Blondie wasn’t the artsiest band to hatch in the mid-1970s CBGB incubator; depending on your taste, that would have been Television, Talking Heads, or the Patti Smith Group. Blondie wasn’t the funniest band, either; to my taste, that would have been the Ramones. But Blondie was for sure the canniest band to emerge on the New York City scene in the mid-1970s, thanks in main to lead singer, songwriter, and front woman Debbie Harry.
Harry styled herself like a punk Marilyn Monroe, and belted out the group’s early, girl-group-inspired songs with winks, shrugs, and eye rolls, or sometimes an almost imperious hauteur. Previously, in rock, only boy acts like the New York Dolls and David Bowie had dared to camp it up like this. Harry’s stroke of genius was to reclaim the subversive glamour of showbiz drag for the girls. She and the boys in her band then backed up the attitude with great tunes and some smart covers, and garnered more Top 40 singles than the rest of their CBGB contemporaries combined. Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga all owe Harry a debt, just as she does Cher.