The platinum brilliance of Debbie Harry


Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie, performs in Santa Barbara, Calif., July 2017. It's been more than 40 years since Blondie first appeared on the New York punk rock scene, but when she sings, it's the 1970s all over again.

CBS News

"Call Me" was a big hit for the group Blondie and lead singer Debbie Harry back in 1980. She's still calling the shots in her band, and with our Tracy Smith this morning she offers a SUMMER SONG:

It's been more than 40 years since Blondie first appeared on the New York punk rock scene. But when Debbie Harry sings, it's 1979 all over again.

To hear Blondie perform "One Way or Another" click on the video player below.

Blondie - One Way Or Another - 7/7/1979 - Convention Hall (Official) by Blondie on MV on YouTube

She's the voice, and the face, of a band whose name was inspired by a New York City catcall. ("Hey, Blondie!")

"I like that you took that and made it yours, and the band's," said Smith.

"It seemed pretty obvious," Harry said. "I felt that it was something so deeply embedded in everyone's consciousness, that it was a no-brainer."

Since then, the band has sold more than 40 million records -- and Debbie Harry has become one of pop music's best known, and best loved, voices.

Born in Miami and adopted as a baby, Deborah Ann Harry grew up in middle-class New Jersey. "I came from fairly conservative, small-town kind of upbringing. And I guess I wanted out."

And she got out. She moved to New York and was singing with a small club act when she met guitarist Chris Stein, with whom she co-founded Blondie in 1974.

"I just thought Debbie was really great. That was pretty much it," Stein said. "I liked to think I saw what everybody else saw later on. But it was a little more focused maybe at that point."

Focused, indeed. Stein, a renowned photographer, saw Harry both as an object of affection, and an irresistible subject.

The band became a mainstay of the New York punk scene, and regulars at CBGB, the famed music club on a seedy block of New York's Lower East Side. The site of CBGB is now an upscale clothing store.

"It was a lot of decay and there were, you know, massive garbage strikes," Harry recalled of New York City in the '70s. "It was fun."

"It was kind of nasty and kind of fun," said Smith.

"Yeah. I think, you know, when everything is not so precious and so valuable, people get a lot more creative and enjoy life a little bit, 'cause they really have to."

In those days, Blondie was big overseas, but didn't have a major hit in the U.S. Then came 1978, and the album "Parallel Lines." "Heart of Glass," co-written by Harry, became one of the biggest records of the year.

To hear Blondie perform "Heart of Glass," click on the video player below.

Blondie - Heart Of Glass by BlondieVEVO on YouTube

For Debbie Harry, the years that followed were a whirlwind of writing, recording, performing, and not much else.

Smith asked, "You don't have kids of your own. Was that a deliberate decision, or was it a timing thing?"

"Both," Harry replied. "We worked for, like, seven years, pretty much, without stopping. And that's really what took its toll." 

Blondie's Chris Stein and Debbie Harry. CBS News

And in 1982, everything seemed to fall apart: the group broke up, and Chris Stein developed a debilitating auto-immune disorder.

"I was really worn out," Stein said. "But the drugs really exacerbated everything, I always think."

How bad was it? "Blisters and blood all over your skin. I was a little messed up. And I was in a hospital for three months up at Lenox Hill. I missed a whole winter."

It got ugly, but Harry stayed with him through it all.

She went, Stein said, "above and beyond the call of duty."

Stein recovered -- and so did the band. Blondie re-formed in 1997, and they've been together (more or less) ever since.

Debbie Harry's influence can still be felt, and heard. In 2013, British pop group One Direction borrowed a Blondie classic for the charity Comic Relief.

One Direction - One Way Or Another (Teenage Kicks) by OneDirectionVEVO on YouTube

And a Chris Stein photo of Debbie was the inspiration for Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn outfit in 2016's "Suicide Squad." "She looked better than I did," Harry said. "And I didn't like that!"

"No, that's not true," said Smith.

"Well, her butt looked better."

Truth is, at 72, Debbie Harry still has a look people imitate. And she never stopped writing songs, often with former boyfriend Chris Stein.

Smith asked them, "How do you think it is that you've managed to remain band mates and, really, friends?"

Harry replied, "Greed!"

Whatever the motivation, Blondie continues to inspire. Last month, the artist Shepard Fairey created a tribute to the band on a New York City wall.

But her legacy isn't the only thing on Debbie Harry's mind these days; she's become an advocate for bees, sounding the alarm about declining bee populations and their importance in food production.

Blondie's latest album is called "Pollinator," and Harry often shows up in bee-themed headgear on tour, and for our interview.

Noble ID

She told Smith, "I get a lot of people writing and saying, 'Oh, my dad was a beekeeper. I'm a beekeeper.' And there are a lot of beekeepers. But there are problems with diseases, and having successful hives, and problems in the environment, the demise of our precious environment."

Debbie Harry is well aware of her influence on music and culture today. She also knows that there are things she can't control.

Like aging. "It's horrible!" she said. "Your head is the same. I'm still, like, 25, in my head. But I hesitate to dress like a 25-year-old."

"Do you still feel 25?"

"In my head, yeah. I'm fortunate. I've always been blessed with good health. So I can't complain about that, really. Can't really complain. I do, but I shouldn't!"

We're not complaining, either. You might say Debbie Harry's a bit like that Shepard Fairey mural: larger than life, and forever young.

To hear Blondie perform "Long Time," from the album "Pollinator," click on the video player below.

Blondie - Long Time (Official Video) by BlondieVEVO on YouTube

For more info:

You can stream Blondie's latest album, "Pollinator," by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear full tracks):