The Smithsonian Channel has got its groove on this March with some great music documentaries. This Friday, March 21 (10 p.m. ET/PT) is the premier of Blondie’s New York, featuring the pioneering New Wave band. The program focuses on their breakthrough album, Parallel Lines, and the band’s transition from underground punk recording artists to punk/rock/pop superstars. Featuring interviews with all the band members and the influential album producer Mike Chapman, Blondie’s New York takes each song, track by track, and shows not only how it was created, but the collaborative process behind them.
The band members of Blondie include:
Deborah “Debbie” Harry on vocals
Chris Stein on guitar, 12-string guitar, E-bow
Clem Burke on drums
Jimmy Destri on electronic keyboards
Nigel Harrison on bass guitar
Frank Infante on guitar
Lead singer Debbie Harry was a triple threat — a brilliant lyricist, great singer, and beautiful girl who became a fashion icon. She and partner and Chris Stein were at the height of their romance while making Parallel Lines, which is reflected in songs like “Picture This” and “Pretty Baby.” Not only do viewers get to hear the stories behind these songs from the creators, but get a tour of the downtown New York punk scene which spawned the group. Clubs like CBGB were a training ground for the group, who were finding some local success, but nothing like what was to come.
Chrysalis records executive Terry Ellis, after catching one of Blondie’s downtown gigs, bought out their their current recording contract and paired them with producer Mike Chapman, whose attention to detail and relentless perfectionism helped craft Parallel Lines and pushed the band to experiment with new sounds like the disco dance beat that dominates “Heart of Glass.” As Harry recalled in The Guardian,
” … in 1978, we got this producer, Mike Chapman, who asked us to play all the songs we had. At the end, he said: “Have you got anything else?” We sheepishly said: “Well, there is this old one.” He liked it – he thought it was very pretty and started to pull it into focus. The boys in the band had got their hands on a new toy: this little Roland drum machine. One day, we were fiddling around with it and Chapman said: “That’s a great sound.” So we used it.
Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerized sound. …”
Narrated by Kim Cattrall, Blondie’s New York features some great music and even greater interviews with Harry, Stein, and the rest of the band. Blondie fans will want to dig out their old CDs and vinyl and listen once again to some great songs from Parallel Lines, like “Hanging on the Telephone” and “One Way or Another.”
The Smithsonian Channel also has two other music-themed specials which have already aired. Amy Winehouse: One Shining Night follows the late singer on a visit to the Irish fishing village of Dingle, where she performed some of her biggest hits in a small 200 year-old church to the locals. The intimate performance captures Winehouse at the top of her form, shortly after the release of her 2006 awarding-winning album Back to Black. The film features excerpts from an interview with the singer, who talks about her passion for music and her influences, like soul singer Carleen Anderson, Thelonius Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Sarah Vaughan. Winehouse also was influenced by ’60s girl groups like the Ronettes and the Shangri Las.
It is wonderful to hear the singer talking about her work and do what she does best — sing — in Amy Winehouse: One Shining Night, but it is also bittersweet, as one can’t help but wonder what other wonderful work we will miss out on from a woman who died too young, at the age of 27. But fans of her wonderful jazz-inspired vocals will really enjoy these renditions of “Back to Black,” “You Know I’m No Good,” “Love Is a Losing Game” and other songs. A third music documentary, Rocking the Opera House: Dr. John can also be viewed. The Smithsonian Channel is rocking out!