Parallel Lines is the third studio album by the American rock band Blondie. It was released in September 1978 by Chrysalis Records to international commercial success. The album reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom in February 1979 and proved to be the band's commercial breakthrough in the United States, where it reached No. 6 in April 1979. In Billboard magazine, Parallel Lines was listed at No. 9 in the top pop albums year-end chart of 1979. As of 2008, the album had sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The album spawned several successful singles, notably the international hit "Heart of Glass".
In February 1978, Blondie released their second studio album Plastic Letters. It was their last album produced by Richard Gottehrer whose sound had formed the basis of Blondie's new wave and punk output. During a tour of the west coast of the US in support of Plastic Letters, Blondie encountered Australian producer Mike Chapman in California. Peter Leeds, Blondie's manager, conspired with Chrysalis Records to encourage Chapman to work with Blondie on new music. Drummer Clem Burke recalls feeling enthusiastic about the proposition, believing Chapman could create innovative and eclectic records. However, lead vocalist Debbie Harry was far less enthusiastic about Chapman's involvement as she knew him only by reputation; according to Chapman, her animosity towards him was because "they were New York. [He] was L.A.". Harry's cautiousness abated after she played Chapman early cuts of "Heart of Glass" and "Sunday Girl" and he was impressed.
In June 1978 the band entered the Record Plant in New York to record their third album, and first with Chapman. However, Chapman found the band difficult to work with, remembering them as the worst band he ever worked with in terms of musical ability, although praising Frank Infante as "an amazing guitarist". Sessions with Chris Stein were hampered by his being stoned during recording, and Chapman encouraged him to write songs rather than play guitar. Similarly, according to Chapman, Jimmy Destri would prove himself to be far better at songwriting than as a keyboardist and Clem Burke had poor timing playing drums. As a result, Chapman spent time improving the band, especially Stein with whom Chapman spent hours rerecording his parts to ensure they were right. Bassist Nigel Harrison became so frustrated with Chapman's drive for perfectionism that he threw a synthesizer at him during recording. Chapman recalls the atmosphere at the Record Plant in an interview for Sound on Sound:
The Blondies were tough in the studio, real tough. None of them liked each other, except Chris and Debbie, and there was so much animosity. They were really, really juvenile in their approach to life—a classic New York underground rock band—and they didn't give a fuck about anything. They just wanted to have fun and didn't want to work too hard getting it.
Chapman took an unorthodox approach when recording with Harry whom he describes as "a great singer and a great vocal stylist, with a beautifully identifiable voice. However ... also very moody". Chapman was far more cautious of demanding much from Harry as he saw her as a highly emotional person who would vest these emotions in the songs they made. He remembers Harry disappearing into the bathroom in tears for several hours at a time during recording. During a day of recording, Harry sang two lead parts and some harmonies, less work than she did previously with Gottehrer. This was due to Chapman encouraging her to be cautious about the way she sang, particularly to recognise phrasing, timing and attitude.
Blondie recorded Parallel Lines in six weeks, despite being given six months by Terry Ellis, co-founder of Chrysalis Records, to do so. A traditional set-up was used and Chapman fitted Neumann microphones to the toms, snare and hi-hat, as well as several above the site. When recording, Chapman would start with the basic track, which was difficult to record at the time by way of "pencil erasing". Chapman explained in an interview for Sound on Sound, "that meant using a pencil to hold the tape away from the head and erasing up to the kick drum. If a bass part was ahead of the kick, you could erase it so that it sounded like it was on top of the kick. That's very easy to do these days, but back then it was quite a procedure just to get the bottom end sounding nice and tight." A DI/amp method was used to record Harrison's bass and Destri's synthesizer, while Shure SM57 and AKG 414 microphones were used to capture Infante's Les Paul guitar. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp makes a guest appearance on his main instrument on "Fade Away and Radiate".
After the basic track was complete, Chapman would record lead and backing vocals with Harry. However, this process was hampered by many songs not being written in time for the vocals to be recorded. "Sunday Girl", "Picture This" and "One Way Or Another" were all unfinished during the rehearsal sessions. When recording vocal parts, Chapman remembers asking Harry if she was ready to sing, only for her to reply "Yeah, just a minute" as she was still writing lyrics down. Chapman notes that many "classic" songs from the album were created this way.
