Friday, December 16, 2016
Various Artists - The Songs Debbie Gibson Gave Away (1988-92)
Believe it or not, today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Debbie Gibson's first single, "Only In My Dreams." The song first came out Dec. 16, 1986 in its original 12" single format, with the 7" single following in Feb. 1987 and her debut album that summer. It's hard to believe this single is now 30 years old, because I have memories of various Beatle albums turning 20 and that seeming like a long time.
There are two ways to deal with this. 1). I can sit around and lament the passing years, fading youth, and lost opportunities or; 2). I can do something constructive, like put together a collection of rare Gibson songs in celebration of this occasion.
Clever readers might note that doing #2 is actually a way of indulging in the nostalgia inherent in choice #1. But we'll just ignore that conundrum and instead concentrate on the matter at hand, which is this set of eleven songs Debbie Gibson wrote but never officially released (although demo versions of two songs slipped out on her Memory Lane collections ten years ago).
This collection brings these lost Gibson tracks together in the style of an old Beatles-related album I once owned called The Songs Lennon & McCartney Gave Away. Compiling it wasn't easy since a lot of these recordings are seriously obscure. So I want to give a shout-out to fellow Debbie Gibson fan "Scott from Australia," who provided high-quality versions of the rarer cuts.
To start from the top: When Debbie Gibson began her recording career at age 16, she wanted to be more than just a performer. She also hoped to be taken seriously as a composer and have her songs recorded by other artists, a la Lennon-McCartney. According to the autobiographical book she co-wrote in 1989, "Between the Lines," Gibson tried to place "Who Loves Ya Baby" with Olivia Newton-John and "Over the Wall" with Madonna. She didn't have much luck (see book excerpt at right). Both ended up on her Electric Youth album.
Back in the '80s, youth wasn't the asset it is today in the music biz. To an established older artist, performing a song by a teenager looked shallow and silly, because that's how Baby Boomers thought of the teens that came after them. (Of course, once their own kids became teens, then teenagers started to be worshiped as Little Gods, but I digress.)
To take the other side, it's understandable why adults might have passed on Gibson songs, because on some level, they do come off shallow and silly. But as with Billy Joel and Paul McCartney, once you get past the commercially-oriented lyrics, you often find fantastic melodies and arrangements. In any case, what adult singers passed up, teen artists gladly accepted. To a struggling, upstart young singer, receiving a song from a proven hitmaker like Gibson must have seemed like a gift from heaven.
Unfortunately, sometimes heaven isn't so heavenly after all. Some of the song Gibson donated were so-so, and a few are probably embarrassments to Gibson today. Can't win 'em all. For all her songwriting efforts, Gibson never landed a hit song with an outside artist, which is the kind of things that helped make Lennon-McCartney such a brand name. Had she scored a hit as a songwriter, that might have changed the game for her and extended her own run as a Top 40 artist.
Still, some of these cuts are truly great and the best of the batch were performed by teen dance artist Ana on her second album, Body Language, from 1990. "Everytime We Say Goodbye" and "Friendly," both boast first-rate Gibson melodies in the mold of the pop-rock songs on Electric Youth. Better still, Ana (who was one of New Kids on the Block manager-producer Maurice Starr's acts) is a fantastic singer and really puts the songs across.
Gibson produced the Ana tracks herself, and you can even hear her (uncredited) vocals on "Everytime We Say Goodbye" at 1:32 and on "Friendly" starting at 2:30 and again at 3:40 through the end. Also, is it me or is the lyric of "Friendly" an uncharacteristic wish for a one-night stand? Maybe Gibson gave this song away because it didn't fit the squeaky-clean image she had at the time (the Playboy pictorial would come much later).
Obscure Australian singer Jo Beth Taylor also sounds uncannily Gibson-eqeue on a pair of songs that also work really well: The super-catchy shuffle "Worth My Time" and the funky declaration of individuality "Everyone's Not Me." Thematically, the latter is sort of a sister song to "We Could Be Together" from Electric Youth. Gibson also produced these tracks and they come off as well as the Ana tunes.
