The Story of Blondie’s First Single, ‘X Offender’
In the mid-'70s, New York City clubs CBGB and Max's Kansas City helped launch the careers of punk and new wave artists Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Talking Heads. Blondie was one of the best, fronted by stunning lead singer Debbie Harry. The group was signed by Private Stock Records and released "X Offender" on June 17, 1976, the first single from the band's debut album, Blondie. Written by Harry and bassist Gary Valentine, the song was originally titled "Sex Offender" and was the tale of an 18-year-old boy arrested for having sex with his underage girlfriend.
"It just came to me one night at Max's," Valentine told Billboard. "I was just sitting there and the melody got into my head so I rushed back to our Blondie loft and picked up a guitar and got it down that night." Harry was sold as soon as she heard it. "She said, 'OK, I'll come up with some lyrics.'"
Harry rewrote the lyrics of "Sex Offender" into a story of a prostitute infatuated with the cop who busted her. "That's the song that got the record deal," said Valentine. "That was sort of our signature then. We closed the shows with it."
Enter producer Richard Gotterher, who co-wrote "My Boyfriend's Back," a hit for the '60s girl group the Angels. The tune opens with an attitude-rich spoken intro: "He went away and you hung around / And bothered me every night / And when I wouldn't go out with you / You said things that weren't very nice."
Harry mines the same territory on "X Offender": "I saw you standing on the corner, you looked so big and fine / I really wanted to go out with you, so when you smiled / I laid my heart on the line."
"That was a goof on Richie," Gotterher's co-producer, Craig Leon, told writer David Brazier. "They did a band called the Angels with a song called 'My Boyfriend's Back' and it's just a steal from that on a pre-sampling level. In those days you just stole the riff and had somebody play it. I think Debbie thought it up as a joke on Richie.
"We had a big debate whether it should be 'X Offender' or 'Sex Offender' on the record, and if it was 'Sex Offender' radio certainly wouldn't play it so maybe if it's 'X Offender' we'll get it through."
"But renaming the song turned out all right," Harry said in GQ. "It was the first of a big trend of things beginning with the letter X."
"I really like 'X Offender,'" drummer Clem Burke told Blondie.net in 2003. "It really means a lot to me because it was a song that opened up the door for the band in general and also showed the community we were involved in at the time, which was the whole CBGB New York underground, that we were able to make a record because when we went in and did 'X Offender,' it wasn't a facsimile of our live performance, it was set out to be done as a production."
"I love to sing about sex," Harry explained in the book Blondie: Parallel Lives. "It's the most popular thing, but I think that some of my twists in the theme are good. Like on 'X Offender,' the first thing that came out on the record that's about a legal thing actually is about how you define what a sex crime is. It's from the woman's point of view."
"X Offender" was strong enough to convince Gottehrer to produce the Blondie LP. Sales were mediocre, but Chrysalis Records signed Blondie and re-released the LP in 1977. "The concept of that first album was based on the personality Blondie brought to the subject matter," said Harry. "When you listen to the whole thing you notice a predominant theme of violence and gunfire. I don't think there's a song without a reference to someone getting shot, stabbed, degraded, or insulted. It's prime-time television on record."
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