a london exhibition shows debbie harry in a new light
Martyn Goddard's intimate portraits of late-70s Blondie at Snap are a sight worth seeing.
Pop history hasn't always been entirely fair to Blondie. Though the band created some of the finest singles of its generation — "Heart of Glass," "Union City Blue," "Call Me" — its contribution has never been quite as recognized as that of, say, the Clash or the Sex Pistols, Ramones, or Patti Smith. Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne suggests, in his definitive pop history book, Yeah Yeah Yeah, that some music critics can't accept the suggestion that a "cracking blonde was capable of writing some of the best pop songs of the era" (this despite numerous attempts to market Debbie Harry as Blondie).
And yet in 1978, the band would release what was, arguably, the most interesting record of the period. A staggeringly tight blend of Mike Chapman-produced punk and disco, Parallel Lines would make international stars of the New York six-piece. While the run of hits would continue until the release of The Hunter in 1982 (the band's final outing until 1999's No Exit), it stands as their most enduring offering: a combination of impeccable timing and pure-pop nous that holds its own alongside London Calling as punk's greatest third album.
It's this period that serves as the backdrop to London gallery Snap's latest exhibition of images by Martyn Goddard. Taken in New York and London in 1978, Goddard's portraits capture the band — completed then by Chris Stein and Frank Infante on guitar, Nigel Harrison on bass, Jimmy Destri on Farfisa organ, and the Keith Moon-obsessed Clem Burke on drums — in the recording studio for Parallel Lines; onstage and off supporting Alice Cooper in Philadelphia; on a New York rooftop for the Best of Blondie cover shoot; and finally in London for a gallery launch to promote the release of the single "Picture This." The exhibition is, in the words of that song, a sight worth seeing: a total portrait (with no omissions) of a band at the very top of its game — fun, stylish, and, for a time, incomparable.
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photography Martyn Goddard