Night Flight’s “Take Off to Women in Rock” in 1984 featured Blondie’s “X Offender” video

By on January 31, 2017

Blondie’s video for “X Offender” — included in our popular “Take Off to Women in Rock” episode, which originally aired on August 16, 1984 — is curiously credited onscreen by the song’s original title, “Sex Offender.” It was the first single released by Debbie Harry and her band in June 1976. Read more about it below, and watch our “Women in Rock” episode on Night Flight Plus.


Pat Prescott introduces the clip this way: “The punk explosion that happened in the mid-70s brought a sudden influx of new women in rock. Debbie Harry, a former Playboy Bunny, was part of that new wave. She and her friend Chris Stein formed Blondie in 1973, and became the first punk group to cross over into the AM charts.”

The focus on Blondie, almost from the start, seemed to be on their uber-foxy focal point, Deborah “Debbie” Harry, a peroxide blonde pixie-sized lead singer (Penthouse magazine, favorably reviewing the band’s debut LP , called her a “youthful Marilyn Monroe”).


Debbie Harry wearing a Licorice Pizza t-shirt and a Peaches employee button

“X Offender” was recorded by the first lineup of the band, which featured Harry, Chris Stein (guitar), Jimmy Destri (keyboards), Clem Burke (drums) and Gary Valentine, born Gary Lachman (bass).


Blondie: Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, and Gary Lachman (better known as Gary Valentine)

At the time, three of the band — Harry and Stein, and Gary Valentine — were all living in a loft space located on one floor of a three-story building at 266 Bowery, above a liquor store and restaurant supply store called Globe Slicers, which had been in business since 1947.


The Bowery was then a low-rent neighborhood, and their loft building has been described variously as being old, filthy, graffiti-covered and lacking central heating.

Stein has said that the entire rent for the building was around $300 each month (Stein and Harry’s share was $125/mo).

The loft would soon serve as the band’s unofficial headquarters after Gary Valentine moved on to Chris Stein and Debbie Harry’s floor, and thereafter “Blondie’s Loft” would be where the band would meet up and rehearse, or crash out after a long evening out.


Blondie’s Loft was located a block and a half from an ex-hillbilly joint called CBGBs, just down the street at 315 Bowery, which — after the August 1973 collapse of the nearby Mercer Arts Center — would become the main local dive where unsigned bands who played their original songs could play, and the members of Blondie dragged their instruments down the street there on a fairly regular basis.

Pretty much everyone agrees that CBGB’s — formerly Hilly’s On The Bowery — was a shithole, a habitué with a piss and shit stench that repulsed even the most hardened rock club customers.


The Mudd Club, another linchpin club for the NYC punk, post-punk and new wave scene, didn’t open its doors until Halloween of 1978, but it would also become one of the more important rock clubs in the area (it’s also where Interview Magazine editor Glenn O’Brien and Blondie guitarist Chris Stein filmed several episodes of their punk-oriented cable access show TV Party).

The Bowery building’s temporary landlord was an underground theater performer named Benton Quin, who was also very involved with design. In addition to painting some of the band’s early stage props, including large cartoon-ish cut-outs, he also created the leather briefs that Harry wears in those photos where she’s wearing a “Vulture” t-shirt.

Another designer, Stephen Sprouse, lived on the top floor of their Bowery loft building, and met Debbie Harry after first seeing her feeding a feral cat that lived in the ceiling. They met somewhere near the toaster oven in the building’s communal kitchen (they also shared a bathroom).


Stephen Sprouse – photo by Andy Warhol

Sprouse had previously worked for the famous designer Halston — whose boutique on East 68th Street brought out Manhattan’s elite fashionista crowd — who gave him his big break in 1974, letting Sprouse create a new design of his own (“the Skimp”) by cutting off the bottoms of Halston’s dress designs.

Sprouse ultimately bridled at creating designs for NYC’s toney uptown society, and left Halston after two and a half years, moving to the Bowery and designing for his own crowd, creating fashions from objects he picked up off the streets, and ripping tights and t-shirts and going more “glam” than punk with his personalized designs.

