On 16 February, 1980, “The Hardest Part” by Blondie peaked at #84.
I wanted something different, and this — “The Hardest Part” by Blondie — this is different. It has a power pop feel, but doesn’t have the power pop chords to really land it in that category; it isn’t ragged enough to be straight-up punk; it isn’t repetitive or layered enough to be new wave (though that’s what everyone said it is, mainly because it and songs like it were so different from everything else and the concept of new wave was no new and amorphous that anything uncategorizable in the late 70s got labelled new wave), it’s really its own thing. And, as if to assert just how different it is, it’s unashamedly about something that practically never hits the top 40: robbing an armored truck. Yup, there it is, 25 tons of hardened steel, just waiting for Debbie Harry and the crew to force it to a stop and apply that nitro and acetylene to cut into the chassis and make off with enough money to take them to Brazil. The hardest part? It’s not even the armored guard, really, it’s that driver… How do you get him to stop? Just turbo past and force him off, I suppose (the song isn’t clear).
I mean, this is an exciting story! It could easily be the focal point of a movie, a movie I’d want to watch. The music highlights the adrenaline rush of the scene, starting with a jaunty bubbly intro, and then settling into a relentless pulsing drive as our heroes grit their teeth and whiten their knuckles gripping the door handles and their guns, preparing to burst forth and execute their nearly-perfected plan. Take me along, even if it means I only get to watch as a perplexed but impressed bystander!
The thing I like most about this song is how unapologetic Debbie Harry is in singing this. There’s no appeal to try to justify why she’s turned to a life of crime. She’s just a hardened criminal out to make a living, mentally prepped by Taxi Driver and A Clockwork Orange to take the world as she finds it and treat it as she wants. It’s perhaps our first real taste of a Gen-X cynicism that will play an increasingly large role in the culture of the 80s. As a Gen-Xer myself, I’m welcoming it with open arms and open eyes.