"Once I had a love, and it was a gas," "Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass" (Blondie, Heart of Glass)
I saw a man breakdown on the Underground last week. Not on his train, as happens daily. And not one of those feeling-faint episodes that are a bit of an embarrassment after drinking too much the night before. No, this was a full-on heart-wrenching, emotional-outpouring of a breakdown.
In my experience only a death or a woman can do that to a man, or maybe both. I hoped it was the latter. Especially as I carefully observed him getting out of his seat to wait by the doors, still sobbing, not really having any idea where he was. It’s an unfortunate truism that if one were to find oneself in that situation on the Underground, one is literally only 3 minutes from the next quick and presumably painless suicide opportunity. Or maybe 6 if you’re on the District Line. So I was concerned about this chap.
But he gathered himself moments later. Breathed in deeply, and again, then gave a resigned smile. He wiped his face, straightened his headphones and got off the train, presumably back to, or away from the source of the pain, or the solution.
I got home that evening and for no apparent reason other than I’d recently bought the record, I put on Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines‘. If you ever wonder why Blondie are as big a name as they are and can’t quite put your finger what made them so remarkable, listen to this album.
It’s an absolute zinger of a pop album. It has it all – chest-filling energy; soul-lifting passion; guitars and bass to dazzle the ear and rock the globe; and of course, Debbie Harry’s exceptional vocal and raunch brining it all together.
Obviously ‘Heart of Glass‘ and ‘One Way or Another‘ stand out as the classics purely through the extent to which they’ve been played since. But the album as a whole is nothing short of a masterclass in composing and producing some of the best pop tracks that have ever been put together and evidence why the bygone format of a full album was so, so powerful.
It is rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and dramatic. Boy, is it dramatic! Who knew Blondie told such great stories. Or rather, could tell the same story in such beautifully varied, witty and lyrical expressions. Because it’s essentially an album of serenely musical love songs. ‘Picture This’s‘ falsely assuring chord pattern; the classic bassline of ‘Pretty Baby‘ pumping your feet and your heart the whole way through; ‘Sunday Girl‘s’ soft melody perfectly capturing the song’s message. The discordance and reggae-esque ending of ‘Fade Away‘ keeps you on your toes and the angularity of ‘I Know But I Don’t Know‘ gives just the right jolt to what could otherwise be almost too pleasant an album. Which brings me back to feeling…
If you’re feeling in a slightly emotionally fragile state, as I imagine the man on the tube must have been, then beware – Parallel Lines will take you from heaven to hell, but possibly back again.
And that’s the whole point of music for me, particularly pop music; and there is no better example of this than Parallel Lines. I don’t know what it was that made the man on the tube breakdown in tears, or equally what gave him the strength to compose himself before going on his way, but I suspect I felt the briefest of trembles of all those waves of feeling pass through me as I listened to Debbie Harry ride flawlessly through Blondie’s ultimate album.
You may laugh, you may cry, but at the end of it, you’ll wish music today had even half an ounce of the emotion and brilliance of composition that Parallel Lines has.