Friday, September 7, 2007
No. 140: Parallel Lines
Album: Parallel Lines
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Blondie's breakout record is still pretty amazing to hear today. Certainly Madonna got a lot of her style from Debbie Harry and the punk scene benefited a great deal from a pretty face to put on the scene. "Parallel Lines" had them spanning genre, hitting straight up rock in "Hanging By The Telephone," punk in "Call Me" and disco in "Heart Of Glass."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's hard to argue that this record is more important (or better) than many of the albums behind it on the list ("Straight Outta Compton," the first Who record, the first Zappa record, "The Downward Spiral," "One Nation Under a Groove" or "The Gilded Palace of Sin"). It's pretty great, but it's still a pretty small drop in comparison to
Best song: "Heart Of Glass" is a classic.
Worst song: "I Know But I Don't Know" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: I love it, but I'm biased.
(It seems I start 4-5 of these every week with some "full disclosure" thing, but I'll keep doing that, I guess.)
Full disclosure: I have a giant crush on Debbie Harry. I tend to prefer woman singers to male singers for some reason and Debbie Harry's is fantastic. She's awfully sexy, too, even at whatever age she's telling people she is (52, according to Wikipedia, which makes her more than old enough to be my mother).
I've had a crush on Ms. Harry since I was a child and she was on the Muppet Show doing "One Way Or Another" and "Call Me" while Muppets pranced and sang around her. The Muppet Show peppers a lot of my views on music, as you can imagine.
Anyway, "Parallel Lines" is the turning point in the timeline for the band. Before it, Blondie was a punk band with an attractive female singer. After the album, the band became a sensation. Harry became an icon and the rest, as they say, is history.
Needless to say, "Heart Of Glass" is the classic track. Known as "the disco song" to a lot of Blondie fans, it was originally done as a slow reggae thing but was changed after the band decided to experiment with disco. The keyboards, not really working within the confines of the band's normal sound, seem to overtake the song. Chris Stein's guitar starts and stops in the perfect disc style.
And that voice. Oh, that voice. Harry's soprano-ish pitch falsettos around the verses and lowers during the chorus.
(On YouTube, I was mesmerized by Lily Allen playing with them on the Today Show last year)
I'd be lying if I totally understand why this record is on the list while "Best Of Blondie" isn't. For an artist like Blondie, a greatest hits package is probably preferable to their breakthrough album, in most people's minds.
(To review: I think greatest hits packages shouldn't be on the list, save for bands who were around before the album era. The Chuck Berrys and Robert Johnsons of the world, basically.)
Blondie, to all but a select few, is the picture of a greatest hits band. Their albums have a fair amount of filler and their singles are divine. "Best Of Blondie" -- if you'll allow me to write about an album not on the list for a moment -- is a stellar package. It has the first rap song shown on MTV ("Rapture," though most argue about whether it's rap song), the great "Parallel Lines" singles (including the U.K. version of "Sunday Girl" wherein Harry sings in French) and the fantastic "Call Me" and "Atomic," two of my favorite Blondie tracks.
Most reasonable music fans would put "Best Of Blondie" before "Parallel Lines." Then again, the RS people are not reasonable.
I think the placement of "Parallel Lines" comes down to two things. First, the album was something of a symbol of the turning point for the successful members of the CBGB scene, specifically the Talking Heads and Blondie. The Heads were broken into the mainstream with 1978's "More Songs About Buildings and Food" at the same time that "Parallel Lines" came out. Both bands became New Wave stalwarts and had to deal with the success that mainstream popularity brought. Blondie, I'd say, did cater more towards the mainstream than any other band in success and I think "Parallel Lines" is a symbol of that. Blondie was a lot less punk after the album came out.
The second reason to put the album on here is Harry. She was a different type of frontwoman, a small part Patti Smith, a big part Nico and a big part supermodel. Her femme fatale persona played off her (and the band's) punk roots to create a sex symbol image that was decidedly absent from rock and roll beforehand. The role of women in music changed a bit when Harry came into the mix and that's important.
I love "Parallel Lines," but I'm surely in the minority. I imagine a lot of people look at this record on the RS list the same way I look at the non-"Ziggy" Bowie albums; They just don't need to be there. I think "Parallel Lines" belongs there, but I'm clearly biased.