That Time Debbie Harry Almost Recorded a Disco Remix of the National Anthem

By
Photography Barry McKinley

Published November 5, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our 1979 cover story with Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie and Interview‘s favorite bad bitch.

The American National Anthem is not, by any means, what anyone would consider a banger. (And no, we don’t mean Lana Del Rey‘s “National Anthem.”) It’s never going to be on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, or win the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, but it once had the potential to. There is an alternative reality where a disco version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” exists, sung by the one and only Debbie Harry of Blondie. The idea of our nation’s anthem refracted through a disco ball may seem a bit disjointed, yet imagine the possibilities. There’s a lot of untapped potential for a song over 100 years old with many, many covers, but few remixes.

It may sound like an impossible feat to get people bumping to a tune that some of our greatest performers cannot master. But Harry is no stranger to maneuvering boundaries (or dancing the night away at Studio 54), whether it’s by creating genre crossovers like “Call Me” or swerving from folk-rock to punk to New Wave and beyond. By 1979, Blondie dominated the charts as Harry cornered the box office, thus landing her on the cover of Interview’s June issue to promote her new movie Union City. During her interview with Glenn O’Brien in the Blondie recording studio, Harry’s daring musical vision for our nation revealed itself:

GLENN O’BRIEN: Do you think there’s a mystical element in rock and roll? 

DEBBIE HARRY: There is. It has to exist. It must be there.

O’BRIEN: Have you seen it lately?

HARRY: I don’t know. Have you?

O’BRIEN: I don’t know. Maybe Chris [Stein] has.

HARRY: I think, actually, that rock and roll is a misconception. It should no longer be a term for music.

O’BRIEN: I should have said music.

HARRY: In music the mystical element is definitely there all the time, and one can see it. When it comes to rock and roll, when it comes to any kind of industry, it’s not there. It’s not there. So it’s a battle between the two. Music. Industry. But yet one exists off the other. It’s really weird. Really weird. It’s much the same process as what’s happening now all over the world, this … devolution, I guess. I don’t want Devo to think I’m ripping them off but …

O’BRIEN: Actually devolution is one of the big words in The New York Times’s political pages …

HARRY: The planet is eating itself; everyone’s eating themselves out. It’s like burnout time.

[A loud, distorted electrical guitar. “America the Beautiful” comes from the studio.]

O’BRIEN: It said in People that you were thinking of doing a disco version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

HARRY: It could be a huge hit.

O’BRIEN: Bigger than “Join the Navy?” Didn’t Jimi Hendrix record “The Star-Spangled Banner?”

HARRY: Yeah, it was on the Woodstock album.

O’BRIEN: Did they ask you to play at the new Woodstock?

HARRY: Of course not.

O’BRIEN: I was thinking that this should be the Summer of Lust.

HARRY: Yeah, let’s have a lust-in.

Unfortunately for the masses, Harry never actually recorded her version of the song. Perhaps she had meant the whole thing as a joke to prank the ‘79 readers of People. That following October, Blondie released their fourth studio album Eat to the Beat, going platinum in the US and UK. For the next three years, the band would release hit after hit, reaching the top of the charts, before their 25-year hiatus. Luckily, we get to still enjoy Blondie today with the band currently touring and Harry’s new memoir. It’s never too late.