Two of the other songs done by Taylor, "Have Things Changed" and "The Ways Of Our World," fall into the so-so category. The first is "The Ways Of Our World," a big ballad that has a great chorus but bland verses. It also features Gibson herself on backing vocals if I'm not mistaken. The song is a bit too politically heavy-handed for my tastes, but I do like the way Gibson's sassy lyric trashes the Lotto (?!) and mindless TV watching, two of my own pet peeves.
On a completely different note, Japanese singer Reimy rocks the hell out of the Miami-styled high-NRG dance tune "Speed Of Light." Gibson didn't produce this one, but arranger Trevor Veitch does right by her hyped-up chord changes. This song, by the way, provides an example as to why I like Gibson so much as an artist. Few songwriters can compose convincing club tunes then turn around and pen hook-filled pop-rock in the vein of Billy Joel...especially at age 16.
That said, several of the other tunes don't fare as well, like "Ton Of Bricks," which was done by the Party, a teen group that evolved out of the TV show "The New Mickey Mouse Club." In the liner notes to her demos collection, Memory Lane Volume 2, Gibson wrote that she didn't like the way this song was handled on that album. The Party's albums are actually pretty good, but this song just doesn't work the way they did it. It was much better the way Gibson originally performed it as a sort of pseudo-'50s rocker.
Then there's the forays into rap. As a rule, whenever someone raps in a Gibson song there's trouble ahead. While Gibson could write '80s freestyle dance songs with the best of 'em, she had less luck attempting to emulate the harder hip hop grooves that dominated radio in the early 1990s. That's evident on Chris Cuevas' "Hip Hop" and Jo Beth Taylor's "Snatched Down," both of which are amusing but go nowhere.
"Hip Hop" was produced by mixmaster Jellybean Benitex and co-written by S. Andrew Zulla who went on to mix songs for Kelly Clarkson, Rod Stewart, and others. So you'd think it would have some panache, but no dice. As for "Snatched Down," the implicit sexual innuendo of the title is never realized; the lyric is about the way girls and guys dress not the, um, female body part.
Speaking of female bodies (yes, I went there), the concluding track by Jennifer Love Hewitt, is no great shakes either. Hewitt sings with no feeling and her voice is unpleasant. This cut, by the way, was co-written by Gibson and the album's producer, Bob Etoll. He gets primary credit on the album and, not surprisingly, this sounds very little like a Gibson composition.
So add this to all the other Debbie Gibson rarities collections I've put out on this blog. The eleven tunes here play like a "Great Lost Debbie Gibson" album from the golden era when we were all young and hitting the clubs, and our biggest complain was that the 7-Eleven was out of cherry-flavored Slurpees, but it turned out not to really be a problem because when you went to complain there was a total hottie working the register and you got her phone number, and...
Sorry, I'm digressing into nostalgia again. Track details and release dates are inside. I'll sign off before I become the blogging version of Uncle Rico, obsessing over the long-gone 1980s and what could have been.
Debbie Gibson - 12-Inch Singles (1986-88)
Debbie Gibson - The Alternate Electric Youth (1989)
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 1 (2004)
Deborah Gibson - Memory Lane Volume 2 (2005)
Debbie Gibson - Rarities (1990-1999)
Chris Cuevas - Somehow, Someway (1991)
1. Reimy -Speed Of Light
2. The Party - Ton Of Bricks
3. Ana - Everytime We Say Goodbye
4. Ana - Friendly
5. Jo Beth Taylor - Worth My Time
6. Jo Beth Taylor - Snatched Down
7. Jo Beth Taylor - Have Things Changed
8. Jo Beth Taylor - Everyone's Not Me
9. Jo Beth Taylor - The Ways Of Our World
10. Chris Cuevas - Hip Hop
11. Jennifer Love Hewitt - Bedtime Stories