Happy 2019! I hope this young year is treating you all well so far!
Today, January 3, 2019, is a special day in music history, as it marks the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the most prolific and most memorable and downright cool singles of all time – “Heart Of Glass” by Blondie.
Founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein back in 1974, Blondie built up a following in places like the U.K. and Australia, but it took the New York Punk and early New Wave band four years and three albums to finally make it in their home country.
Blondie’s third studio album, PARALLEL LINES, was released in late September 1978, but it took awhile to catch on here in America. The first two singles off the album, “Picture This” and “Hanging On The Telephone,” were U.K. hits. By the time “Heart Of Glass” was released on January 3, 1979, Blondie had already picked up three Top 10 U.K. hits out of four chart singles. Back here in America, Blondie had yet to crack the BILLBOARD Hot 100.
The origins of “Heart Of Glass” began during the first year of Blondie, when Debbie Harry and Chris Stein wrote an early version of the song, called “Once I Had A Love.” It was a slower version, then more funky than disco-sounding, and it was inspired by the 1974 song “Rock The Boat” by The Hues Corporation, which is regarded by many as the first-ever disco song to ever hit No. 1.
When popular producer Mike Chapman came on board to produce PARALLEL LINES, things started coming together for Blondie. Mike Chapman produced for many successful artists and produced and/or wrote or co-wrote many singles in the 70s and 80s, such as artists like Sweet, Suzi Quatro, The Knack, Tina Turner, and songs like Exile’s “Kiss You All Over,” Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child In The City,” Toni Basil’s “Mickey” (all No. 1 hits), Huey Lewis And The News’ “Heart And Soul,” Bow Wow Wow’s “Do Ya Wanna Hold Me” and Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield”
The early version of “Heart Of Glass” was the last song Blondie presented to Mike Chapman, which appealed to him. Different versions of the song were tried out, none of them working, and Debbie Harry was getting frustrated. But Mike Chapman was focused. He knew the song was something special, or could be. And he asked her, “Debbie, what kind of music that’s happening right now really turns you on.” Debbie said, “Donna Summer.” Then Mike responded, “OK, then how about us treating this song like it was meant for Donna Summer?” And, by way of the Giorgio Moroder-produced 1977 masterpiece, “I Feel Love” (which Blondie performed in concert for the first time in May 1978, and did again when Maryhope and I saw them in August 2017), “Once I Had A Love” transformed into “Heart Of Glass.”
I’m not sure if Mike Chapman or the band knew that “Heart Of Glass” would become a part of music history, because, oddly enough, on the track listing of the album, “Heart Of Glass” was relegated to the (normally filler) fourth song (of six) on Side 2 of PARALLEL LINES. But, then again, PARALLEL LINES is not something I would call “filler.”
Maybe the answer of the song’s placement on the album comes from Chris Stein, who didn’t think it would as big as it was. He once said, “We only did it as a novelty to put more diversity into the album” (which is prolly why it ended up buried on the second side of PARALLEL LINES).
Less than a month after the release of “Heart Of Glass,” fans’ hearts were full of love for the song in the U.K., and it spent the entire month of February 1979 at No. 1 on that singles chart, their first U.K. No. 1 single (of six).
Over here in the U.S., Blondie entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 for the very first time, as “Heart Of Glass” debuted six weeks after its release, coming in at No. 84. A month later, they blasted into the Top 40, and by early April 1979, had made their way to the Top 10. By the end of April 1979, “Heart Of Glass” spent its sole week at No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, and in the process, united Punk and Disco fans alike – no easy trick.
“Heart Of Glass” found much success outside of the U.K. and the U.S., reaching No. 1 in Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand (where it was the No. 1 song of the year), plus the Top 10 in Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.
One piece of singles chart trivia that boggles my mind is the fact that “Heart Of Glass” was not a big hit on the BILLBOARD Dance chart (then known as the Disco Top 80). It stopped at No. 58 there. No worries, though, a 1995 remix of “Heart Of Glass” reached No. 7 on the Dance Club Play chart.
One piece of trivia regarding “Heart Of Glass,” however, I’ll never tire of. In the first year of my second-favorite TV show ever, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, played “Heart Of Glass” so much on the show, the fictional WKRP was credited on helping the single and PARALLEL LINES do as well as they did, and an official RIAA (Recording Industry Association Of America) Gold record was presented by Blondie’s label, Chrysalis, to show creator Hugh Wilson. For the show’s second season through the fourth and final season, you can see the Gold record hanging in the station’s “bullpen.” Pretty damn cool.
The legacy of “Heart Of Glass” continues all these years later. In 2010, ROLLING STONE listed “Heart Of Glass” at No. 259 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. In 2016, PITCHFORK listed it at No. 18 of the best songs of the 1970s, and that same year, “Heart Of Glass” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Dozens of covers spanning many genres dating back to 1979 have been released, including versions by late Country guitar legend Chet Atkins, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, The Bad Plus, Nouvelle Vague, Erasure, and a lovely Jazz Pop vocal cover by The Puppini Sisters back in 2006.
Just this past year, “Heart Of Glass” was ranked at No. 66 among the biggest-selling singles of all-time in the U.K. (and Blondie remains as the all-time biggest-selling American band in the U.K.), and in 2006, Blondie was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. No doubt “Heart Of Glass” played a big role in that.
And, to mark the 40th anniversary of “Heart Of Glass,” in October 2018, a new 12” single was released, featuring six different mixes, including the 1975 and 1978 versions of “Once I Had A Love,” two single versions, and the original 12” dance mix and its 12” instrumental counterpart.
You can hear the legacy of “Heart Of Glass” on their latest album, 2017’s brilliant POLLINATOR, especially on the song, “Long Time,” one of my all-time favorite Blondie songs, and probably my favorite song of this decade. Stephen Thompson of SPIN Magazine praised “Long Time,” and regarding its oft-comparison to “Heart Of Glass,” states it “never feels like a mere rehash, [showing] a future brighter than fans had any right to expect. It’s the best Blondie song in ages and a joy to behold.” I couldn’t agree more.
Before “Heart Of Glass” was a hit, there was trepidation within Blondie. Even drummer extraordinaire and original member Clem Burke refused to play it live at first. But, eventually he gave in. So did fans who initially thought Blondie sold out. “Heart Of Glass” has long since been embraced the world over and lives on in radio immortality. Though it’s not my favorite Blondie song (that distinction goes to 1979’s “Dreaming”), it’s one I’ll always treasure, especially since it introduced me to the band in early 1979.
So, raise your hearts of glasses up high, and wish “Heart Of Glass” a Happy 40th! Many of my favorite songs turn 40 this year, but I’m glad you’re the first. I’ll love you and Blondie forever.
“Yeah, riding high on love’s true bluish light…”