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'Heart Of Glass,' Blondie's First #1 Hit: Song Meaning, Stories, & Lyrics

Debbie Harry in 1979, shooting Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass' video. (Photo by Roberta Bayley/Redferns)

'Heart of Glass' became Blondie's first #1 hit on the strength of Debbie Harry's smooth vocals, relatable lyrics, and a dance beat. By the late 1970s Blondie was already one of the premiere punk rock bands staking claim in New York City but they’d yet to find major chart success with their first two albums. With the recording of “Heart of Glass,” a disco tinged pop number, the band’s third album Parallel Lines became one of the biggest hits of the decade and spawned a million new wave copycats. Even though cries of “sell out” followed them after the release of the song. Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and the rest of the band continued recording catchy tracks and playing for huge audiences. It’s a testament to the staying power of “Heart of Glass” that the band is still going today.

“Heart Of Glass” was one of the first songs written by the band

source: Chrysalis

Even though the song was a standout track from their third album it was one of the first tracks that the band ever worked on, they just couldn’t nail it down. Around ’74 or ’75 the Debbie Harry and Chris Stein worked out a slower, more funky version of the track that they called “The Disco Song” but nothing ever came of it. Harry explains:

In 1978, we got this producer, Mike Chapman, who asked us to play all the songs we had. At the end, he said, ‘Have you got anything else?’ We sheepishly said, ‘Well, there is this old one.’ He liked it – he thought it was very pretty and started to pull it into focus… The lyrics weren't about anyone. They were just a plaintive moan about lost love. At first the song kept saying, ‘Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass.’We couldn't keep saying that, so we came up with: ‘Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.’ We kept one ‘pain in the ass’ in – and the BBC bleeped it out for radio.

Not everyone in the band wanted to play the song

source: morrison hotel

“Heart of Glass” is an undeniably killer song. It has that special quality that makes even the most musically inept person understand that it’s a hit, but drummer Clem Burke didn’t want to play the song live because he thought that the band was betraying their punk roots. However, keyboardist Jimmy Destri said that the he liked to play the song song because it made people upset. He told Rolling Stone, “Chris always wanted to do disco. We used to do 'Heart of Glass' to upset people.”

Harry agrees with Detri, saying that their choice to use synths made people angry in spite of the anything-goes scene in New York City at the time:

Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerized sound. People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we'd covered Lady Marmalade and I Feel Love at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for ‘going disco’ with Heart of Glass. There was the Disco Sucks! movement, and there had even been a riot in Chicago, with people burning disco records. Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said, ‘I guess I'll have to.’

The band almost got into a fight with their producer over the drums

source: wsj

Using synths and sequencers in the 1970s isn’t the same as it is today. There are no pre-recorded beats and the notes had to be played manually. The beat to “Heart of Glass” may sound simple, but it’s actually pretty tricky. On top of the odd disco beat, the bass drum had to be recorded separately from everything else which took up a long stretch of studio time. Chris Stein explains:

It was Jimmy [Destri, keyboards] who brought in the drum machine and a synthesizer. Synchronizing them was a big deal at the time. It all had to be done manually, with every note and beat played in real time rather than looped over. And on old disco tracks, the bass drum was always recorded separately, so Clem had to pound away on a foot-pedal for three hours until they got a take they were happy with.

Producer Mike Chapman says that getting the sound of the record nearly brought the band to blows but they smartly channeled their aggression into the track:

The band were very loose as players and the track needed to be really tight. Clem and Nigel both had issues with me during the recording of the track; we were very close to having some serious fights the whole time. It took a week to get it right, but in the end, it sounded amazing. I have to say that the sound of the final record came more from me than from the band. That was my job.

Blondie was in Milan when they went to number one

source: rolling stone

The band knew that they had a hit on their hands, but it wasn’t until they were in Europe that they found out about their number one status in America. When they heard the news the band was in Milan and wanted to hit the hay after a show, but producer Mike Chapman wanted to break the news. Harry says:

It was No 1 around the world. We'd had a lot of hits, but this was our first at home. Chapman was in Milan with us and said, ‘Join me in the bar.’ I thought, ‘Oh God, I just wanna go to bed.’ But we dragged our asses down and he told us it was No 1 in America. We drank a lot.

The band didn’t care about selling out

source: Chrysalis

When Parallel Lines was released in 1978 Blondie’s strident old school fans zeroed in on “Heart of Glass” and the cries of “sell out” started to fly. The band was accused of chasing mainstream radio, and according to Harry their detractors were right about everything but the fact that they sold out. She wrote in 1982's Making Tracks:

A lot of people we'd hung out and been close friends with on the scene for years said we'd sold out by doing a disco song. This a blatantly ridiculous statement. It always pissed me off that people could have the nerve to pretend to be so stupid. We'd been consciously looking for a sound to break into American radio, and 'Heart of Glass' was one of the most innovative songs Blondie record...The reason it's a hit because it's a good song.

Chris Stein backed Harry up about the inherent pop sound of “Heart of Glass,” saying that he liked disco so it wasn’t a dig to say that the song was aping a genre he enjoyed. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the song it went to number one across the world and helped Parallel Lines sell 20 million copies. Sell out or not, the song is now one of the most beloved and important songs of the ‘70s, and it established Harry as a vocalist with mainstream appeal.

Do you know all the lyrics?

source: Chrysalis

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind
Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind

In between
What I find is pleasing and I'm feeling fine
Love is so confusing, there's no peace of mind
If I fear I'm losing you, it's just no good
You teasing like you do

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Much o' mistrust, love's gone behind

Lost inside
Adorable illusion and I cannot hide
I'm the one you're using, please don't push me aside
We could've made it cruising, yeah

Yeah, riding high
On love's true bluish light

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass
Seemed like the real thing only to find
Much o' mistrust, love's gone behind

In between
What I find is pleasing and I'm feeling fine
Love is so confusing, there's no peace of mind
If I fear I'm losing you, it's just no good

You teasing like you do

Tags: Blondie | Debbie Harry | Heart Of Glass

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.