You’d think that being both a Blondie fan and a Deborah (or Debbie, depending on which point in her career you’re talking about) Harry fan would be pretty easy. After all, Harry is the voice of the band. But it’s not quite as easy as you might think. Much like being a 10,000 Maniacs fan does not necessarily translate to being a fan of Natalie Merchant’s solo work, liking Blondie’s big hits doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to enjoy Debbie’s solo albums.
Every Debbie Harry solo album I’ve purchased I have almost immediately regretted. The exception to this was Def, Dumb & Blonde which I bought for $3.88 in the cut out bin at Camelot Music in Iowa City. For me, it is the high water mark in her solo material. But after that initial period of regret, I have grown to love pretty much all of them. The thing is, Harry’s solo work is not like her work with Blondie. While a handful of songs have the polished production of “Heart of Glass” and “The Tide Is High”, I feel like her solo albums are the places where Harry allowed herself to try on different styles of music. It makes it hard to get into if you’re expecting a Blondie album.
Probably one of the few Debbie Harry singles that really fits the Blondie mode is “French Kissin’.” It was the first Debbie Harry song that I remember outside of her work with Blondie, and honestly, at that point in my life, my knowledge of Blondie songs was pretty spotty. It was probably limited to “The Tide Is High” which I remember some kid on the bus trying to tell me was called “Silent Night” – as in “silent night and I’m holding on…” But “French Kissin'” has a fun pop sensibility about it and in the hands of just about anyone else, it would have surely been a Top 10 hit. For Harry, it petered out at #57.
Why was it not a hit in the US? Hard to say. I’ve always felt like her age at the time worked against her – she was 41 at the time of the release of “French Kissin’.” Not many female artists of her age were getting radio airplay at that time. I also felt like the record label didn’t really know how to market her – probably because her solo work was a bit off the beaten path. But it was solid dance-pop for the most part. Still, she’s never had a Top 40 solo hit, and for someone as musically influential as Harry, that seems like a shame.
I recall seeing the video for “French Kissin'” exactly once – when I was home sick from school one morning. So that’s how much play it got. But since then, it’s gotten a lot of play on my iPod, along with all of Debbie Harry’s solo work. And after seeing her with Blondie in 2011, she still has the voice even at nearly 70.