Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Detroit 442

When thinking of Blondie, many remember them as a glossy pop group responsible for a number of top ten singles (“The Tide is High”, “Call Me”, “One Way or Another”, etc.). Remember, though, the group started out in the mid-’70s out of the New York City punk scene. Blondie played in places like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City with such artists as the Ramones, Patti Smith and Television. American punk bands often had more of a melodic sensibility compared with some of their British counterparts like the Sex Pistols or The Clash (early on at least): the Ramones would cover late '50's/early '60's fare ("Do You Wanna Dance", "Needles and Pins"), the opening of Patti Smith's "Free Money" has a beautiful melody accompanied by solo piano. Compared with these artists who are still viewed as seminal punk bands, many forget Blondie's gritty roots, indeed because they were embraced by the establishment and would become top 40 fixtures.

Blondie’s early music was harder and less produced but always tuneful, and Detroit 442 (found on the Plastic Letters album and on other compilations), with it’s relentless tempo and harsh guitars, shows a different side of Blondie. By the time of their third album, “Parallel Lines”, they had perfected the product seen in their hits. Even the album covers reflect this change with "Plastic Letters" showing a tired, possible drugged looking Harry sitting on the bumper of a police car; contrast that with the more put-together appearance of Harry on "Parallel Lines". Debbie Harry was always a more assured vocalist than her later image of fashionplate or coked-out sex symbol would suggest. In this song, she is abrasive growling and spitting out lyrics menacingly. Oh, by the way, it's also a great, fast paced driving song if you're making such a mix.

Check out their first two albums, Blondie and Plastic Letters, to see an energized, tougher side of Blondie. I've embedded the youtube video, but for a rougher version of the song (and of Harry), I've included another link below.

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