Blondie: Parallel Lines
This is the fourth in our series of five seminal album covers by female artists
Parallel Lines, the third album by Blondie, was released in late 1978. By 1979, when they were finally huge in the States, the band felt the need to start a “Blondie is a Group” button campaign. Even for those discovering the band’s considerable appeal today, it’s so easy to think of Blondie as Debbie Harry and her backing band.
This is of course disrespectful to the musicians that created some of the best pop songs of all time – but it probably has more to do with Harry’s diaphanous star quality than any shortcoming on behalf of the others. A talented songwriter, confident performer and irresistible vocalist, she’s one of those few that manage to genuinely walk the: “women want to be her, men want to be with her” tightrope. As Rolling Stone puts it, she “invented a new kind of rock & roll appeal that brought New York demimonde style to the mainstream”. I was reading a book about the birth of hip hop which suggested that if graffiti tributes were the measure, then Harry was certainly the number one sex-symbol in the Bronx.
When Parallel Lines was being recorded, Blondies’ Machiavellian manager Peter Leeds was well aware who his meal ticket was. “I was not fond of Peter” Harry told Q magazine “He told the boys that they could all be replaced, I was the only important one.” While the cover for Parallel Lines is widely regarded as an iconic classic, ironically for the band it’s a symbol of manipulation and contributed to the dropping of Leeds as manager. “I don’t think it’s a great design, personally” says Harry.
The story revealed in Q’s “The 100 Best Record Covers of All Time” is really interesting and not at all what you’d expect. Apparently the band were sold on the idea that they would fade in and out of the stripes, which was the one element they liked. The facial expressions – Harry’s sexy as hell scowl contrasted with the guys’ goofy grins – were also Leeds’ idea. According to Harry, he tricked them into pulling the expressions once and then proceeded to make the cover without showing them.
“Everyone just flipped out” Harry said “We were shocked that the artwork had been completed without our approval and that the decision had been made without the band.”
It was the final straw and Leeds was replaced by Alice Copper’s manager Shep Gordon. But at least the duo-chromatic cover, with the guys either predicting Reservoir Dogs or remembering the mod craze of the 60’s, featured the whole band. Singles artwork would be even more selective.
Much has been made of Harry’s influence on future female artists but it’s also interesting to see the “Blondie is a Group” dilemma replayed with such striking regularly. Should a band with a charismatic female lead singer resent the fact that she gets the lion’s share of the attention – or just be grateful for the attention?
Or is this just something that many bands have to deal with regardless of gender – after all, when most people think of Blur isn’t it Damon Albarn that comes to mind?