The cover of the new “Blondie 4(0) Ever” album — a painting by Andy Warhol of lead singer Debbie Harry — sums up the band’s iconic appeal.
Yet time hasn’t exactly stopped for Harry, who can’t quite believe she’s still out there with the seminal New Wave group, decades after Blondie went from being a New York club act to a household name.
“It’s kind of amazing — I don’t know if anybody really believes it, least of all ourselves,” says Harry, who kicks off her summer tour with Blondie 8 p.m. Saturday, May 24, at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City. “Wow, who knew? I don’t think any of us could have predicted anything like that.”
To celebrate its milestone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers released the 40th anniversary two-CD package (NOBLE ID/ESMG). “Ghosts of Download” features a collection of brand-new material, while “Deluxe Redux” offers re-recordings of Blondie’s biggest hits, including “Call Me,” “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture.”
“Most of the times, our albums are evolutionary,” Harry says. “We thought about doing a concept album in the past, but we never seemed to have enough time to put it together. This one just evolved.”
The North Jersey native credits the songwriting talents of co-founder and guitarist — and former boyfriend — Chris Stein and keyboardist Jimmy Destri with helping keep Blondie from becoming a nostalgia act.
The highly stylized band enjoyed its biggest period of commercial success in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and then took a 15-year break before re-forming in the late-’90s when it scored the comeback hit “Maria.”
The new songs on “Ghosts of Download” have a club-like vibe to them but are still recognizable as Blondie. According to Harry, this ability to reflect the moment has been key to the band’s viability.
“Fortunately, the music was commercial enough, but interesting enough to keep the business end going,” Harry says. “There are some times when the label people would say, ‘Why don’t you do another “Heart of Glass?”’ We were really lucky that Chris and Jimmy were writing such great songs.
“We didn’t have to do that — we had new material. I think that’s what shows in this latest album. We really have some great music. There’s always a little nuance in there that’s typical of Blondie’s approach.”
Revisiting the catalog in a studio setting allowed Blondie to have a second digital chance with its analog past.
“We had the opportunity to do it and take a fresh look at them, and celebrating that fact that it’s been 40 years,” Harry says. “We went back and tried to do the songs as they were originally intended. It was a good experience to do that. Some of those old tracks we haven’t heard for a while. When you consider they were done analog and how painstaking it was, it’s kind of amazing.”
Having started a solo career and ventured into acting, Harry was dubious when Stein first approached her about reuniting as Blondie.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, you must be crazy,’” she says. “He said if we didn’t do it at that point, we probably never would. It wasn’t easy to put it all back together. We did a couple of different lineups. We reunited with everybody from the last version of Blondie and eventually worked it out to what we’ve got now. Keep on trucking, as they used to say.”
With new music in the can and a tour of Europe and Canada in the offing, Harry says she and the band are ready for their next 15 minutes.
“It’s a great experience,” she says. “I can’t believe that it’s played out this way. You just never know.
“When we were coming up in the clubs, there were so many bands that were really great and really interesting and never made it through. You have to really stick to it to make it happen. There’s a lot of ups and downs. Somehow or another, we managed to ride the storm.”
Blondie frontwoman goes from fan to icon and back again
Debbie Harry, left, confesses to being a bit star struck when she first hit the New York scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s. As a waitress at Max’s Kansas City, a famous hangout for artists and musicians, she met Janis Joplin, Steve Winwood, Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix.
“Anybody that I saw or talked to, my little heart would beat faster,” she recalls.
On one particularly memorable occasion, she found herself stuck in an elevator with Hendrix.
“He was soft spoken and quiet at the time — he seemed kind of shy, perhaps even shyer than I was,” Harry says.
In the decades since, the tables have turned, with Harry getting the adulation — including one guy heading to prison who sent her his ponytail. But she still has her own “fan” moments and looks forward to meeting people whose work she admires.
Among the recent such encounters are ones at the Coachella festival with Shepard Fairey, famous for the Obama “Hope” poster, and the band Arcade Fire.
“It just keeps going around,” Harry says.