Aug 092019

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

blondie parallel lines covers

It’s been a mere 41 years since Parallel Lines was released, a fact that finds this writer flat on his back. How can it possibly be that long? But is is and it was, 1978 being a particularly good year for Blondie, themselves already far from spring chickens.

Debbie Harry, astonishingly already 33, just two years younger than Mick Jagger (and two older than Ronnie Wood), was the mother hen of the band, together with her partner, Chris Stein, half a decade younger. The pair of them and drummer Clem Burke, were the heart of the band, and the only omnipresent members, rounded out at that time by keyboardist Jimmy Destri, guitarist Frank Infante, and bassist Nigel Harrison. Of course they all hated each other and all hated their producer, Mike Chapman, drafted in for this record to widen their appeal.

This would be the band’s third album, the first two having been helmed by Richard Gottehrer, who maximized their punky charm and promise, turning them into the counter-intuitive leaders of the pack at and from Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. Chapman, an Australian, had produced UK chart toppers like the Sweet, exiled Music City maven Suzi Quatro, and Mud; he was immensely successful, but looked down upon by any serious musician or fan.

In truth, they didn’t actually all hate each other, Stein was allegedly far too stoned to know much of what was going on, but there was no love lost elsewhere, not least as Chapman felt that Infante was the only one up to it, musically. Burke could not keep time, it seemed; Destri couldn’t play; and whatever Harrison could or couldn’t do, Chapman’s criticism was enough to have Harrison throw a synthesiser at him. But Harry could sing, that much Chapman could sense, carefully restricting her involvement to both protect her voice and prevent costly meltdowns, weeping in the restroom.

Despite all of this, Parallel Lines still came in a full 4 months ahead of schedule, and, amazingly, this line-up and Chapman went on to make four more albums before the band’s 1982 disintegration. It wasn’t until 15 years later they reformed, the original trio with (for a while) Destri, augmented by any number of additional sidemen. They still play on.

Parallel Lines was by far their high-water mark, selling in excess of 20 million copies until 2008 alone, proving to consolidate their existing UK fame and fanbase, with a number 1 placing on the chart, and became their US breakthrough, with a year-end number 9 best selling on the Billboard rankings. And it gave the world “Heart of Glass,” a worldwide number 1 single that crushed any residual resistance rock music might have to a disco beat.

Jimmy Somerville – Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves / Blondie cover)

Blondie bravely open Parallel Lines with a cover. Luckily, nobody had heard the original, which must have been a welcome moment for writer Jack Lee when the royalties came piling in (as recounted here). Having said, Blondie give it way more welly than ever did the Nerves, so it takes a lot of, um, nerve to follow their take. Thankfully, ex-Bronski Beat and Communard Jimmy Somerville has just that, exchanging Harry’s ire for his despairing lament, anguished vocals backed by simple guitar, rudimentary piano and cello. This comes from a solo covers project by Somerville, 2010’s Suddenly Last Summer.

Lee Rocker – One Way or Another (Blondie cover)

Lee Rocker was one of the Stray Cats, the espousedly rockabilly trio who found fame at the tail end of the ’70s and have ridden the wave of fame off and on ever since. Deceptively simple, his slap bass style is actually quite complex, unsurprisingly for the classically trained son of a concert grade clarinetist, and, apart from the Cats, has backed most of the greats still standing in the rockabilly field. This comes from his 1998 album No Cats, and gives “One Way or Another” a swagger and swing earlier absent. I like it; it reminds me of some of Dwight Yoakam’s cover work.

Dead or Alive – Picture This (Blondie cover)

OK, I know it’s not big and it’s not clever, but I have an eternal soft spot for the late Pete Burns and his preposterous Dead or Alive, all HI-NRG backing, ropey vocals, and buckets of echo. So what if it sounds a bit thin? Next time you’re listening to this song on the metro as you commute to work, turn it up to 11. Stand up and dance, singing along to the backing chorus as it appears and builds. Your fellow passengers will love it, all the more if you keep your headphones on. Go on, I dare you. This comes from a 1995 EP I had never heard of, called, obviously, Nukleopatra, issued only in Japan.

The 99 Call – Fade Away and Radiate (Blondie cover)

This was always going to be a tough one, with my favorite and the most complex song on the album, famously featuring King Crimson guitarist and leader Robert Fripp. The few covers out there are mostly poor copies, but this languid take alternately delights and upsets me. The pre-vocal build is a sonic laid-back delight of call-and-response piano. Then comes the vocal – a fragile drawl almost pasted in from a different session, just about staying its welcome, and certainly longer than the later backing vocals. Individually the pieces don’t fit, shouldn’t fit, but together they induce a strange hypnagogic trance that has you convinced otherwise. And had me seeking the source, a 2015 album called, funnily enough, Cover Me. There were only 100 copies made and even Discogs have never sold it.

Adrian Demain – Pretty Baby (Blondie  cover)

When I signed up with Cover Me, some 4 or 5 years ago, one of the things I agreed to do was to forego ukulele covers and dodgy YouTube recordings. But, do you know, can you believe it, nobody outside Blondie tribute bands has done a better cover of this song than Adrian Demain. Which basically means that this not-bad song is just dying to be covered. And I quite like the male croon approach, less so the vainglorious attempt at audience participation. But, you know, fair play.

