Singer-songwriter/bassist Johnette Napolitano formed the band Dream 6 with guitarist James Mankey in Los Angeles in 1982. The band released a single called "Heart Attack" under the name Dreamers on the 1982 compilation album, The D.I.Y. Album; this was evidently their first recording. As Dream 6, they released an eponymous EP in France on the Happy Hermit label in 1983. When they signed with I.R.S. Records in 1986, label-mate Michael Stipe suggested the name Concrete Blonde, describing the contrast between their hard rock music and introspective lyrics. They were joined by drummer Harry Rushakoff on their eponymous debut album.
Their first release was 1986's Concrete Blonde, which included "Still in Hollywood". They added a full time bass guitarist, Alan Bloch, for their 1989 release, Free. This allowed Napolitano to focus on her singing without the burden of playing the bass at the same time. This album included the college radio hit "God Is a Bullet".
Their third album, 1990's Bloodletting, became their most commercially successful. Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson replaced Rushakoff on Bloodletting while Rushakoff was in treatment for drug addiction. The album was certified gold by the RIAA and included their highest charting single, "Joey", which spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 Chart, peaking at 19.
1992's Walking in London saw the return of original drummer Rushakoff (due to Thompson's immigration problems); 1993's Mexican Moon included the Bloodletting lineup with Thompson back on drums. Neither album was received well commercially or critically, and Napolitano broke up the band in 1993.
The band reunited in 1997, with Napolitano and Mankey teaming up with the band Los Illegals for the album Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals. The vocals were primarily in Spanish. During live shows, the band changed the refrain for "Still in Hollywood" to "Still in the Barrio", and featured covers of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing".
The band reunited again in 2001, releasing the album Group Therapy in 2002. The album was recorded in 10 days and included Rushakoff once again on drums. Rushakoff was eventually kicked out of the band for failing to show up for shows. After initially being replaced on tour by lighting tech Mike Devitt, he was eventually replaced on a long-term basis by Gabriel Ramirez. Mojave was released in 2004.
On June 5, 2006, Napolitano announced that the band had officially retired. From the Concrete Blonde website, there was the following open message: "Thanks to everyone who heard and believed in the music. Music lives on. Keep listening. Keep believing, keep dreaming. Like a ripple, the music moves and travels and finds you. Drive to the music, Make love to the music, cry to the music. That's why we made it. Long after we're gone the music will still be there. Thanks to everyone who helped us bring the music to you & thanks to every face and every heart in every audience all over the world."
Concrete Blonde have been featured in multiple feature films and TV shows. Films include The Party Animal (1985; the band's name was Dream 6 at the time, the song used was 'Rain'), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (two songs) in 1986, The Hidden (three songs) in 1987, Pump Up the Volume in 1990, Point Break in 1991, and Losing Isaiah in 1995. TV shows include Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1991, Beavis and Butthead in 1993, Daria in 1998, The Sopranos in 2002 and HBO series Camping in 2018. The song most used in soundtracks has been "Bloodletting" (five times). On November 25, 2008, "Long Time Ago" was used during the final credits during the series finale of The Shield. Originally the song was supposed to play over the final scene, but show creator Shawn Ryan decided instead for the last sequence to be silent, prompting the song to be played over the final credits and series highlights.
On July 13, 2010, Shout! Factory released a remastered 20th anniversary edition of Bloodletting. It features six bonus tracks: "I Want You", "Little Wing", the French extended version of "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)", and live versions of "Roses Grow", "The Sky Is A Poisonous Garden", and "Tomorrow, Wendy". An error in the packaging of the re-release uses early non-album period photos featuring original drummer Harry Rushakoff, who had been replaced the night before the first studio session for "Bloodletting" by Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson. The band followed the release with the "20 Years of Bloodletting: The Vampires Rise" tour through the rest of that year.
In 2012, the band released the single "Rosalie" with the B-side "I Know the Ghost". In December 2012, the band engaged in a small tour of nine cities, mostly on the east coast of the U.S.