Blondie may have never won a Grammy, but that doesn’t mean the rock group and their energetic frontwoman, Debbie Harry, didn’t revolutionize the genre. Harry made strides for women in the male-dominated world of rock and roll, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the iconic band had string of number one singles. Finally, in 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after selling an estimated 40 million records worldwide.
Though the band’s legacy is still kicking after dropping their 11th studio album in 2017, the history of the band might surprise you. You may know all the words to “Heart of Glass,” but you definitely don’t know these surprising facts.
Debbie Harry Was A Cheerleader In High School
Debbie Harry’s public persona is that of a sexualized, rule-breaking punk. In real life, the singer wasn’t all that controversial. She started her singing career at her church’s choir and was a cheerleader in high school (though by her own admission, she wasn’t very good and it made her “anxious”).
“They had me twirling and dropping the baton for the bending over aspect,” she said. “I was there for the pervert fathers. Looking at my underpants!” Since then, Harry owned her sex appeal. Her body confidence led to her success as an iconic frontwoman and also…as a Playboy bunny.
Debbie Harry Was A Playboy Bunny Before Launching Blondie
Debbie Harry wasn’t a blonde bombshell in the late 1960s. Instead, she was a brunette bombshell who served as a Playboy Bunny in New York City’s Playboy Club. Harry donned the famed bunny ears from 1960 to 1973, when she met her future boyfriend and bandmate Chris Stein.
After meeting Stein, she quit her job at the Playboy Club and formed Blondie two years later. She also chopped off her long, brunette locks and dyed them her patented shade of platinum. From Playboy to one of the most successful female musicians in rock history, Debbie Harry remains an icon.
Blondie Was Originally Called “The Wind In The Willows”
Before Chris Stein put the blonde in Blondie, he was in a folk band called “The Wind in the Willows.” It was named after the 1908 children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Stein had immense talent, but wasn’t all that successful on his own. He wanted to join a different band in the Greenwich Village scene, one that could be more successful.
He eventually joined The Stilettos, which featured then-brunette singer Debbie Harry. The pair ditched the Stilettos to form Angel and the Snake, which transformed into Blondie, after Harry’s nickname, in 1975.
Debbie Harry Was The Oldest Female To Have A Number One Hit In The UK
The music industry is notoriously fickle, especially when it comes to women. Sometimes it feels like the industry ignores any female who isn’t under the age of 30 (it feels that way because it’s pretty much the truth). Meanwhile, senior rockers like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith regularly pen massive albums. Why does this have to be the norm? Middle age shouldn’t be a death sentence for success.
Debbie Harry broke boundaries in middle age. At 53 years old she became the oldest female singer to have a number one hit in the UK with her 1999 song “Maria.” She dethroned the previous queen, Cher. Though her song “Believe” topped charts the week prior, Harry was a few days older.
Debbie Harry Pulled Some Of Her Iconic Outfits From The Trash
Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Debbie Harry was truly a punk inside-and-out. She didn’t care about designer labels and expensive clothes – and she definitely didn’t have much money when she started. Sometimes, her most iconic sartorial choices came straight out of the trash.
Harry is notably a fan of animal print, and once pulled a zebra-printed pillow case from an actual dumpster during one of her routine clothes-hunting dumpster dives. She transformed the pillowcase into a dress and wore it during a photoshoot for a Blondie poster. It doesn’t get much more punk than that.
Blondie’s Single “Hanging On The Telephone” Was Actually A Cover
Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” was undoubtedly a hit. The album it appeared on, Parallel Lines, was the band’s most successful record and sold a whopping 20 million copies worldwide. Though “Hanging on the Telephone” didn’t receive the same success as “Heart of Glass,” the group wasn’t sweating it because they didn’t even get all of the writing royalties.
“Hanging On The Telephone” is actually a cover by the short-lived power pop band The Nerves. It was released in ’76 on the group’s only EP. Blondie’s version reached number five on the UK charts in 1978.
