In some odd way, Blondie’s catalog has taken on the eclectic, chaotic flavor of the band itself. When compact discs superseded vinyl records, it was shocking that Blondie, a group that was wildly popular during its 1976-82 recording career with hits all over the globe, had to wait so long to see its music repackaged for CD. Initially, Europe saw more and better releases, while America waited for something as simple as compact disc reissues of the band’s original albums; for several years, 1981’s bare-bones Best of Blondie and a badly mixed version of 1978’s Parallel Lines were all you could find. Starting in the mid ‘90s, however, a slew of compilations started to hit the market (the band’s original albums were finally released on CD in America in 2001). These Blondie compilations are now so ubiquitous that the motto could be “Another day, another Blondie compilation”. The problem that has plagued these many releases is that they’ve been sloppily assembled with no ruling concept in mind. There are compilations mixing hits with rarities, ones that try to cover Debbie Harry’s solo career in addition to her former band’s hits, remix collections, historic overviews that include inferior songs, and singles packages that casual fans would find too exhaustive. The 2002 release of Greatest Hits finally collected Blondie’s major songs on a single disc, making for decent one-stop shopping for casual fans even if it had a few flaws.
Although it’s only been four years since the release of Greatest Hits, another overview of Blondie’s career is hitting shelves. Probable reasons for the timing of Greatest Hits: Sound & Vision include the band’s recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the success of the “Rapture Riders” mash-up that pairs Blondie’s “Rapture” with the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”. The track listing of Sound & Vision is quite similar to that of the 2002 package, with the biggest differences being the inclusion of a dance-oriented remix of “In the Flesh” (although it sure sounds like a newly recorded, inferior vocal) in place of the original, and three tracks that were released after 2002: “Good Boys” (also in a remix), “End to End”, and “Rapture Riders”. The real selling point is the accompanying DVD, which includes 55 minutes of Blondie videos. As for the musical portion, though, all the big hits are here, and the non-chronological sequencing, while not the best way to hear the band’s progression, creates an amazing display of pop power on the first six tracks—“Heart of Glass”, “Sunday Girl”, “Atomic”, “Call Me”, “The Tide Is High”, and “Rapture”. Listening to all these songs in a row provides a reminder of what a great band Blondie was in its heyday, blessed with well-constructed songs, powerful vocals, concise playing, and great production (mostly by Mike Chapman). These tracks and a few others found on the new compilation appeared on Best of Blondie in 1981, but Sound & Vision improves upon coverage of the band’s 1976-1981 period by including “Denis”, “Picture This”, and “Fade Away and Radiate”, which weren’t huge hits in America, but are strong tracks that further prove Blondie’s pop prowess. Regrettably, the classic “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear” and debut single “X Offender” were omitted from this collection, although they appear on European versions.
As with any anthology, longtime fans will disagree with some of the choices the compilers have made, and here the preference given to the remixes of “In the Flesh” and “Good Boys” and the single version of “Heart of Glass” (on which the great “pain in the ass” lyric is cut) is sure to be contentious. Most likely, the remixes are intended to tempt fans that already have the older tunes into purchasing yet another CD just to get a few alternate versions. Although choosing these mixes over the originals is little more than a marketing ploy, in truth the remixes aren’t half bad. If you don’t have anything by Blondie and are looking for a simple introduction to the hits, however, the 2002 collection would probably still be the best choice, unless you’re interested in the companion DVD.
This isn’t the first collection of Blondie’s videos: A videocassette compilation, Best of Blondie, was released concurrently with the 1981 album of the same name, and the DVD Greatest Video Hits was released in 2002, the same year as the Greatest Hits CD. The nice thing about Sound & Vision is getting the music and videos in one lower-priced package. The new video collection differs somewhat from the 2002 version; while Greatest Video Hits was simply a DVD reissue of the Best of Blondie videocassette release with clips for “The Hardest Part”, “Island of Lost Souls”, and “Maria” tacked on, the Sound & Vision DVD, like the accompanying CD, omits “X Offender” and “Presence Dear” and adds the newer videos for “Good Boys” and “Rapture Riders”. The new DVD also presents the videos without the silly cab driver sequences that linked the clips on Best of Blondie and Greatest Video Hits. Sound & Vision also trades the original video for “The Tide Is High” for the montage shown on MTV and VH1. The “real” video, which features a Darth Vader-like creature as Debbie Harry’s love interest, was amazingly low-budget and silly, considering that the band was at its commercial peak at the time it was made, but at least it was fun and had a concept, unlike the version included here. A few of Blondie’s videos are fun conceptual pieces (“Atomic” and “Rapture” are the standouts), but most of them are not terribly innovative, even though the group helped usher in the video era by creating a full-length video album for 1979’s Eat to the Beat. Most of the band’s videos are merely performance clips focusing on Debbie Harry, which is somewhat understandable since she remains one of the most beautiful singers to ever lead a rock band. Even when the concept is lacking, Harry’s angelic face and kooky new-wave fashions provide something worth seeing.
Hardcore Blondie fans will likely consider Sound & Vision just another in the long line of hastily assembled hits packages, while uninitiated listeners looking for a basic introduction to the hits probably won’t be attracted to the DVD. The ideal audience for Sound & Vision, then, lies in a strange no man’s land—a casual enough fan to find the CD’s omissions and substitutions excusable, yet interested enough in the band to want videos. Now that casual Blondie fans have a decent choice between the 2002 and 2006 packages of music and videos, Capitol should concern itself with fulfilling more serious fans’ wishes for reissues of the out-of-print Eat to the Beat and 1983 Blondie Live videos.
// Notes from the Road
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