15 Years Ago: Blondie Release ‘No Exit’
When Blondie broke up in 1982, it seemed like the end for the former darlings of the New York punk/New Wave underground, who’d enjoyed a torrid string of pop hits during the late-’70s and early-’80s. As it turned out, they just needed a 15-year break.
Unlike a lot of the era’s defunct acts, Blondie never really left the public consciousness, in part because singer Deborah Harry managed to carve out a fairly successful solo career while scoring parts in a series of films. But more importantly, the band’s influence — and Harry’s in particular — grew exponentially in the years after their breakup, with a burgeoning group of image-conscious pop and rock acts (including Madonna and No Doubt) blending pop, rock, and New Wave in similarly savvy fashion.
“In a way, we never really finished our mission,” Harry told the Associated Press in 2012. “But I think getting back together and writing new music was a really good thing for us.”
Before they could reach that point, however, Blondie’s former members had to find their way back together — a particularly messy proposition, considering that the band was not only responsible for forging musical partnerships, but the long romantic relationship between Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, which ended in 1989. While Harry and Stein continued to work together, with Stein contributing to all of Harry’s solo records, things were a little more complicated when it came to some of the other ex-Blondies.
In 1997, the original Blondie lineup reconvened for a series of live dates, provoking a lawsuit from former members Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who’d been present for the band’s best-selling albums. While they weren’t able to prevent the reunion, Harrison and Infante did succeed in earning lasting wrath from Harry, who later told the AP, “There was no excuse for them suing us. That ended it.”
By the end of the year, original bassist Gary Valentine was out of the band again, and Blondie returned to the studio as a four-piece, with Harry and Stein joined by drummer Clem Burke and keyboard player Jimmy Destri. The fruits of the band’s labor, dubbed ‘No Exit,’ were released Feb. 23, 1999 — and although Blondie hadn’t released a note of new music since 1982’s underwhelming ‘The Hunter,’ fans welcomed them back with open arms, sending the record to No. 18 on the U.S. Billboard charts (and No. 3 in the U.K.). For the band members, it added a note of redemption to a story that once seemed destined to end with acrimony.
“Close personal relationships are hard,” mused Harry in a 2003 interview with Uncut. “We get along a lot better now, and Chris is my favorite person in the world and I adore him. Back then…I think we exploded and imploded simultaneously somehow. It was a very dark period for us. We wound up with no record contract, no manager, and we all had tax problems up the wazoo. It was just this big morass of serious, very adult problems. All of a sudden we were standing there legless.”
“It was a madhouse,” she recalled of the group’s early-’80s split during a 1993 interview with Q. “We didn’t take any vacations and that was the big mistake. Whenever we read bad reviews, we’d have these tremendous fist fights and everybody would be really freaked out and pissed off with everybody else for being jerks. It was like punching up your brothers, a family feud thing.”
Feuding behind them, Blondie re-emerged triumphant with ‘No Exit,’ scoring a worldwide hit with the record’s first single, ‘Maria,’ and returning to the road for a lengthy comeback tour that kicked off an era of renewed creative vitality for the band. Since releasing ‘No Exit,’ they’ve remained active, following that record up with ‘The Curse of Blondie’ (2003) and ‘Panic of Girls’ (2011), with a 10th studio album, ‘Ghosts of Download,’ scheduled for 2014.
“We’re part of the future as well as the past,” Harry pointed out in 2013. “Making new music is really, really important for me and for the rest of the band. When we first got back together in 1997, one of the stipulations I had was that it not be just a revue of Blondie’s greatest hits. I really felt convinced of and dedicated to the idea that we had to move ahead and do new music.”