Blondie Was In A Boat Accident In Australia
The group enjoyed spending time together (if they didn’t, they certainly wouldn’t have a decades-long career). In one of their usual tour outings, Clem, Frankie, and Chris decided to go boating near one of the smaller islands that surround Australia. They accidentally scraped up against some sharp coral reefs which cut the bottom of the boat.
Not only was their boat sinking, but the engine actually fell off. The boys were forced to scramble to shore, cutting their feet on the sharp coral in the process (they’re pretty lucky it wasn’t poisonous).
Blondie Was Supposed To Write The James Bond Sound Track
Landing a song in a film is every artist’s dream. It’s a one-way ticket to a major payday, especially if you get to score a James Bond film (just look at Adele!). Blondie almost had their shot at soundtrack success. In 1981, the band was supposed to write and record the theme for Your Eyes Only. Unfortunately, producers rejected their song and instead, gave the honor to Sheena Easton, a Scottish singer-songwriter.
Luckily enough for Blondie fans, we got the track on their 1981 album The Hunter. As for the film, it was, of course, a massive success despite mixed reviews and pulled in $195.3 million worldwide.
“Call Me” Was Originally Written For Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac certainly missed out on the song of a lifetime (though it’s pretty hard to top “Landslide”). In another universe, Stevie Nicks was destined to perform the number one hit “Call Me” instead of Debbie Harry. Originally Giorgio Moroder, a songwriter and producer responsible for Donna Summer’s biggest song, wrote the hit single for Stevie Nicks.
Instead, the track was finished by Debbie Harry and eventually landed Blondie a Grammy nomination. The single was released in 1980 and spent six weeks at number one in the U.S. and Canada. It also topped Billboard’s year-end chart. Needless to say, Fleetwood missed out.
Debbie Harry Is Adopted, And Her Name Was Changed
Debbie Harry’s birth name was actually Angela Tremble, but it was changed by her adoptive parents. Harry was born in Miami and adopted by Catherine and Richard Smith Harry in 1945 when she was just three months old. The couple owned a gift shop in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where Harry spent most of her childhood.
She later went to Centenary College and moved to New York City where she worked for a year as a secretary at BBC Radio. In the 1980s, Harry tracked down her birth mother who didn’t want to have any contact with her.
Debbie Harry Almost Got Her Film Debut In Blade Runner
There’s a reason Pris in the original 1982 Blade Runner looks a whole lot like Debbie Harry. The part of the seductress who was created for human entertainment was supposed to go to the Blondie frontwoman. Monique van de Ven was originally the front-runner for Pris’ character, but the actress had a scheduling conflict.
Next, producers contemplated giving the role to Debbie Harry. Stacey Nelkin also tested for the part but was given a different role. The part was then given to Daryl Hannah, who made her screen debut a few short years earlier in the supernatural horror The Fury.
Debbie Harry Believes She’s A Psychic
Debbie Harry has otherworldly powers when it comes to rock, but she’s also got otherworldly powers when it comes to the brain. Harry truly believes she’s a psychic and thinks her first psychic event took place when she was just three years old and her parents told her she was adopted.
“We lived in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where I spent almost every day in the year digging in my sand pile, daydreaming, and swinging,” she said. “One day I started hearing voices coming from a brick fireplace my dad had built, telling me complex mathematical information. I ran into the house to tell my mother what I’d heard and how important it was. She laughed as I tried to verbalize what I thought I had heard because it sounded ridiculous. The exhilarating physical sensation this psychic contact had given me was gone and I was left feeling oddly empty.”
Blondie Are The Technically The First Rappers To Ever Hit Number One
Debbie Harry is often credited as being the first rapper to ever reach number one. Though this is arguable, she did spit off some verses in the band’s 1980 hit “Rapture” from the album Autoamerican. “Rapture” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. It reached number four and five in Australia and the UK, respectively.
