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Don't Call Her Blondie: Debbie Harry, Then And Now

Icons | March 31, 2019

Debbie Harry of Blondie performing at Jazz Bilzen Festival, Bilzen, Belgium, 12th August 1978; Debbie Harry photo shoot circa 1978. Sources: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images; MPTVimages via IMDB.

Debbie Harry of Blondie, whose biggest hits include "Call Me," "Heart Of Glass" and "The Tide Is High," was the queen of new wave and the darling of punk rock in the late '70s and early '80s. A smoldering beauty who radiated downtown New York cool at all times, Debbie Harry took Blondie to international stardom, fronting a band with all the skill and showmanship of her male contemporaries. In fact, thanks to singer Debbie Harry, Blondie had something the competition couldn't match in those days -- when every other band looked like a collection of hip but nerdy dudes, Blondie boasted glamour and style. There was no hiding her matinee-idol looks, and Harry didn't try. Combined with her big, emotive voice and commanding stage presence, Debbie Harry and Blondie were one of the greatest acts of their day.

There's great news for all you Debbie Harry fans. She has recently finished writing her memoir, called Face It, which should hit bookstore shelves in early 2020. The 73-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress teased that the book will give readers a glimpse into Harry and the band that became one of the iconic sounds of the emerging new wave genre of the late 1970s.

A Former Playboy Bunny

Source: (therake.com)

Debbie Harry was born in 1945 and raised in New Jersey. Her only singing experience was the choir at her church. After high school, Harry tried college for a few years but ended up dropping out and moving to New York where she sang in a band called Wind in the Willows. She worked as a waitress in the punk venue Max's Kansas City in New York, and for about nine months was a Playboy Bunny, one of the cotton-tailed servers at the New York City Playboy Club.

When Harry Met Chris Stein

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Debbie Harry teamed up with Elda Gentile and Amanda Jones in 1974 to form a band called the Stilettoes. The band added a guitarist, Chris Stein. Even though the Stilettoes broke up soon after, the partnership between Debbie Harry and Chris Stein is still going strong today. Harry and Stein formed their own band and named it Blondie, after the unwanted and harassing catcalls Harry often received from men. Blondie played regular gigs at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB in New York.

A Romantic Partnership

Debbie Harry with Chris Stein. Source: (morrisonhotelgallery.com)

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein became romantically involved and remained a couple until 1989, although they never married nor had children together. Although the romantic relationship ended, their professional partnership has not. The two still work closely together. 

Blondie’s Albums…Third Time Is The Charm

Source: (thevinylfactory.com)

Although the band Blondie released their self-titled debut album in 1976 and their follow-up album the next year, it was the band’s third album, Parallel Lines, that really caught the world’s attention and thrust the band to the top of the music charts. “Heart of Glass” was a number one hit in 1978 and “One Way Or Another” hit the top 25. 

Debbie Harry, A Style Icon

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As the singer and face of Blondie, Debbie Harry helped to define the new wave sound and the new wave style. She continued to bleach her blonde hair lighter and lighter until it was nearly white. On stage, she wore outfits that were compatible with the punk aesthetic without being shabby. Wearing tight leggings, form-fitting spandex bodysuits, leather shorts, thigh-high boots, metallic fabrics, and Day-Glo colors, she created a style of her own that helped to set the stage for others that followed, including Madonna.

At home in both the grimy punk bastion CBGB and the disco nirvana Studio 54, Debbie Harry was a key figure in creating the New York style of the late '70s, which was simple and relaxed yet fabulous at the same time.

Debbie Harry, An '80s Girl

Source: (morrisonhotelgallery.com)

Debbie Harry and Blondie continued to produce hit albums. The 1980 release Autoamerican featured “The Tide is High,” which was straight-up reggae, and “Rapture,” a popular eighties dance tune that featured Harry experimenting with a new genre of music called rap. But perhaps the biggest hit for the group was the number one song, “Call Me,” also from the Autoamerican album. 

Stepping Away From The Top

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Just as Blondie was achieving the success Harry and Stein had hoped for, the two decided to step away. In 1982, Stein was diagnosed with a rare skin disorder that left him temporarily unable to work. Harry set her career aside to take care of him. Although the two remained a couple until the end of the decade, the relationship struggled in the eighties. Harry, who later came out as bisexual, stated that she had romantic encounters with women, even as she maintained long-term relationships with men. 

Solo Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry in the 1988 film Hairspray. Source: (imdb.com)

In 1989, Debbie Harry released her third solo album, Def, Dumb & Blonde. A song from this album, “I Want That Man,” was a top 20 hit in the U.K. In the '80s, she also pursued a film career, appearing in Videodrome (1983), Hairspray (1988), and numerous other movies.

A Change Of Direction

Debbie Harry performing with the Jazz Passengers. Source: (thejournal.co.uk)

In 1997, Debbie Harry tackled a new musical genre: jazz. She joined the Jazz Passengers on their album Individually Twisted. Later that year, she reunited with her Blondie bandmates and released a reunion album, No Exit. Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, Blondie released even more albums, to the delight of their fans. They included The Curse of Blondie and Ghosts of Download. 

Going Strong

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At 74, Debbie Harry still looks like the sexy punk princess she was forty years ago. And she is showing no signs of slowing down. The Blondie frontwoman, now a member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, is a cultural treasure. 

Tags: Blondie | Debbie Harry | Ladies | Then And Now

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.