On this day in 1979, Blondie had their first number one song with “Heart Of Glass,” which was from their third studio album, Parallel Lines. The song became a huge hit, with Rolling Stone later ranking it among its 500 greatest songs of all time. Slant magazine named it number 42 on their list of the greatest dance songs list, and Pitchfork said it was the 18th best song of the 1970s.
Despite its immense success, “Heart Of Glass” was not without controversy when it was released. Being immersed in New York’s new wave and punk scenes, fans did not take too kindly to Blondie releasing a disco song.
According to Debbie Harry, “People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we’d covered ‘Lady Marmalade’ and ‘I Feel Love’ at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for ‘going disco’ … Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said: ‘I guess I’ll have to.'”
Of the decision to use both a drum machine and Burke’s acoustic kit in the song, songwriter/guitarist Chris Stein said, “It was Jimmy [Destri, keyboardist] who brought in the drum machine and a synthesizer. Synchronizing them was a big deal at the time. It all had to be done manually, with every note and beat played in real time rather than looped over. And on old disco tracks, the bass drum was always recorded separately, so Clem had to pound away on a foot-pedal for three hours until they got a take they were happy with.”
Burke joined Blondie in 1975 and was with them throughout the band’s career, with a style influenced by drummers like Hal Blaine, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, and Earl Palmer. Some say Burke was what kept the group from imploding throughout the earlier years, and that he acted as not only the backbone but the glue that held them together.
For fun, here’s a live version of the song, recorded at Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special.