The music video for “Rapture” namechecked some of hip hop’s most renowned including Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, who was featured in the music video. Grandmaster Flash didn’t show up for the video so they hired artist Jean-Michel Basquiat instead.
Debbie Harry Is The Voice Of The Taxi Controller In Grand Theft Auto
“Grand Theft Auto: Vice City “is one of the most successful and controversial video games in existence. The third-person shooter is based on a number of real-life people, like the Mafioso drug lords of Miami and Cuban and Haitian gangs, and actual events, like the 1980s crack epidemic. Upon the franchise release, it was largely panned for violence (you could murder anyone) and overt sexuality (you can hire a hooker).
Vice City was also the best-selling video game of 2002, and Debbie Harry got a piece of the pie. Harry had a minor voice role as the taxi controller.
Debbie Harry Has A Decades-Long Career In Acting
Though Debbie Harry is best known for her work with Blondie, she’s also has spent quite a bit of time on the silver screen. Harry is a successful Hollywood actress and has appeared in over 60 different movies and television shows. Her career began with an uncredited role in the 1975 action film Deadly Her. She played an unnamed singer.
She went on to have roles in the cult Nickelodeon show The Adventure of Pete & Pete, where she played the brothers’ neighbor, and Hulu’s hit comedy Difficult People, where she plays Kiki.
Clement Burke Was Almost Poached By Patti Smith During Blondie Auditions
Clement Burke is undeniably talented, and his drumming definitely caught the eye of more than one leading lady in the 1970s New York punk scene. In 1975, the drummer tried out for Blondie and caught the attention of Patti Smith, who happened to be around when they were rehearsing.
According to Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography, the singer went up to Burke and said “You’re pretty good, what’s your name?” Harry eventually stepped in and said “Patti, I’m working with this guy.” The singer backed off, but their rivalry remained fierce.
Patti Smith Was Constantly Fighting With Debbie Harry
Patti Smith had a very one-sided rivalry with Debbie Harry, whose band was considered least likely to succeed out of other acts swarming the CBGBs stage. She basically tortured the “Heart of Glass” singer when they were coming up in the New York punk scene. Though both ladies inspired generations of female singers after them, Smith thought the scene only had room for one female artist.
“Basically, [Patti] told me there wasn’t room for two women in the CBGB’s scene and that I should leave the business ’cause I didn’t stand a chance against her. She was gonna be the star, and I wasn’t,” Harry said.
“One Way Or Another” Was Never An Official Single In Many Countries
“One Way Or Another” is undeniably one of Blondie’s most iconic songs. Rolling Stone even rated the non-single as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. The truth is that despite the fact most Americans have heard the song and can probably sing the chorus without much thought, it actually wasn’t a very big success.
“One Way or Another” peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is impressive, but not when you consider the band’s string of number one singles. The song wasn’t even released as a single in many countries, including the UK, where Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” is one of the 100 best-selling singles of all time.
Fred Smith Left Blondie To Be In Television
Television was another band that came up in the same 1970s New York rock scene as Blondie. Where Blondie was paving the way for 1980s pop, Television was relying on 1960s guitar rock.
Right after Television released their debut, Richard Hell, bassist and one of the band’s main songwriters, left the project after failing to see eye-to-eye with his bandmates. He went on to form the iconic NYC punk band The Heartbreakers and was replaced by Fred Smith, Blondie’s bassist. Both Hell and Smith left their bands right before they were catapulted into major success (but hey, The Heartbreakers isn’t too shabby).
Still Rocking Today
Now 75 years old, Debbie Harry still has plenty of rock and roll left in her. She contributed to Fall Out Boy’s 2008 album Folie a Deux, and collaborated with other artists in 2010 for The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project.
Harry also appeared with Arcade Fire at Coachella in 2014, performed for several weeks at the Cafe Carlyle in New York in 2015, and dropped Blondie’s eleventh studio album, Pollinator in May 2017. She’s also using her fame for good, dedicating plenty of time to philanthropy, including raising awareness of global warming.