Blondie releases first ever box set Against The Odds 1974-1982 From unreleased music to promotional flyers, photos, a mirrored dressing room sign, and even a stray Andy Warhol print, Blondie's out with a new box set, Blondie: Against The Odds 1974-1982.

Against the odds: How Blondie shattered the conventions of punk and pop

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Blondie has sold more than 40 million records worldwide since the band emerged in New York City in the 1970s. Blondie's still touring and working on new music. It's also releasing an archival box set tomorrow called "Against The Odds: 1974 To 1982." Over those decades, Blondie rode a wave and created something timeless, as Allyson McCabe reports.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: In the early 1970s, the Greenwich Village folk scene had faded. A new sound was wafting up from the street.


NEW YORK DOLLS: (Singing) Trash, go pick it up, take them lights away.

MCCABE: New York Dolls frontman David Johansen says it found a home, built on the ruins of a former hotel.

DAVID JOHANSEN: Well, I was friends with Eric Emerson, who had a band called Magic Tramps. And he said that he was going to do a gig at this new place, Mercer Arts Center, and would my band want to come and open for him?

MCCABE: It quickly turned into a weekly gig.

JOHANSEN: And, like, a scene started kind of coming around us. And it was beautiful - a lot of people, like, who would see each other on the street, you know? And this gave them a chance to be in the same kind of place.

MCCABE: Chris Stein and Debbie Harry were regulars at Mercer Arts. But in 1973, the venue literally collapsed. CBGB opened a few blocks away, and that's where their band, Blondie, played its first gig in 1974. Roberta Bayley worked the door.

ROBERTA BAYLEY: I would say, for the first year of Blondie, they were kind of looked at, quite frankly, as the band least likely to succeed. They hadn't coalesced as a group, really, until Clem Burke joined the band. And then he brought in Gary Valentine.

MCCABE: By 1976, Bayley was chief photographer of Punk magazine. Blondie added Jimmy Destri on keys and got signed to a small label called Private Stock. The band's debut album featured '60s pop sounds, like girl groups and surf rock, filtered through a prism of glitter and grit.


BLONDIE: I saw you standing on the corner. You looked so big and fine. I really wanted to go out with you. So when you smiled, I laid my heart on the line.

MCCABE: Blondie's look matched its sound. The guys wore thrift store suits and skinny ties. Debbie Harry bleached her hair, but let the dark roots show. She says she was putting a downtown spin on Hollywood glam.


BLONDIE: (Singing) You read me my rights, and then you said, "let's go" and nothing more.

DEBBIE HARRY: I was very fascinated by these women that, you know, had this glowing kind of image on film. And it seemed like, you know, something that I could do.


BLONDIE: (Singing) I wanna be a platinum blonde - ooh - just like all the sexy stars. Marilyn and Jean, Jayne, Mae and Marlene, yeah, they proved they really had fun.

MCCABE: A year later, Blondie switched to Chrysalis Records, touring in support of its 1978 album, "Plastic Letters." The band picked up a No. 2 hit on the British charts with a gender-flipped reworking of an old doo-wop song discovered on a K-tel compilation.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey, we've got a good sound to start off "Top of the Pops" this week. It's Blondie and a number called "Denis."

BLONDIE: (Singing) Oh Denis, ooh-be-do, I'm in love with you.

MCCABE: Chris Stein says American audiences were slower to warm to music that was neither strictly punk nor pop.

CHRIS STEIN: When we first went to the U.K. and everybody started flinging themselves around, it was kind of enlightening because, in New York, it just wasn't happening yet.

MCCABE: For Blondie's next effort, producer Mike Chapman worked the band hard, extracting hits from its eclectic experiments. As they were wrapping up, Stein and Harry shared a song with a funky dance group that they had started sketching as early as 1974.


BLONDIE: (Singing) Once I had a love, and it was a gas. Soon turned out to be a thing of the past.

MCCABE: There have been a couple of versions since then, but bringing in a Roland drum machine gave it an entirely different vibe.


MCCABE: Tucked away on the B-side of the 1978 album, "Parallel Lines," "Heart Of Glass" became Blondie's first American No. 1 hit. Despite some pushback from the anti-disco crowd, Blondie became a global sensation, with plenty of fans back home.


BLONDIE: (Singing) Had a heart of glass.

MCCABE: Gretchen Green was in the midst of a divorce when she and her daughter moved from the suburbs to a sprawling loft around the corner from CBGB.

GRETCHEN GREEN: There was a lot of lawlessness - a lot of stolen cars that were burned on East First Street. You would see cars going the wrong way up Second Avenue.

MCCABE: Green says they had very little furniture, but they had skates, a scooter and a turntable, so they made do.

GREEN: We put on Blondie, and we would just carry on like we were at a roller skating rink.


MCCABE: Blondie put out three more albums by 1982. One of the band's most iconic songs was 1980's "Rapture," a sci-fi riff on a new sound just starting to bubble up to the surface.


BLONDIE: (Rapping) Well, now you see what you wanna be. Just have your party on TV. 'Cause the man from Mars won't eat up bars where the TV's on. Now he's gone back up to space, where he won't have a hassle with the human race. And you hip-hop, and you don't stop.

MCCABE: The music video was a downtown street scene featuring Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones and Basquiat, and they did the punk rock, too. For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.


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