Never underestimate the influence of an older sibling.
For a while, my older sister Victoria had an absolutely sterling track record in terms of music. We’d both been lucky enough to be largely weaned on stuff like the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Abba by our parents, so we were both drawn to classic pop. Shortly afterwards, though, while I immersed myself in slavish fandom for the pyromaniacal sturm & drang of KISS (and, for a while, virtually only KISS), my sister brought home a sting of crucial records like The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, A Night at the Opera by Queen, Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein by Parliament and many more. Sure, she played a lot of what I considered crap too, but the good usually outweighed the bad.
But of all the vinyl she introduced to the household, I believe the most important was Parallel Lines by Blondie in 1978.
We’d gotten our first taste of punk rock a year or so before, when our father — then stationed in London as a correspondent for Forbes Magazine — did us a (rare) solid and sent us a crate of records. Scattered amidst that heap of vinyl were Pure Mania by the Vibrators and the first Clash record (the British edition, no less). I still remember innocently dropping the needle on “Janie Jones” and watching a couple of my mom’s friends — over for a luncheon or something — grimace and recoil in horror. Ya gotta remember — it sounds quaint now, but when the world was used to Captain & Tenille and Styx, the blunt wallop of The Clash was quite a different experience.
If I’m being honest, at the time, we didn’t quite know what to make of those two LPs, and didn’t really appreciate them immediately beyond their novelty (obviously, I was shortly to change my tune on this point). Moreover, the distinctions between US Punk and UK Punk at the time were a complete mystery. Prior to the pop cultural saturation of today, all we knew was what we’d spy in record stores, hear on the radio, read about in magazines and occasionally see on variety shows on TV, this all being prior to the dawn of MTV, to say nothing of the internet.
So when Vick walked in the door with a copy of Parallel Lines by Blondie one afternoon, I had certain preconceptions. The vinyl purchased by my sister on the strength of their breakout hit “Heart of Glass,” I probably pooh-poohed the notion that this band boasted any kinship to the gleefully unpolished caterwaul of those albums we owned by the Clash and the Vibrators. “Heart of Glass” is a disco tune through and through, as catchy and infectious as any other. But the rest of the album, obviously, told a different story.
There would be later records that Victoria brought home that we agreed on -- like Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police, New Clear Days by The Vapors and the first B-52s album, but our tastes further divided after that. Parallel Lines was probably that last slab of vinyl that we were of the same mind about.
Thirty-someodd years later, no less than the Smithsonian is celebrating Parallel Lines with a little documentary about its origins, with a special nod to the city that gave birth to it. There are some dubious assertions later on in the progam (specifically those ... or any ... made by John Varvatos), but it's well worth a watch. Check it out here.
Meanwhile, as I'm wont to do, I spotted this fleeting shot included within the documentary -- probably taken by Roberta Baley. Can you name the atmospheric corner Debbie and the boys are loitering on? I have my suspicions, but what do you think?