Most of the great records we’ve encountered on Popular find modern-day imitators – but often these imitators aren’t bands I choose to listen to. If a thrusting young beat combo wants to make their own version of “Hot Love” then they have excellent taste, and I wish them every joy of it, but I’ll just sit that one out, ta. “Heart Of Glass”, though – and the rest of Blondie’s hits – are a blueprint for a lot of the pop records I’ve enjoyed most this decade: Ellis-Bextor, Annie, Richard X, Girls Aloud would all murder to have this in their back catalogue (by some kind of marrying-your-grandmother time paradox).
It was ever thus: when I started reading the music press, Melody Maker’s Chris Roberts was in a great lather over his pet “blonde” movement, and the figleaf of a dropped “i” spared nobody’s blushes. Debbie Harry’s distanced “oo-ooh-aa-aah” post-chorus hook ancestors shoegaze vocal tics as much as her unblinking hauteur births modern robopop. Blondie, in other words, have never not been cool – well, almost never.
This has an odd effect on “Heart Of Glass” itself, in that its status as a pop Rosetta Stone rubs uneasily against its sublime diffidence. Debbie Harry’s coos and sighs aren’t especially regretful, and she mumbles most of the words: fine, I’ll sing about this guy, but seriously, he wasn’t a big deal. “Pain in the ass” gets it right. As the video suggests, the record is a knowing trifle – new wavers go disco with more than half an eyebrow raised – which happened to hit a mood so perfectly that it became immortal. That isn’t entirely Harry’s doing – just listen to that gorgeously restrained pop-and-click intro for how well-made “Heart Of Glass” is – but she’s what makes this track so iconic. The fleeting anomie of the pleasure-seeking clubhound, as captured by Bryan Ferry earlier in the 70s, but discofied, feminised, futurised – and near thirty years later still cryptic and still resonant.