Hear Debbie Harry’s Stunning Ethereal Vocal Tracks from “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rapture,” and “One Way or Another”

Punk rock “shocked the world” when it arrived in the late 70s, one main­stream news out­let remem­bers. Bands like The Ramones inspired “a gen­er­a­tion of wannabe rock­ers to buy gui­tars and form their own bands…. They proved that you didn’t have to be the next Jim­my Page or Paul McCart­ney to be a rock star.”

The idea is common—that punk bands’ ama­teur­ish­ness gave license to remake musi­cal cul­ture with atti­tude and style… tal­ent and abil­i­ty be damned. There’s a sense in which this is true, but there’s also a sense in which it’s a gen­er­al­iza­tion that ignores the var­i­ous organs—early met­al, avant-garde art rock, new wave, etc.—that made up the larg­er body of punk.

The scene was built on some seri­ous abil­i­ty, begin­ning with the prim­i­tivist Vel­vet Under­ground, who relied on the tal­ents of clas­si­cal­ly-trained mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist John Cale. In James Williamson, The Stooges had one of the finest gui­tarists not only in punk (or “heavy met­al,” as Lester Bangs called 1973’s Raw Pow­er), but in rock and roll writ large.

Talk­ing Heads had one of punk’s best bass play­ers in Tina Wey­mouth, a huge influ­ence on con­tem­po­rary bass gui­tar. When punk arrived on the radio, it did so in the sul­try, chill­ing tones of Deb­bie Harry’s two-and-a-half octave-range voice: in the icy, high-pitched echoes of “Heart of Glass,” Call Me,” and “Rap­ture.”

Before Blondie, Har­ry was stripped down in the punk band The Stilet­tos. And before that, her ethe­re­al voice ele­vat­ed the work of late six­ties folk rock band, Wind in the Wil­lows. As one of sev­en singers, she honed her instru­ment in the demand­ing envi­ron­ment of a vocal ensem­ble. In her best-known Blondie songs, Har­ry har­mo­nizes with her­self in huge trails of reverb, recall­ing the dreamy psy­che­delia of ear­li­er years.

Hear her mul­ti-tracked, heav­i­ly effect­ed iso­lat­ed vocals in three huge Blondie hits fur­ther up, and her much more stripped-down, raw­er vocal track from “One Way or Anoth­er,” below. There’s a lot of under­ground punk and indie and alter­na­tive music that did aban­don musi­cian­ship, with mixed but often bril­liant results. But when it comes to what most peo­ple remem­ber when they remem­ber the sound of ear­ly punk, the genre was just as much dri­ven for­ward by musi­cal abil­i­ty and ded­i­ca­tion, as evi­denced by the career of Deb­bie Har­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Blondie Plays CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vin­tage Clips

Dis­cov­er an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Con­certs from the 80s and 90s: The Pix­ies, Son­ic Youth, The Replace­ments & Many More

How the Uptight Today Show Intro­duced the Sex Pis­tols & British Punk to Amer­i­can TV View­ers (1978)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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