Becoming Blondie: Debbie Harry & Chris Stein's New Wave Love Story

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, both of the group Blondie, as they pose at the mixing desk in the Mediasound recording studio, New York, New York, May 10, 1979. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Was anyone cooler than Debbie Harry of Blondie in the late '70s? A fearless performer and musical omnivore, Harry made beautiful music while winning over radio audiences and the New York cultural elite. The group Blondie couldn't have existed without Harry, but her collaborator and then-lover Chris Stein deserves heaps of credit as well. Few could have predicted, back in 1973, that this budding romance would play a key role in launching a new generation and style of music.

Some said it was the transformation of rock and roll and a new twist on pop rock. This music rebelled against everything big and mainstream. It took inspiration from disco, pop, and reggae with an underground music type of feel. The point was to be raw and unique and even at times political. As more and more bands got signed such as Blondie, commercial success became a factor in order to please the record labels. Commercial success was initially what was rebelled against but now a goal that was strived for. New wave music really became commercialized as exposure on TV, and MTV, putting avant-garde bands like Blondie, Devo and Talking Heads into the mainstream.

Chris Stein and Debbie Harry first began to musically collaborate in a band called The Stilettos. It featured Debbie, Amanda Jones, Rosie Ross, Elda, Billy O’ Connor (drummer), Fred Smith (bassist), and Chris Stein (guitarist). The Stilettos was not the first band Debbie was in, that title went to Wind In The Willows, a folk band she was part of in 1968. Unfortunately The Stilettos did not work out for Debbie and Chris so they parted ways and started their own band seeing that they were all in love and what not. The band Blondie, originally called Angel and the Snake, was formed in 1974 with Debbie, Chris, and Billy, and Fred of The Stilettos along with new members Julie, Jackie and Clem Burke. By 1975 Blondie had gone through a few changes with it’s members now being Debbie, Chris, Clem, Gary Valentine (bassist) and Jimmy Destri (Keyboardist). 

This particular group seemed to be magic because Blondie was finally signed to an independent label, Private Stock, being the third new wave band to sign a recording contract. They toured locally to get their name out and to build a fan following which definitely worked. Their first album that was self-titled Blondie was not necessarily a huge success but did gain some traction. It was now 1977 and the band was unhappy with their record contract at Private Stock.

British Label Chrysalis Records bought out Blondie’s record deal with Private Stock allowing them to re-release their first album this time with more success especially in Australia. When their single In The Flesh became a hit in Australia, they new Blondie was something special and they were right. Plastic Letters, Blondie’s second album, was recorded with new band member and Gary Valentine’s replacement Frank Infante. Blondie definitely had a pattern when it came to getting/replacing band members; it seemed like every 6 months to a year there were new people in the band. This in-and-out did not harm the band seeing that in 1979 Blondie acquired their first American #1 hit in the track Heart Of Glass. The next couple of years would bring big success for Blondie and the genre of new wave music.