During the last session at the Record Plant, the band were asleep on the floor only to be awakened at six o'clock in the morning by Mike Chapman and his engineer Peter Coleman leaving for Los Angeles with the tape tracks. Despite Blondie's belief that Parallel Lines would resonate with a wider audience, Chrysalis Records was not as enthusiastic and label executives told them to start again, only to be dissuaded by Chapman's assurance that its singles would prove popular.
Parallel Lines took its name from an unused track written by Harry, the lyrics of which were included in the first vinyl edition of the album. The cover sleeve image was photographed by Edo Bertoglio and was chosen by Blondie's manager, Peter Leeds, despite being rejected by the band. The photo shows the band posing in matching dress suits and smiling broadly in contrast to Harry who poses defiantly with her hands on her hips while wearing a white dress and high heels.
According to music journalist Robert Christgau, Parallel Lines was a pop rock album in which Blondie achieved their "synthesis of the Dixie Cups and the Electric Prunes". Its style of "state-of-the-art pop/rock circa 1978", as AllMusic's William Ruhlmann described it, showed Blondie deviating from new wave and emerging as "a pure pop band." Ken Tucker believed the band had eschewed the "brooding artiness" of their previous albums for more hooks and pop-oriented songs. Chapman later said, "I didn't make a punk album or a New Wave album with Blondie. I made a pop album." The album's eleven pop songs have refined melodics, and its sole disco song, "Heart of Glass", features jittery keyboards, rustling cymbals by drummer Clem Burke, and a circular rhythm. Burke credited Kraftwerk and the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever as influences for the song and said that he was "trying to get that groove that the drummer for the Bee Gees had".
Lyrically, Parallel Lines abandoned what Rolling Stone magazine's Arion Berger called the "cartoonish postmodernist referencing" of Blondie's previous new wave songs in favor of a "romantic fatalism" that was new for the band. "Sunday Girl" deals with the theme of teen loneliness, while "Fade Away and Radiate" is about falling in love with dead movie stars. On the latter song, Debbie Harry, who daydreamed as a child that Marilyn Monroe was her birth mother, compares a flickering image onscreen to the light of a dying sun. Music critic Rob Sheffield said that the lyric "dusty frames that still arrive / die in 1955" is the "best lyric in any rock'n'roll song, ever, and it's still the ultimate statement of a band that always found some pleasure worth exploiting in the flashy and the temporary."
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||10/10|
Parallel Lines became an international success when it was released in September 1978 by Chrysalis Records. In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Christgau said although Blondie still could not write a perfect hit single, the record was a consistent improvement over Plastic Letters. He wrote in retrospect for Blender that it was "a perfect album in 1978" and remained so with "every song memorable, distinct, well-shaped and over before you get antsy. Never again did singer Deborah Harry, mastermind Chris Stein and their able four-man cohort nail the band's signature paradoxes with such unfailing flair: lowbrow class, tender sarcasm, pop rock." Darryl Easlea from BBC, who felt the record combined power pop and new wave styles, credited Mike Chapman's production and flair for pop songwriting for helping make Parallel Lines an extremely popular album in the United Kingdom, where it was a number-one hit and charted for 106 weeks during the late 1970s. Q magazine called the album "a crossover smash with sparkling guitar sounds, terrific hooks and middle-eights more memorable than some groups' choruses."
In a review of post-punk albums from the 1970s, Spin magazine's Sasha Frere-Jones said Parallel Lines may have been "the perfect pop-rock record" and Blondie's best album, while Christian John Wikane from PopMatters called it "a creative and commercial masterpiece by Blondie ... indisputably one of the great, classic albums of the rock and roll era." In the opinion of Pitchfork critic Scott Plagenhoef, the album popularized "the look and sound of 1980s new wave" with classic songs that showcased the depth and complexity of Harry's sexuality and singing. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine was also impressed by her singing, which he felt varied from "purring like a kitten and then building to a mean growl", and cited "Heart of Glass" as the album's best track because of her "honey-dipped vocal".