Unknown Band at Bizarre Festival, Germany, in 2001 – I Know but I Don’t Know (Blondie cover)

I wonder if Frank Infante culled any money from this? I was beginning to regret the lack of Blondie covers outside the obvious and this project altogether when, suddenly, I found this and, really, it isn’t bad. OK, not that good, but. Anyway, if it’s you performing, theFunkyGerman, please, let us know, you’re famous!
UPDATE: STOP PRESS! Fabulous, we have an identification! Our mystery band is actually BS2000, a side project of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, with Amery “AWOL” Smith on 2nd synth. Thanks, Netzhaut. Their faces fit their names; moreover, their bootleg, Live at the Reading Festival 2001 reprises the song. Still needed, for a bonus: Who is the drummer?

The Postmarks – 11:59 (Blondie cover)

One of the frequent observations made about Debbie Harry (usually incorrectly) was that her vocals were overly flat and deadpan. As this version shows, by comparison she was a veritable Callas – not that this detracts any from the simple charm of this cut. A garage-y enthusiasm buoys it along at a pelt, sung, it sounds, in English as a second language, adding to the perceived naiveté of singer Tim Yehezkely. The Postmarks were briefly world-famous in Florida with a string of, mainly, covers albums.

Dirty Fences – Will Anything Happen? (Jack Lee / Blondie cover)

Self-styled NYC’s Favorite Rock N Roll Hard Workin’ Band probably don’t like the smooth Parallel Lines sound of Blondie, preferring the scuzz and buzz of the auld band, way before even Richard Gottehrer got his hands on them. And there is plenty of both here. The second Jack Lee song on the record seems never to have been performed by its author, or indeed by anyone much, but the Dirty Fences have lots of energy and like to play fast.

Family Fodder – Sunday Girl (Blondie cover)

Well, you could have had any of a selection of anodyne copies of “Sunday Girl,” but this one is just weird and I like that spirit. Aggressively lo-fi, it shows they probably had a passing familiarity with the original, perhaps playing on the radio in another room or heard from a passing car. Based in and around London, they existed for a while in the late ’70s into the ’80s, and maybe still do. Alig Fodder, the main focus and pivot of the evolving band, clearly had a thing for Blondie, their closest to a hit single being 1980’s “Debbie Harry,” which I know you now want to listen to, so, yes, it is on Spotify.

Puppini Sisters – Heart of Glass (Blondie cover)

Unusually spoilt for choice, 76 available and counting, yet I still chose this? I have to say I am not usually a fan of the current trend for Scott Bradlee and all that retro-stylized nonsense, yet this lot, who came first anyway, even if sticking to their their one trick of the Andrews Sisters on absinthe, can and do make me smile. Hell, I bought the CD. Sisters in the same way that the Doobies are brothers, except that one actually is a Puppini, they milk their pony for all its worth. I don’t believe Dirty Fences would ever be a part of their audience.

Adam Faith – I’m Gonna Love You Too (Buddy Holly cover)

The third song on the album penned other than by anyone in the band is this Buddy Holly perennial, and I have to squeeze in again my opinion that the cover by Blondie is a belter and one of the best. But all that baa-baa-baa-ba-b’bas pall after a while, Adam Faith the only person singing beyond that. Arguably better known as an actor, at least in the UK, his singing career fizzled out, like many of his ilk, as Merseybeat and the Beatles took over, but 1958-63 he was a chart regular, known for his glottolalia and aping the hiccoughs of Holly. Here he reins it in, mostly, and it is almost a different arrangement altogether.

Unwoman – Just Go Away (Blondie cover) [Exclusive!]

You will have established by now that this was a labor of love; who’d have thought the varied postboxes of Harry/Stein/Destri/Infante/Harrison/Burke would be so short on royalty checks? So here is a Cover Me exclusive no less, commissioned especially for this piece. Unwoman, who we have featured before, is a veritable force of nature, channeling all her considerable energies into cello arrangements of, usually, borrowed songs. The “steampunk” tag does her a disservice, conjuring up what she might (and does) wear rather than what she might play. So forget the stovepipe hats and just listen to the music, a clever fusion of the snarl of the vocal with the chamber saw of the cello. The slimmest track on the album, this adds a little more grown-up gravitas than Harry ever imbued.

A final thought on this album and on Blondie, the band, and that is to wonder quite what Clement Burke, their ever-constant (give or take Mike Chapman’s opinion) metronome, is up to these days. When not stoking the engine room with Stein and Harry, on yet another cash cow tour, he can be found playing all the same hits with Bootleg Blondie, a tribute group to his own band. Now that’s dedication. Or confirms my concern about his royalties. Here they are. See what you think.

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  3 Responses to “Full Albums: Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’”

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  1. The “Unknown Band at Bizarre Festival” is BS2000 (a side-project of Beastie Boys’ Adam Ad-Rock Horovitz).

    • Hey, thanks, Netzhaut. Having tracked down the backstory to this band, the 2 keyboard players do seem to be Horovitz and his BS2000 cohort, Amery Smith, more usually a drummer. And their ‘Live at the Reading Festival, 2001’ bootleg includes an equivalent version, I have since discovered.

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