart of Glass.” To a bubbling drum machine and strutting open hi-hat beat, the production on “Heart of Glass” is flawless. From the soft and subtle (at first) blipping synth line and slow sweeps, Blondie boldly stepped from the grimy stages of New York’s clubs to the dance floors of thriving discos. Harry coos about love’s lament and even titillates with the infamous “pain in the ass” line. (Side note—this was one of the very first times I recall hearing a swear word on record, which made it that much cooler.)
Loved, and also hated, for producing a “disco” song, Blondie held fast to their belief of writing a great song befitting of the pop and r&b influences that appeared—perhaps less obviously—in their earlier recordings. And perhaps because it wasn’t written to chase a trend but rather to reflect a style, the song remains listenable whilst other disco songs of the era seem chintzy and cliché (“Disco Duck” anyone?).
Parallel Lines is the album of a band (somewhat reluctantly) finding its sound. It became the album that sprang them forward and launched them onto the world stage, and would form the blueprint for their subsequent efforts. It remains a perfect encapsulation of Blondie in their prime, focused on superior songcraft and musicianship. Whilst producer Chapman may have pushed them to beyond their creative breaking point, the result ensured an album that stands the test of time.