Parallel Lines was ranked at number 140 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, number 18 and 45 on NME's 100 Best Albums of All Time and 500 Greatest Albums of All Time respectively, and number 7 on Blender's 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone wrote that the album was "where punk and New Wave broke through to a mass U.S. audience". The album was also ranked at number 94 by Channel 4's list of 100 greatest albums of all time. Parallel Lines was ranked the 76th best album of the 1970s by Pitchfork.
Parallel Lines contains several of Blondie's best-known hits, including "Heart of Glass", "Hanging on the Telephone", "Sunday Girl" and "One Way or Another". Six of the twelve tracks were issued as singles, either in the US or the UK. It is notable that the original album version of "Heart of Glass" was replaced with the longer disco version on pressings of the album from March 1979 onward. However, the original surfaced on some later reissue editions.
The album was reissued and remastered in 2001 along with Blondie's back catalog and featured four bonus tracks: a 1978 demo of "Heart of Glass", live cover of T. Rex's song "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" and two live tracks taken from Picture This Live live album.
On June 24, 2008, an expanded 30th Anniversary Edition of the album was released, which featured new artwork and bonus tracks along with bonus DVD. The liner notes once again featured lyrics to the unfinished "Parallel Lines" song. The Parallel Lines 30th Anniversary Edition included the 7" single version of "Heart of Glass", which was featured on the original pressing of the album, the French version of "Sunday Girl" and some remixes, plus a DVD with albums, promo videos and TV performance.
|1.||"Hanging on the Telephone" (The Nerves cover)||Jack Lee||2:17|
|2.||"One Way or Another"||Deborah Harry, Nigel Harrison||3:31|
|3.||"Picture This"||Harry, Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri||2:53|
|4.||"Fade Away and Radiate"||Stein||3:57|
|5.||"Pretty Baby"||Harry, Stein||3:16|
|6.||"I Know but I Don't Know"||Frank Infante||3:53|
|8.||"Will Anything Happen?"||Jack Lee||2:55|
|10.||"Heart of Glass"||Harry, Stein||3:54|
|11.||"I'm Gonna Love You Too" (Buddy Holly cover)||Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Norman Petty||2:03|
|12.||"Just Go Away"||Harry||3:21|
|2001 remastered reissue bonus tracks|
|13.||"Once I Had a Love (aka The Disco Song) (1978 version)"||Harry, Stein||3:18|
|14.||"Bang a Gong (Get It On) (Live)" (Recorded live 11/04/78 at The Paradise in Boston, MA)||Marc Bolan||5:30|
|15.||"I Know but I Don't Know (Live)" (Recorded live 11/06/78 at the Walnut Theatre in Philadelphia, PA)||Infante||4:35|
|16.||"Hanging on the Telephone (Live)" (Recorded live 1980 in Dallas, TX)||Lee||2:21|
|2008 deluxe collector's edition bonus tracks|
|13.||"Heart of Glass (7" Single Version)"||4:10|
|14.||"Sunday Girl (French Version)" (from "Sunday Girl" 12" single)||3:04|
|15.||"Hanging on the Telephone (Nosebleed Handbag Remix)" (from Beautiful: The Remix Album)||6:14|
|16.||"Fade Away and Radiate (108 BPM Remix)" (from Beautiful: The Remix Album)||5:16|
|2008 deluxe collector's edition bonus DVD|
|1.||"Heart of Glass"|
|2.||"Hanging on the Telephone"|
|4.||"Sunday Girl (Live on Top of the Pops)"|
|2010 Mail on Sunday promo bonus tracks|
|13.||"What I Heard"||Matt Katz-Bohen / Laurel Katz-Bohen||3:15|
|14.||"Girlie Girlie" (Sophia George cover)||Anthony Davis / Lloyd Douglas / Steve Golding||3:25|
|"I'm Gonna Love You Too"||—||—||—||—||3||—||—||—||6||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Hanging on the Telephone"||—||—||39||—||19||—||—||16||20||43||—||—||—||5||
|1979||"Heart of Glass"||1||58||1||1||5||1||1||2||8||1||5||3||1||1|
|"One Way or Another"||24||—||—||—||—||7||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||98†|
† "One Way Or Another" was not released as a single in the United Kingdom, but charted on download sales alone in 2013.
|Canada (Music Canada)||4× Platinum||400,000^|
|France (SNEP)||193,900 *|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone