Published on July 15, 2016
“Heart of Glass” is a song by the American new wave band Blondie, written by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. Featured on the band’s third studio album, Parallel Lines (1978), it was released as the album’s third single in January 1979 and reached number one on the charts in several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
In December 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song number 255 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It was ranked at number 259 when the list was updated in April 2010. Slant Magazine placed it at number 42 on their list of the greatest dance songs of all time.
Currently, “Heart of Glass” is ranked at number 56 in the UK’s official list of biggest selling singles of all-time with sales of 1.3 million copies.
French music producer and DJ Bob Sinclar and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen recorded a cover version of “Heart of Glass” in 2014 that became an international European hit. The song is a charity single for the H&M 2014 campaign. The royalties from Gisele’s single are for raising funds for UNICEF.
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein wrote an early version of “Heart of Glass”, called “Once I Had a Love”, in 1974–75. This earlier version was initially recorded as a demo in 1975. The song had a slower, funkier sound with a basic disco beat. For this reason the band referred to it as “The Disco Song”. The song was re-recorded in a second demo with the same title in 1978, when the song was made a bit more pop-oriented. Harry said that “‘Heart of Glass’ was one of the first songs Blondie wrote, but it was years before we recorded it properly. We’d tried it as a ballad, as reggae, but it never quite worked”, and that “the lyrics weren’t about anyone. They were just a plaintive moan about lost love.” It was only when the band met with producer Mike Chapman to start work on Parallel Lines that Harry recalled Chapman “asked us to play all the songs we had. At the end, he said: ‘Have you got anything else?’ We sheepishly said: ‘Well, there is this old one.’ He liked it – he thought it was fascinating and started to pull it into focus.”
Exactly who decided to give the song a more pronounced disco vibe is subject to differing recollections. On some occasions, the producer Mike Chapman has stated that he convinced Harry and Stein to give the song a disco twist. On other occasions, Chapman has credited Harry with the idea. As a band, Blondie had experimented with disco before, both in the predecessors to “Heart of Glass” and in live cover songs that the band played at shows. Bassist Gary Valentine noted that the set list for early Blondie shows often included disco hits such as “Honey Bee” or “My Imagination”.
In an interview published in the February 4, 1978 edition of NME, Debbie Harry expressed her affinity for the Euro disco music of Giorgio Moroder, stating that “It’s commercial, but it’s good, it says something… that’s the kind of stuff that I want to do”. A notable example of this type of musical experimentation occurred when Blondie covered Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” at the Blitz Benefit on May 7, 1978. In his history of CBGB, music writer Roman Kozak described this event: “When Blondie played for the Johnny Blitz benefit in May, 1978, they surprised everyone with a rendition of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. It was arguably the first time in New York, in the middle of the great rock versus disco split, that a rock band had played a disco song. Blondie went on to record ‘Heart of Glass,’ other groups recorded other danceable songs, and dance rock was born.”
The song was ultimately given the disco orientation that made the song one of the best-known Blondie recordings. For the single release the track was remixed by Chapman, with the double-tracked bass drum even more accentuated.
In reflecting on the development of “Heart of Glass” from its earliest incarnations until the recorded version on Parallel Lines, Chris Stein noted that the earliest versions had a basic conventional disco beat, but that the recorded version incorporated the electronic sound of Euro disco, stating that “The original arrangement of ‘Heart of Glass’—as on the  Betrock demos—had doubles on the high-hat cymbals, a more straight-ahead disco beat. When we recorded it for Parallel Lines we were really into Kraftwerk, and we wanted to make it more electronic. We weren’t thinking disco as we were doing it; we thought it was more electro-European.”
The Parallel Lines version (as well as most others) contained some rhythmic features that were very unusual for the disco context, which typically follows a strict four-beats-per-measure pattern for maximum danceability. The instrumental interludes in “Heart of Glass”, in contrast, have a beat pattern of 4-3-4-3-4-3-4-4, with eight measures totaling 29 beats instead of the more-standard 32.
A 5:50 version of “Heart of Glass” was first released as 12-inch single in December 1978. Some radio stations in the US were reluctant to play the song because of the “pain in the ass” lyric, so an edited 7-inch single was released in January 1979. The original album version was released as a single in the UK where the BBC bleeped out the offending word. Debbie Harry told The Guardian, “At first, the song kept saying: ‘Once I had a love, it was a gas. Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass.’ We couldn’t keep saying that, so we came up with: ‘Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.’ We kept one ‘pain in the ass’ in – and the BBC bleeped it out for radio.”
The single reached number one on the singles charts in the US and the UK. In the US, the single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in April 1979, representing sales of one million copies. In the UK, it was certified Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry in February 1979 for sales of 600,000 copies.
The song is associated with the disco and new wave genres.