Once he and Harry became friends, Sprouse began advising Harry on clothing design in an attempt to dress her up in something other than black t-shirts (he famously took a pair of black stretch pants with stirrups and converted it into the black one-shouldered mini dress she wears — which thigh-high black boots and black tights — on the cover of the “Rip It to Shreds” EP).


Sprouse — a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design — loved working with bright colors too, and soon became known for his neon and day-glo Pop Art designs, obviously taking some of the late 60s ideas and applying them to his clothing designs (his off-the-cuff punky clothing ideas have been noted as doing for New York what Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood did for London in the mid-70s at their Kings Road boutique, Sex.

Sprouse became a regular at CBGBs, and the Mudd Club, where his “theme parties” attracted people from both the art and rock crowd.

Chris Stein, meanwhile, knew that Debbie was clearly the reason for at least some of the band’s following, saying “I was always aware of her astonishing looks and the effect she had on people.”

Being a budding photographer at the time, he helped foster that image by shooting sexy photos of his girlfriend, wearing a skimpy zebra skin outfit (they were published in Creem in 1976).


Chris Stein’s photo of Debbie Harry for Creem in 1976

By then, their band Blondie already had a big local following, playing to the small, but fervent crowds at CBGB’s — Stein has noted that at one point they’d played the club every weekend for seven months — and Max’s Kansas City, which had also helped launch the careers of bands and artists like Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Talking Heads.

The band also caught the ear of New York tastemakers like producers and managers Richard Gottehrer, Marty Thau, Seymour Stein and Craig Leon, who worked in A&R at Sire Records under Gottehrer and Stein.

It was at Sire that Leon learned the skills necessary for the production, producing the first Ramones album, and soon he and Richard Gottehrer (who had worked with 1960s girl group the Angels, co-writing their hit “My Boyfriend’s Back”) and Marty Thau were setting up their own a production company, Instant Records, in order to work with some of the New York bands like Richard Hell & The Voidoids and Suicide. They signed Richard Hell to a production deal in June ’76.


The Ramones and producer Craig Leon (lower right corner)

Their very next signing was Blondie, who Leon began working with the band on the tracks for the first single, the a-side which turned out to be “X Offender,” the song they ended their sets with (Stein and Valentine would switch instruments for the song, with Stein playing Valentine’s bass, which he apparently loathed doing, and Valentine playing Stein’s guitar).


Love at the pier – Blondie, New York City, 1976: (L-R) Jimmy Destri, Clem Burke, Debbie Harry, Gary Valentine, Chris Stein; photo by Bob Gruen

Leon had wanted to achieve two key signature sounds from the 1960s on the track, a Phil Spector-ish “Wall of Sound” effect, and an authentic “surf guitar” sound from Valentine’s guitar.

Valentine says the idea for “Sex Offender” had come to him one night while he was at Max’s Kansas City. He later 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.”

Valentine says he played it for Harry the next day, and “She said, ‘OK, I’ll come up with some lyrics.'”


Originally, Valentine’s idea was to tell the story of something that had happened to him after he’d turned eighteen — an old girlfriend’s disapproving parents had him arrested for having sex with their daughter, who was still a minor — but Debbie Harry thought it needed more of an edge, lyrically, and turned the song into a tale about a prostitute infatuated with the cop who busts her.

“That’s the song that got the record deal,” said Valentine, although their label, Private Stock, were admittedly a little nervous about the song’s original title, believing that radio stations might be reluctant to play a song, even a hit song, with the word “sex” in the title.


In Blondie: Parallel Lines, by Dick Porter and Kris Needs, Debbie Harry explained how she loved to sing about sex:

“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.”


As a kind of a goof on producer Richard Gotterher — who co-wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back” and it’s famous spoken word intro (“He went away, and you hung around, and bothered me every night…”), Debbie Harry came up with a spoken intro for the track:

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.

“X Offender” was one of the first songs they’d record at Plaza Sound Studios, located in Radio City Music Hall, right around the corner from Rockefeller Center in the heart of Manhattan, where the band would soon commence recording the debut album, playing their songs mostly live in the studio with only occasional overdubs of keyboard parts or other incidentals.

“X Offender” was released as a single on June 17, 1976, with Blondie playing CBGB’s over three nights immediately following its release, June 17-19.


Their self-titled debut album — recorded during August and September of ’76, during long sessions, lasting from noon until one or two o’clock in the morning, six days a week — featured a contagious mix of NYC punk influence and early 70s pop elements, too, particularly AM radio bubblegum, and Roxy Music & Bowie-esque glitter and glam, in addition to an audible abundance of sunny Sixties influences which blended together Girl Group and Motown-ish vocal pop, reverby surf guitar, and even a little Nuggets-style garage rock thrown in for good measure.

Ironically, much of the album’s lyrical content was considerably darker in tone, and featured a predominant theme of violence and gunfire (Harry would point this out in more than one interview, saying “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.”)


On the strength of the band’s first single, and the tracks produced by Gotterher for their debut, the band were soon signed to a recording contract with a much bigger label, Chrysalis Records.

However, when the band’s debut LP was reissued on Chrysalis in October ’74, Gottehrer’s name was the only one credited as the album’s producer, although those first two tracks recorded by the band — “X Offender” and “In The Sun” — were, in fact, produced by Craig Leon.

Debbie Harry, according to Blondie: Parallel Lines — would later say that although Gottehrer was in the studio and he thought he was in charge, “… it was really Craig who was the backbone of the whole thing.”

Sometime in the fall of ’76, Stein and Harry would move from their Bowery loft, relocating to the top floor of a brownstone on 17th Street, between Sixth and Seventh, while Valentine would move in with his girlfriend (he would be leaving the band within the next year too).


The band’s self-titled Blondie album ( Private Stock 2023) was released sometime in late December 1976, with the label promoting the album with ads stating “Blondie is a Group!”

The band were reportedly not too happy with Private Stock, however, after seeing that the label execs had used photo of Harry in a see-though blouse, which wasn’t the way they wanted her, or their band, to be promoted.

Valentine would later say that “[Debbie] did sexy stuff on stage but it was very tongue-in-cheek, very camp,” delivering come-ons with winking disaffection.

Harry apparently didn’t like the picture very much either, describing what happened as a “fiasco” (she’d been told the photo would not be used unless it was cropped, and it wasn’t).


Lester Bangs, writing about the track in his Village Voice review of their first album would pick up on both of the sounds Leon had created, saying “the Spectorish ‘X-Offender’ contains the best roller rink organ since the Sir Douglas Quintet,” (referring to Jimmy Destri’s ultra-cheesy Farfisa) and “the best surf guitar break since ‘I’m Set Free’.”


Rock journalist Lester Bangs carrying Debbie during a shoot for Punk magazine, New York, 1978

Stephen Sprouse — probably one of the more important people in Harry’s life, and certainly someone who helped advise her appearance in the band’s early years — art-directed the band’s first videos, including “X Offender,” making a huge blown-up backdrop of Harry’s face and painting everything with bright Warhol-ish colors.


Blondie’s second and final single on the Private Stock label was “In The Flesh,” which became the a-side in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

In Australia, after the video for “In the Flesh” was played by mistake (instead of “X Offender”) on the nationally broadcast music program Countdown,” the audience made the song a huge hit, charting at #1 on the pop charts.

The Blondie album went into the Top Twenty in October 1977, and a subsequent double-a release of “X-Offender” and “Rip Her to Shreds” was a minor hit in the UK.

A successful Australian tour followed in December ’77.

Watch this classic episode of Night Flight’s “Take Off to Women in Rock” which premiered in August 1984 and features music videos by other flashy female rock icons like Grace Slick, Tina Turner, Wendy O. Williams & Stevie Nicks. It’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • J_Robit

    Considering their body of work, Blondie was a great band. Most of their post-1999 stuff sucks, but from the 70s/80s album, they really had quite an impressive display of talent and creativity.