Debbie Harry at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.
Debbie Harry at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22. (Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images for Tribeca Film Fe)

Blondie is still a group.

Back in the group's '70s heyday, when it was one of the biggest (and most popular) things to come out of New York's punk movement, buttons with that slogan were a reminder that the band was more than Debbie Harry, its powerful and arrestingly photogenic lead singer.


Maybe it's time those buttons made a comeback, as a way of reminding people that Blondie is not only a band that's been around for more than 40 years, but also one that's determined to make music as fresh and vital as ever.

Debbie Harry.
Debbie Harry. (Alexander Thompson / HANDOUT)

Blondie is not, Harry insists, an oldies band. When the group, which still includes founders Harry and Chris Stein and longtime drummer Clem Burke, plays the Sweetlife Festival at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, audiences will get the songs they've known for years — hits like "Call Me," "Heart of Glass" and "Rapture." (Baltimoreans also have a fond connection to Harry since she played conniving TV producer Velma Von Tussle in the 1988 original film version of John Waters' "Hairspray").

But they'll hear a lot more than those three-decade-old chestnuts, promises Harry, 70.

"It's sort of a little bit of a problem for us, and I think for a lot of bands that have been around for a while," Harry says over the phone from her home in New Jersey. "Audiences want to hear the songs that they love, they want to hear the classics. But since we've been playing them so long, we want to play something different."

Not, Harry stresses, that the hits — and there were plenty of them, including four songs that reached the top of the Billboard singles charts between 1978 and 1981 — are going to disappear from the band's playlist anytime soon.

Blondie. (Danielle St. Laurent / HANDOUT)

"The reward of doing something that is 40 years old and having the audience go crazy — there's nothing better than that," she says. "But I also want to feel creative and in-the-moment. Which is not always easy."

So expect to hear songs from albums like 2011's "Panic of Girls" and 2014's "Ghosts of Download." Neither made much noise on the charts, but both portrayed a band that's a lot feistier than some might expect, still playing to its strengths. Blondie just finished recording another album, Harry says, that should be available by the end of the year.

"Hopefully, we'll put a couple of those songs in the show," she says.

As the band's longtime fans know, one of Blondie's strengths has always been its ability to straddle genres. In the early years, that meant going from the punk aesthetic of "X Offender" to the disco rhythms of "Heart of Glass" to the pioneering hip-hop of "Rapture," which in 1981 became the first song featuring rap to top the U.S. charts.

Harry says Blondie still cherishes its eclecticism. The good news is that audiences seem to have caught up with the group, she says, and are no longer as hesitant to embrace music outside their immediate comfort zone.

"Audiences actually are much more sophisticated now, tastes are broader," she says. "You'll find people … that really like a lot of different kinds of pop music, or rock or hip-hop or whatever. There's more spread to it."

Still, Harry acknowledges, it's sometimes hard to believe that Blondie has been making music for more than 40 years. And the group's fans have stuck with them, enduring a 15-year layoff that stretched from 1982 to 1997, as well as lineup changes that have left only her and Stein remaining from the group that came storming out of such legendary New York venues as CBGB and Max's Kansas City in the mid-'70s.

"It's amazing to me," she says. "You imagine yourself as being a gigantic rock star, but you don't expect such longevity. Especially since we took that long hiatus in the middle — to come back and have people loving us and wanting to hear the music …

"There's no comparison to anything," Harry says after pausing for a moment. "It's almost a miracle, really. How could I ask for anything more?"