In 1974, we were living in a loft in New York's then notorious Bowery area, rehearsing at night in rooms so cold we had to wear gloves.
Deborah Harry, singer-songwriter
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. At that point, it had no title. We just called it "the disco song".
Then, in 1978, we got this producer, Mike Chapman, who 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 very pretty and started to pull it into focus. The boys in the band had got their hands on a new toy: this little Roland drum machine. One day, we were fiddling around with it and Chapman said: "That's a great sound." So we used it.
Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerised sound. People got nervous and angry about us bringing different influences into rock. Although we'd covered Lady Marmalade and I Feel Love at gigs, lots of people were mad at us for "going disco" with Heart of Glass. There was the Disco Sucks! movement, and there had even been a riot in Chicago, with people burning disco records. Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said: "I guess I'll have to."
The lyrics weren't about anyone. They were just a plaintive moan about lost love. 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.
For the video, I wanted to dance around but they told us to remain static, while the cameras moved around. God only knows why. Maybe we were too clumsy. I wore an asymmetrical dress designed by Steve Sprouse, made the boys' T-shirts myself, and probably did my own hair. Everyone says I look iconic and in control, but I prefer our other videos. It was No 1 around the world. We'd had a lot of hits, but this was our first at home. Chapman was in Milan with us and said: "Join me in the bar." I thought: "Oh God, I just wanna go to bed." But we dragged our asses down and he told us it was No 1 in America. We drank a lot.
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Chris Stein, songwriter/guitarist
Recording with Mike was fun, if a little painstaking – we had to do things over and over. But Jimmy [Destri, keyboards] had a lot to do with how the record sounds, too. Although the song eventually became its own thing, at first he wanted it to sound like a Kraftwerk number.
It was Jimmy who brought in the drum machine and a synthesiser. Synchronising them was a big deal at the time. It all had to be done manually, with every note and beat played in real time rather than looped over. And on old disco tracks, the bass drum was always recorded separately, so Clem had to pound away on a foot-pedal for three hours until they got a take they were happy with.
As far as I was concerned, disco was part of R&B, which I'd always liked. The Ramones went on about us "going disco", but it was tongue-in-cheek. They were our friends. In the video, there's a shot of the legendary Studio 54, so everyone thought we shot the video there, but it was actually in a short-lived club called the Copa or something.
I came up with the phrase "heart of glass" without knowing anything about Werner Herzog or his movie of the same name, which is a great, weird film. It's nice people now use the song to identify the period in films and documentaries. I've heard a million versions. There are lots of great mash-ups. My favourite features the song being played at super-low speed, like odd industrial music.
I never had an inkling it would be such a big hit, or become the song we'd be most remembered for. It's very gratifying.
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