Debbie Harry, fronting Blondie, on The Midnight Special—October 5, 1979
Noted for its live, rather than lip-synced, performances, The Midnight Special was a late-night musical variety show, airing on NBC between 1973-1981. The show tended to feature up-and-coming acts, and an appearance on The Midnight Special was generally a sign that a band had finally “made it.” With only three major television networks at the time, even at its late hour, an appearance on The Midnight Special guaranteed a large, hip, young audience. For those born later than the 1970s, it must be understood that The Midnight Special was a very big deal. To fuck with the conventions of The Midnight Special was a very, very big deal.
On October 5, 1979, Blondie made their second appearance on The Midnight Special. They had appeared earlier in January of that same year performing live versions of “One Way or Another,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” and “Sunday Girl.” On their October 5th appearance, the band performed “Dreaming,” “Slow Motion,” “The Hardest Part,” “Accidents Never Happen,” and “Heart of Glass.”
Debbie Harry and drummer Clem Burke on the Midnight Special stage.
For their second Midnight Special appearance, Blondie lead singer, Debbie Harry, draped in a simultaneously stunning and ridiculous (backwards?) blue romper, exudes a mesmerizing, other-worldly, “don’t give a shit” sex appeal. Her demeanor is confidently aloof, yet at times straight-up dorky, but what she does at 2:20 into “Heart of Glass” is one of the most awkwardly cool things that ever happened on network television. It’s as bizarre as it is on point. The band goes into the instrumental break of the song, and Debbie launches into a brief diatribe on nuclear power:
The use of nuclear power is merely a symptom of our troubled times. It is time for all Americans to take control of their own lives and stop being pushed around and poisoned. The race for nuclear superiority can only end with the destruction of civilization.
...And then she goes straight back into the ditty. She gives a split second look right after, that seems to indicate “I just did something really cool on this dumb TV stage.” The audience eats it up, and you can audibly hear their reaction over the music. This was the same year as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, so her rant is especially timely.
Geez, Debbie, as if we needed one more reason to love you.
Here’s the entire song; the “nuclear power” riff is at 2:20: