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Blondes have more fun

Heart and Blondie reissues concur with reinvigorated road shows

Even without playing a note, Heart was a major label marketer's dream. The concept of two hot sisters — one blonde, one brunette — fronting an arena rock band has obvious built-in cha-ching opportunities for both air-guitar playing dudes and their vicariously living girlfriends.

Thankfully the Wilson sisters had talent to throw into the equation, and while these three reissued, expanded and terrifically remastered albums from the late '70s aren't rock milestones, they show that Heart was more than just a cash-generating model.

The Seattle-based band proudly flaunted their Led Zeppelin fixation, kicking off Little Queen's major label debut with the pulsing, riff-heavy "Barracuda." The acoustic guitar-driven "Love Alive" follows, and that one-two punch defined the tough/tender approach utilized on 1979's prog-infused Dog & Butterfly and '80s harder rocking Bebe Le Strange. Ann Wilson's dramatic vocals, often reminiscent of Robert Plant at his most hair flailingly histrionic, and sister Nancy's non-descript but effective guitar/mandolin and flute contributions played to the back rows even without the visuals.

Nancy's brief track notes to these reissues seem to be an afterthought, the dated pictures embarrassingly flaunt the worst of late '70s rock star fashion gaffes, the other group members go uncredited and unacknowledged and the blatant pink-dominated packaging is as simplistic as the group's licks. But these discs — whose filler is more emotionally driven than the band's later crossover chart hits — show an act bottling their image as well as capitalizing on a rawer talent they squandered as slick MTV stars.Heart plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre Sun., Aug. 22. 8 p.m. $35.50-$45.50.

Unless you've been a fan of Blondie since the New York new wave act's 1976 recorded debut (though the quintet received its commercial break in 1978 rereleased on Chrysalis Records), the idea of flipping a single every one to three songs probably doesn't appeal. But for those whose original 7-inch singles are wearing thin from repeat spins, EMI offers a thematic treat with the release of the Blondie: Singles Box.

Housed within a flip-top box of parallel lines are 15 CDs in individual sleeves, comprising the whole of Blondie's singles output (prior to the band's reformation in the late '90s). Each CD replicates the look of Blondie's series of Top 10 singles (plus the extra stragglers) as well as the appropriate B-sides — from 1976's "X Offender"/"Rip Her to Shreds" to 1982's "War Child" (two to four songs total per disc). It's inclusive of all usual suspects — "Denis," "Picture This," "Hanging on the Telephone," "Heart of Glass," "Dreaming," "Atomic," "Call Me," "Rapture," etc.

Throughout can be found Blondie's aggressive, arch recontextualization of roots in garage rawk, girl group, doo-wop and surf rock — like bristling Brill Building — plus the band's transitions from sinister throb to disco, reggae and hip-hop. This box is a de facto greatest hits plus some.

Of course, at a little under $40 on Amazon.com, and with the hassle of the multiple disc thing, most casual Blondie fans would be just as satisfied with 2002's Blondie — Greatest Hits, which includes all the boxset's A-sides, plus "One Way or Another," "Hardest Part" and 1999's come-back single "Maria." In the box set's favor, however, are sultry B-sides such as dreamy ballad "Fade Away And Radiate" and the grinding pulse of "I Know But I Don't Know" (though some deep album cuts were stronger than other incuded material).

Previously, a small set of these songs have been hinted at as demos and live tracks tacked on to remastered full-length albums reissued in 2001. And all of this plus more was previously released on the more compact, comprehensive Platinum Collection in 1994, but that's hard to track down.

It's up to fans' discretion as to which collection they'll flip over flipping till the release of a "proper" boxset. The Singles Box is a pretty conversation piece. But the tide (of merchandise) is high.

Blondie plays Centennial Olympic Park Fri., Aug. 20. 5:30 p.m. (doors). $5.