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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.
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