Fat Cow Creek, New South Wales, 2019.
While all my contemporaries were into David Essex, ABBA and 10cc, I discovered Blondie. I did so quite by accident, on a visit to the local record store in a London suburb. A few months before I had been given a Saturday job at the bakery. The £2.04 I earned each working day, afforded me the luxury of a few things I had not been able to access before, and most of my hour-long lunch break would be spent perusing the lines of records, in the record shop across The Broadway, although nothing had been purchased, yet.
I chose Parallel Lines* by Blondie, not because I had heard of them, or that it had been recommended but because I was attracted to the even, broad black and white lines on the front cover, with a sassy looking girl in front of a number of men in suits, that was in a prime position in the “New Releases” box. (This method of choosing things has held up, over the years, especially with books and wine). Mr Tudor, of Tudor Records, est. 1957, was not impressed. He thought it was the duty of all his regular customers, and I was classed as that, to listen to the potential purchase on the large headphones in the audio boxes. That way no one was ever disappointed.
I was not disappointed by Blondie on the first listening. Debbie Harry, lead singer, had a voice so pure and sweet. Heard above the rolling drums and bass; accompanied by the catchy lyrics, no one could be disappointed. I played the record, for the first time, on my father’s record deck: better stylus and speakers. As soon as one side finished, I played the other: the 1970s version of “repeat”. I was never going to get sick of that sound.
Parallel Lines was the third album released by Blondie but the first to have songs with all three elements of a perfect pop song: three minutes or so, memorable music, and catchy lyrics. The production had been altered by producer, Mike Chapman, who grew the band sound but kept the singer’s voice as one of the instruments. Debbie Harry is clearly heard but not as the main ingredient.
I have many Blondie tracks on my iPod, but on a recent road trip in New South Wales, I did something I have not done for many years: listen to the record in its entirety. The opening notes of Hanging on the Telephone with Harry’s voice heard the same moment as the guitar, are instantly recognisable. As we rolled through the songs I realised the work that had gone into placing the songs in this order, and that listening on an electronic device with shuffle on, does not allow the connection between the songs. Of course, each of the songs, the singles especially, of which there were six, stands on its own, but there is a richer dimension gained from listening to the whole, as it was designed.
By the time we got to track 9, Sunday Girl, I was lost in a perfect confluence; the long straight road, music and nostalgic revelry. I had once sung this song to a friend’s dad in order to persuade him to let us have a BBQ at their home. This man knew about young people and what they needed; he had been Johnny Rotten’s social worker for a while. He had a rule that you could not have something for nothing, you had to offer something or pay in some way; I offered my rendition of Sunday Girl. His two sons and my best friend did the harmonies and acted as backing singers while pretending to play drums and guitars. I just had to be Debbie Harry! The performance was a great one; well great enough for us to BBQ anyway.
Just as I was reaching the high notes in the car, passing over Fat Cow Creek, a small voice on the backseat popped my bubble: “Mum, next time we go on a trip we must have better music” the 12-year-old spiked. “You will learn to love this, as this is not just good music but great music.” He did not argue.
Pop music is like any other kind of ephemera; most of it is lost in time, but sometimes, and there are exceptions to the rule, something sticks. I am sure if I dredge my memory I could remember the lyrics to David Essex songs and even 10cc, but nothing gives me the memories and feelings that Parallel Lines does. It never disappoints.
*Released September 1978.