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Blondie continues on musical journey, decades in

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:29 p.m.
F. Scott Schafer
Blondie F. Scott Schafer

Many longtime musical groups satisfy their fans by playing the well-loved oldies from their heyday, and feel no need for new music. But that's not Blondie, even though the New York City-based band could succeed indefinitely with the megahits from the '70s and '80s.

Debbie Harry, the singer and songwriter with the signature white-blond locks, says that the 2011 release of “Panic of Girls,” Blondie's ninth studio album, gave the band and fans an important step in the group's continuing, musical journey that is approaching four decades. The album has garnered a lot of positive feedback from fans and music critics, Harry says.

At Blondie's live show, coming to the Palace Theatre in Greensburg on Friday, Harry and her five bandmates mix up the new songs with the old favorites, like “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rapture” and the reggae-like “The Tide is High.”

On “Panic of Girls,” Harry says, “the music is contemporary and feeling like today's world.”

“But it sounded like us, and there was a certain sense of ... continuity and earlier Blondie style and songs,” she says. “What we do is make a collection. … It's a variety of different styles that we've interpreted over the years. I think that's what people expect from us.”

Making new music and “living in the moment” is important, Harry says, because “you have to be stimulated and ... creative and imaginative.”

“As a writer … I just feel like I have to be myself,” she says. “There's material that stands the test of time. But I've grown and changed somewhat, and I feel like that should be important.”

Blondie — with roots in New Wave and punk — has reconnected with many of the band's longtime 30-something and middle-aged fans, and gained a new generation, with the later work. That started with the band's 1997 reunion, after a breakup in the early '80s.

The 1999 album “The Exit” produced the single “Maria,” which became a No. 1 hit in the U.K. exactly 20 years after “Heart of Glass” did, though it didn't do nearly as well in the United States. Still, the hit gained many younger fans for Blondie. In 2003, the band released “The Curse of Blondie,” which produced the dance hit “Good Boys.” Blondie's comeback continued with the 2006 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Now, with “Panic of Girls,” Blondie continues to draw and retain fans of all ages, and the band has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide since its genesis in the mid-'70s.

The continuity is exciting for Blondie and fans, says the now-60-something Harry.

“If you were a fan years ago, then I think it's even more interesting to know what those artists are doing and if you still can relate to their style, their mental picture, and poetry,” she says. “It's reaffirming.

“I think our audience would be very happy if we just played all the old songs. But the die-hard fans … are interested in the new stuff,” Harry says. “They really want to keep up with what we're doing.”

Band members — featuring originals Harry, Clem Burke and Chris Stein; along with newer members Leigh Foxx, Tommy Kessler and Matt Katz-Bohen — already have written a handful of new songs for future Blondie works, Harry says.

One of Blondie's best-known songs, “Rapture,” has earned the title in many circles of the first rap song. During parts of the song, Harry's singing turns to talking and rapping with quirky lyrics, like “Cause the man from Mars stopped eatin' cars and eatin' bars — and now he only eats guitars!”

Although “Rapture” may have introduced the rap style to mainstream pop music, hip-hop music already had begun as a subculture, and rappers used pre-recorded tracks as background music, Harry says. Band members fell in love with the sound, and recorded “Rapture” — an original song with lyrics written to an original tune — to pay tribute and introduce people to the rap style, she says.

“We felt it had something totally unique and fresh,” Harry says of the rap style. “People started really checking it out.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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