Blondie : Parallel Lines

The first of an ongoing classic album series, we’re taking you back to the heady days of 1978….

It hardly seems possible that Parallel Lines was released nigh on 40 years ago.  Just one look at the album cover, and a skim through the track listing, makes the tunes spring into your mind, as fresh as yesterday.

Fronted by the beautiful Debbie Harry and delivering a wholly eclectic mix of styles (pop, punk, disco, reggae, rap), Blondie’s music became instantly recognisable, and Parallel Lines, their third studio album, helped them break into the elusive but lucrative US market.

Rather than wax lyrically that much, let’s skip to the track listing (* denotes a singles release) :

  1. Hanging On The Telephone *
  2. One Way or Another *
  3. Picture This *
  4. Fade Away and Radiate
  5. Pretty Baby
  6. I Know But I Don’t Know
  7. 11:59
  8. Will Anything Happen?
  9. Sunday Girl *
  10. Heart of Glass *
  11. I’m Gonna Love You Too *
  12. Just Go Away

Of the singles, only I’m Gonna Love You Too failed to make an impression, but then a Blondie cover of a Buddy Holly original is maybe pushing eclectic just too far.

The others? You may well be singing them now.

The US markets lapped them up, making Heart Of Glass the band’s first US number 1, an achievement that they repeated a further three times over the next three years. Add to that six UK number 1 hits and success across Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Blondie had made it. The album,┬áproduced by Mike Chapman, harnessed the raw emotion of their first two albums (Blondie and Plastic Letters) and helped them bridge the gap between new-wave edginess and financially viable pop stardom.

The rest (as they say) is history…

The Psychedelic Furs – London 2012

There’s something about going to a decent gig that gets your pulse racing and cheers the soul.

When the music is pounding, the crowd responds, and for a while, a short while, you’re taken on a journey to a place where your work worries, your family woes, your money troubles, whatever else ails you just doesn’t matter.

People have long believed that music has theraputic properties, and every time I hear a great tune, played brilliantly in an atmosphere that’s rocking, I believe it.

On a recent Thursday evening in July, I was one of a great many people packed into The Garage, in North London, to see one of the bands I grew up with as a child. The Psychedelic Furs may only be known to most people purely for the association that their 1981 hit Pretty In Pink has with the 1986 John Hughes movie of the same name, but those whose understanding starts and ends with Molly Ringwald and Duckie are missing the entire trick.

As a live act, The Furs are simply superb. More than 30 years may have passed since the Butler brothers first formed the band, but their enthusiasm, energy, and sheer love of the job is undiminished. The music is timeless, the musicianship flawless, and the performance peerless.

OK, let’s discuss the line-up.

My start point has to be my friend and fellow drummer, Paul Garisto. I’ve spoken with enough people that know Paul to understand that he’s acknowledged by all that know him as a real gentleman, a lovely guy, and one hell of a fine drummer. We’ve chatted online for a number of years and I have had the pleasure of seeing him play both here and when I was stateside in 2011. Both times, Paul went out of his way to give time to chat and catch up, and it was a pleasure to be able to spend time after the gig with him, chewing over drum stuff, talking about the vintage kit he’s just got, and the stuff he’s selling to make room. The Furs have a real gem in Paul, and it’s clear to see from their performances and the way they interact on stage, that they know and appreciate this all too well.

Next, I have to mention lead singer and founder-member, Richard Butler. Richard brings his full personality to lead vocals, with a voice oft-described as ‘nicotine-filled’ and certainly uniquely distinctive. To see Richard perform is to understand the heart of the man and to get inside the song. He’s an object lesson to any wannabe singer on how to engage with an audience and make them love you. I was able to cach up with Richard for a few minutes after last week’s gig, and once again, a genuine and lovely guy, clearly still very much in love with his music and the buzz on stage (even if I did point out, to his amusement, that he’d just succeeded in generating London’s oldest ‘mosh-pit’!)

Alongside Richard, at the start as now, is his brother Tim on bass, singing away and bringing bass excellence and so much more to the mix. I swear that at times, Tim was getting closer to the audience than Richard dared to! These two guys so obviously love their job, as well they should, and this infectious joy of performing hits the audience across both cheeks and dares them not to join in with the glee.

As well as the three above, we have the wonderful Mars Williams on sax, bringing his love of Rock and Jazz to create those distinct licks that fill and stir around both the guitar track, which is delivered with energy and passion by Richard Good, and the keyboard fills, which Amanda Kramer weaves in and out of the musical narrative with consumate skill and feeling.

I have to use the phrase Musical Narrative, even though it sounds pretentious, because that’s what The Furs do with their music. Every song tells a story, every lyric introduces a new character, and you cannot but be picked up and carried along with everyone around you.

And so to the gig.

I went with my younger brother, who I have watched from afar as he grew up as part of the mix-master generation, believing that turntables and segues are the key to good music. He’s been a DJ, he’s run karaoke clubs, he’s done a bit of singing, and now, at the age of nearly 40, he’s just joined his first ‘proper’ band. I took him along and advised him to watch and learn, my boy, just watch and learn. I admit to feeling a little like Yoda introducing the young Jedi student Skywalker to the ways of The Force. Suffice to say, he keeps telling everyone how great the night was, that he has a new favourite band, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect watching Richard’s delivery will have when next he performs with his band!

Musically, you won’t get much better than an evening with The Psychedelic Furs. There’s a freshness and a vibrancy about their music that makes me wonder how anybody could willingly listen to anyone called Beiber. There’s just no contest.

Whether they are playing tracks with a driving beat, such as Mr Jones or Into You Like A Train, or whether it’s a slower, more melodic track such as Heaven or All Of This & Nothing, the audience reaction is the same – utter entrancement. They sound like the end result every other live band is aiming for, and deservedly receive the adulation the audience pours out.

The Psychedelic Furs are back in the US now, but next time they are over this side of the pond (or next time you are over there, anywhere near a gig) be sure to grab your tickets and be there – you will certainly go away happy. I did, the Furs did, and so did everyone else who was there, on that special London night.

Thanks for a great one, guys!

Text copyright Paul Shrimpton, 2012.