From the Vaults

Rip Her to Shreds: Blondie’s Punk was Pop First

blondie-blondieBLONDIE – Blondie (Private Stock ’76): If the Ramones aspired to be trash, Blondie reveled in trash culture. It would have been easy for frontwoman Debbie Harry and co-leader Chris Stein to be cynical when concocting a blend of 60s girl group pop, hints of doo-wop, and surf music sped up and laid thick with sexual innuendo, especially when the harder edge of the punk scene saw it as slick, commercial, capitalist claptrap. But Blondie celebrated the lowbrow with affection. They hired producer Richard Gottehrer, most famous for the Angels’ hit single “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and with him he brought the girly backup vocals, surf guitar, and superficial glitter that Harry and Stein morphed into a plucky half-hour-and-change.

Blondie, though, is not a great album. It’s a good album with two of the best songs the band ever did. The indisputable masterpiece is the catfight classic “Rip Her to Shreds,” in which Debbie eviscerates “Miss Groupie Supreme,” who “washes with Comet” and wears “red eye shadow” and “green mascara.” “Rip Her to Shreds,” with Harry’s sneers, inter-lyric gagging, and kiss-off pop of her hips is a preview of the full-fledged sass and spunk Harry would let loose on Parallel Lines. So it’s a shame She sounds most comfortable playing the behind-the-back trash-talker of “Rip Her to Shreds” or the prostitute falling in love with her arresting officer on “X Offender” than she does narrating the 50s sci-fi B-flick-themed “Attack of the Giant Ants,” where her lowered confidence comes through as an acknowledgment of material that’s gone beyond silly into just plain stupid.

It’s important to remember that the mid-70s punk scene in New York City was male-dominated with the notable exception of Patti Smith, and Smith, while a punk, was more a post-hippie soothsaying Beat poet than a blonde bedhead bimbo sporintg a short, tattered dress and leather boots looking for a long cigarette, which Debbie Harry was. She had no pretensions to intellectualism. And so Blondie, being as punk as there were pop and (what would eventually blossom into) new wave, helped lay the groundwork for what would become a kind of stock punk model until it was usurped (the Go-Gos the exception at the difference) by the riot grrrl movement in the early 90s—the pouting and sexy bad-girl brat-as-frontwoman with an all-male band. Much as I love and admire Kate Pierson and Chrissie Hynde, Debbie did it best. A MINUS

Related:

Blondie – Plastic Letters (Chrysalis ’77)A MINUS

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