It's 1978, and New York City, in fact the world, has disco fever. Concurrently, new wave, the pop-friendlier side of punk, is taking shape. And Blondie, an experimental band on the city's underground rock scene, leads the movement. The sextet -- which is fronted by a former Playboy Bunny with two-toned bottle-blond hair named Debbie Harry -- makes its mainstream breakthrough with the release of Parallel Lines.
By the end of the year, the album, which spawns the international No. 1 smash "Heart of Glass," tops the charts and quickly sells 2 million copies. Since then, Parallel Lines has attained classic status, was listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the LP's release, Blondie is launching an international tour, which kicks off at Rams Head Live tonight. EMI is also reissuing a two-disc deluxe edition of Parallel Lines, including four bonus tracks and a DVD of videos from the era. That will hit stores June 24.
"Thirty years? It's hard to believe," says Harry, 62. "It's exciting to go back out and play these songs again. I don't think we've ever played all the songs from the album in one show."
Over the years, there has been no dearth of Blondie compilations or reissues of Parallel Lines. But the deluxe edition features a superior, clearly balanced remastering, revealing just how fresh the music still sounds.
"Heart of Glass," the only cut on the album that flirted with the disco craze, sounds as immediate as it did during the days of Studio 54 and painted-on Jordache jeans. But the song, a dance-rock masterpiece, pushed the boundaries of disco. It married the stripped-down, muscular 4/4 beat of Chic with the inventive synthesizer touches of Giorgio Moroder's work with Donna Summer.
"It was the advent of technology that pushed us ahead," says Harry, who last week was at home in New York. "The synthesizers brought a lot of color to our sound, which has given us some longevity. That coupled with the fact that we were so experimental. We were a bunch of city kids, very urban. It seemed natural for us to just incorporate the things we heard around us."
True to the band's adventurous spirit, Blondie -- whose members include guitarist Chris Stein, guitarist Paul Carbonara, keyboard player Jimmy Destri, drummer Clem Burke and bassist Leigh Foxx -- scored a huge hit in 1981 with "Rapture." It was the first No. 1 single by a mainstream pop act to incorporate rap, a genre that was bubbling under the surface at the time.
"It was a transitional period," Harry says. "People were learning to accept those sounds. It was like, 'What's that?' Now it's so normal. Then, the integration of urban and rock was new."
The first wave of success the band garnered with Parallel Lines created some tension within the group. For starters, the underground rock press, which had supported the band since its inception in 1974, turned its back on Blondie, calling the unit a sell-out. Plus, group members started to resent all the attention generated by Harry's hard-edged sexy image.
"If you're in a band, there are different personalities, and everyone is important," the singer-songwriter says. "As for my image: By today's standards, I was pretty conservative. I thought I was being natural, smart and hip. In the long run, it was low-key compared to today."
Harry went solo in 1981, releasing the gold-selling Koo Koo. She has put out four more solo albums since then, the most recent being last year's Necessary Evil. The artist is also an established actress. But Harry is forever linked to Blondie and the new wave landmark Parallel Lines.
"We perform all the time still, and it's great," she says. "The songs are still alive. It's going to be fun. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the old folks can do."
See Blondie at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$39.50. For more information, call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.