Blondie: Against the Odds 1974-1982 (UMe, 8 CDs). This first archive release of the beloved New York band, headed by vocalist/songwriter Debbie Harry and guitarist/concept creator Chris Stein, collects their first six albums, plus bonus tracks and two extra discs – one of early recordings and the other of home demos – resulting in 124 tracks, with 36 previously unreleased. All have been remastered from the original analog tapes and cut at Abbey Road Studios in London.

The original lineup also included powerhouse drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, bassist Gary Valentine, guitarist Frank Infante and bassist Nigel Harrison. Among their hits are the groundbreaking rock-disco hybrid “Heart of Glass” the equally influential hip-hop fantasia “Rapture,” the stalker-love song “One Way or Another” and the lilting calypso of “The Tide Is High.” Blondie pushed punk onto the dance floor and introduced a wider audience to hip-hop sounds, all the while building a catalogue of enduring hits. The band has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide to date and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

The set comes with two books. A 144-page one has extensive liner notes by Erin Osmon, as well as entertaining and informative track-by-track commentary by the band members, plus essays by producers Mike Chapman, Richard Gottehrer and Ken Shipley. The second is a 122-page illustrated discography. Both offer hundreds of period photographs.

The set includes their first six studio albums recorded for Chrysalis: “Blondie,” “Plastic Letters” “Parallel Lines,” “Eat to The Beat,” “Autoamerican” and “The Hunter.” These groundbreaking albums have been expanded to include more than four dozen demos (including the group’s first-ever recording session), alternate versions and studio outtakes, leading up to their 1982 disbanding. While Harry pursued a solo career, the band finally reformed in 1997, first as a five piece.

The “Blondie” album has highlights in “X Offender” (a prostitute falls for her arresting cop), “In the Flesh” (one of several songs throughout their career that shows the girls group influence, especially that of The Shangri-Las), the fun “In the Sun” and “A Shark in Jets Clothing” (influenced by “West Side Story,” showing how American culture influenced their songwriting over the years). There also is the stinging gossip song “Rip Her to Shreds,” the rocking “Kung Fu Girls” and the special effect sounds filled “The Attack of the Killer Ants.” There are eight bonus tracks, including the non-LP “Scenery.”

“Plastic Letters” has 13 songs but is the only Blondie album that does not do much for me. The eight bonus tracks include the recent single “Moonlight Drive,” which never made an album, but was a staple of their live shows.

Album three, “Parallel Lines,” has 12 songs, including the hits “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass.” “Fade Away and Radiate” is King Crimson influenced, while “Pretty Baby” is Motown-styled, and “Hanging on the Telephone” is a Nerves cover. They also cover The Hullaballoos’ “I’m Gonna Love You Too.” The five bonuses include another go at “Heart of Glass,” called “Once I Had a Love, and a French version of “Sunday Girl.”

“Eat to the Beat” has 12 tracks, including the hits “Dreaming,” “Union City Blues” and “Atomic” (from their disco-ish period), and six bonus tracks, including the smash hit “Call Me” from the film “American Gigolo.” “Call Me” was part of a collaboration with Giorgio Moroder (many disco era hits with Donna Summer). There also is a version here of “Call Me” with South American lyrics and called “Llamame.”

Another dozen songs were on the original “Autoamerican,” including the hits “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture” (actually one of the earliest rap hits, as Harry sings of a man from Mars eating cars and bars). There also is hard funk in “The Hardest Part,” a full orchestra for the mostly instrumental “Europa,” a disco beat to “Live It Up” and Satan portrayed as a disco guy in “Do the Dark.” It ends with a nice cover of “Follow Me” from the musical “Camelot.” The seven bonus tracks include two more done with Moroder, including a 10-minute disco version of “Rapture” and a version of “Angels on the Balcony” with a weak Destri vocal. Other bonuses are “The Tide Is High” with strings and the non-LP “Suzy & Jeffrey” story song.

“The Hunter,” the final album from the period, has 11 songs, including the bouncy Caribbean sounds of “Island of Lost Souls” (a nod to the 1932 film), their attempt at a James Bond theme in “For Your Eyes Only” (Sheena Easton did the actual, different film song) and “English Boys,” about John Lennon’s death. The sole bonus track is a Christmas rap, “Yuletide Throw Down.”

The first disc of initial recordings includes a cover of The Shangri-Las’ “Out in the Streets” and an early version of “Heart of Glass,” then known as “The Disco Song,” as well as its stripped-down version, “Once I Had a Love,” plus the basement recording “Sexy Ida” and “Platinum Blonde,” with its nice melody and lyrics. Disc eight’s nine home demos do not offer much. Grade: box set A

The cover of Ringo Starr’s new EP. Courtesy of UMe.

Ringo Starr: EP3 (UMe CD, 17 min.). The former Beatle continues to issue music full of optimism in his third EP release in 18 months. Two of the four songs are really good, starting with opener “World Go Round,” which says no one is alone and that “we all make the world go round.” It was co-written by Toto’s Steve Lukather, whose guitar playing is prominent on the track, and Joseph Williams, who plays keyboards and sings backup. The other standout is the closing, Latin-flavored “Free Your Soul,” the least forceful song of the quartet. Starr co-wrote it with Bruce Sugar; the pair also co-produced the EP. “Free Your Soul” features Dave Koz on tenor sax and Jose Antonio Rodriguez on nylon-string acoustic guitar.

“Everyone and Everything,” by Linda Perry, talks about how nice it would be to do good deeds without expecting anything back. Starr’s drumming stands out here. The other track is the self-explanatory “Let’s Be Friends,” which also features Lukather’s guitar. Grade: A-

3 Pairs of Boots: Mighty Love (Dark Country Music CD). This is the third album for California-based husband-and-wife duo of Andrew Stern and Laura Arias. They play an Americana-leaning blend of folk, rock, and country. At times, like on the title track, they recall The Byrds, one of their influences, along with Fleetwood Mac, Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Among their many instruments here are keyboards, B3 organ, horns, strings, banjo, and a Rhodes piano. Friend and lyric poet Wren Winfield co-wrote three songs with Stern. The musicians include former Ringo Starr drummer Randy Cooke and Nashville keys player Dave Cohen, the 2018 Music Row Musician of the Year.

Several of the songs are very bright, including “Leap of Faith,” “Day Break” and the uplifting “Evensong.” The single “Sweet Spot” has a nice, happy sound, with touches of accordion and banjo. They use a string quartet on their cover of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting.”

Two songs are of a historical nature. “Just Call Him Love” tells the story of Nat Love, who was born a slave but became a world-famous Black rodeo champion. “Labor Day” is based on the shipyard labor riots that occurred up and down the West Coast in the 1930s, before the dock workers were unionized. Grade: A-

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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