Though they came up in the punk era of the Bowery and CBGB’s, no New York act has ever epitomized glamorous cool like Blondie. Not the beloved Ramones nor the retro decadence of The Strokes. With respect to the boys in the band, who always did more than just buoy up and support the vocalist, it all still comes down to Debbie Harry, her model-perfect looks, and an instrument that has continued to get better with age.
In honor of the release of their best album in a decade or so — the spanking new Pollinator — here’s a list, in order of release, of their top 10 tracks, heavy on singles (because their singles were always manna from heaven), with a few deep cuts for spice.
1. “Rip Her to Shreds” from Blondie (1976)
This was the bitch-slap heard round the world (or at least the Lower East Side and the punk-leaning U.K.). Though she might have seemed like the milquetoast Wasp arm-candy to a handlebar mustachioed mid-’70s douchebag, Debbie Harry’s snarl was formidable, and she didn’t mince her words (reportedly about “Miss Groupie Supreme,” Nancy Spungen): “Ugh, she’s so dull, rip her to shreds.” Grrrrr.
2. “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear” from Plastic Letters (1978)
Bassist Gary Valentine’s ethereal paean to extrasensory perception was a spiritual love letter to The Byrds’ jangly universe and Harry’s dulcet cool.
3. “Heart of Glass” from Parallel Lines (1978)
Honestly, all of Parallel Lines could make up this list — that’s how good this record was and how classic it remains. But first among equals is this disco party-starter that sounds as fresh today as it did back when you wore your coke spoon on your gold necklace.
4. “Just Go Away” from Parallel Lines (1978)
Instead of the undeniable “One Way or Another,” we’re going here with this album’s last track, wherein the band gets all Noo Yawk on a chorus that’s the perfect kiss off to a lover or friend — or hater — that’s just worked your last nerve.
5. “Dreaming” from Eat to the Beat (1979)
It begins with a perfectly evocative couplet — “When I met you in the restaurant / you could tell I was no debutante” — that sets the scene for one of Debbie Harry’s and Chris Stein’s moonier infatuation tunes.
6. “Call Me” from the American Gigolo soundtrack (1980)
This standalone single — that now lives on numerous best-ofs, compilations and the American Gigolo soundtrack — was the smooth sound of easy sex for rich women with the means to purchase the expert attentions of a young, smoothly handsome Richard Gere.
7. “Rapture” from Autoamerican (1980)
Their appropriation of rap might have been a scandal back in the day — how dare this white girl steal from her African-American neighbors all the way up in Harlem and out in the boroughs! — but its slinky intro and loopy rap break is stooped-glorious and lives fondly amongst the handful of great early tracks of a still-nascent art form.
8. “Night Wind Sent” from No Exit (1999)
The single, “Maria,” was a return to form after too long an absence. But this mid-tempo ballad is all the proof anyone needs — if they ever had a doubt — about how powerful a singer Debbie Harry is, and that some things really do get better with age.
9. “Long Time” from Pollinator (2017)
There are good tracks on the handful of records Blondie put out between No Exit in 1999 and this new one — including “Mother” from 2011’s Panic of Girls and the strange Japanese hybrid “Magic (Asadoya Yunta)” from 2003’s The Curse of Blondie, to name just two — but Pollinator is a late-period wow from a band whose influence is all over the contemporary musical map.
This first single — written by Harry and Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes — is great current pop. Harry sounds assured, as always, the band rips it up, and the chorus doesn’t quit. And it’s a testament to Blondie’s power that — though the record is largely comprised of songs written with and/or for them — it still sounds like a Blondie release.
10. “Doom or Destiny” from Pollinator (2017)
Harry is turning 72 in July, and she’s still the punk upstart she once was on the opening track of their latest. Extra points for the inclusion of proto-riot grrl Joan Jett.