I’ll admit it: I was shocked when I discovered that Ms Gibson is now in her mid-forties. Even though I understand about the passing of time and birthdays and I myself am a great deal older than when I used to dance round my bedroom to her music I can still only picture her as a cheery young 80’s popstrel dancing around in denim jackets.
But while she may now be heading towards middle age she is still involved in the music scene and is working in film, theatre and on TV well. 2014 has seen her induction into The Long Island Music Hall of Fame, joining such heavyweights as Lou Reed, Tony Bennett, John Coltrane, Billy Joel, Louis Armstrong, Cyndi Lauper, Run-DMC, Neil Sedaka and Diamond, Gene Simmons, Carole King, The Ramones, Public Enemy, Simon and Garfunkel and Barbra Streisand.
Debbie Gibson rose to fame as a teenager; she’d been writing music for years and eventually a demo of her song ‘Only in my Dreams’ ended up at Atlantic Records. They signed her on to a development deal in 1986 (when Gibson was only 16) and for the next year or so she toured clubs in the U.S. to promote both her and her music, as well as continuing to write. Alongside this she was still going to high school in Merrick, New York – but she was definitely not your average student...
The promotional demo of ‘Only in my Dreams’ got into the Billboard Hot 100, and Atlantic rewarded Debbie with a recording contract and the chance to then release her first single proper, as well as an album in 1987. The album was titled ‘Out of the Blue’, the single was again ‘Only in my Dreams’ and with the marketing power of the record company of behind her this time round the song made number four on the Billboard Hot 100. Debbie wrote every song on the album.
Then came my personal favourite track: ‘Shake Your Love’; an upbeat pop number which video saw an energetic Debbie bopping around to a dance routine choreographed by Paula Abdul (the singer-songwriter and TV personality whose own hits include ‘Straight Up’ and ‘Opposites Attract’ – a song memorable for her funky dance with a cartoon cat in the video). This track reached the top five on the same chart, as did her next two releases: ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘Foolish Beat’. In fact, ‘Foolish Beat’ did a little bit better than just the top five; it reached number one, making Gibson the youngest ever artist to write, produce and perform a Billboard number one single – and she was still only 17! This feat got her an entry in the Guinness Book of Records in 1988. Nobody has taken this record away from her since.
The success from the album ‘Out of the Blue’ spread far and wide from her native U.S. She became a star in both the UK and in southeast Asia, playing there to packed stadiums on her 1988 tour. At the end of that year the album had made triple platinum sales, the music video compilation of the album had gone platinum and the video from her tour went double platinum. In the October of ’88 Gibson performed the national anthem at the Major League Baseball World Series. Not a bad year, all in all.
1989 wasn’t bad either: she claimed the awards for ‘Debut Album of the Year’ and ‘Debut Artist of the Year’ at the New York Music Awards, and also tied with Bruce Springsteen for the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Songwriter of the year. It was also the year that she released her second successful album ‘Electric Youth’.
‘Electric Youth’ reached number one on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart and stayed there for five weeks; it climbed to number eight in the UK as well. Gibson also wrote all the tracks on this one and not only that: she also produced six of them by herself and sang both lead and backing vocals. Oh, and played the piano and programmed the drums as well. Blimey. Anybody else feeling slightly lazy in comparison?
The style of ‘Electric Youth’ was very similar to that of ‘Out of the Blue’; upbeat, dance-y pop tunes that were amazingly sing-along-able, although there were one or two tracks that showed signs of a more grown-up style. The first single released from it (in October 1988) ‘Lost in Your Eyes’, was a ballad which reached number one in the U.S. and stayed there for three weeks as well as getting to number three on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Further singles, ‘Electric Youth’, ‘No More Rhyme’ and ‘We Could Be Together’ charted at numbers 11, 17 and 71 respectively. The album itself went double platinum and Debbie again went on tour to promote her new album, in 1989.
Presumably she also spent the whole tour smelling of her own perfume, ‘Electric Youth’ (the scent of a teenager who had recently touched a pylon perhaps? Ha ha), which she created with a little help from Revlon. She had become, by then, a bit of a style icon – her bowler hats and rolled up jeans were much copied by the teen girls of the day. She graced many a magazine cover during these years.
The album also gave Gibson another artistic outlet in the form of a musical adaptation, which she co-produced and which was performed on a limited run at the Starlight Dinner Theatre in Orlando, Florida.
Her third album, ‘Anything is Possible’ was co-written with U.S. songwriter and producer Lamont Dozier and released in 1990, reaching number 26. Only one single, ‘Anything is Possible’ reached the Billboard Hot 100, getting to number 26 in 1991. Fourth album, ‘Body Mind Soul’ held Gibson’s last entry into the aforementioned chart: ‘Lose Yourself’ came accompanied by a video depicting Debbie as a – shock, horror – stripper. Gasp!
A few years later Gibson signed a contract with EMI’s SBK records. She only recorded one album with them, ‘Think With Your Heart’, which was full of ballads and featured the London Philharmonic Orchestra before moving on to her own label, Espiritu.
Album ‘Deborah’ was released in 1996 and saw her return to a more dance-y, poppy sound. Two singles emerged from it, ‘Only Words’, which got into the top 40 on the snappily titled U.S. Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and ‘Naturally’, a ballad. Sales of the album weren’t high, but it was a critically acclaimed release for Gibson. 2001 saw another album, ‘M.Y.O.B.’ and three singles from it, one of which had a second surge of popularity in 2006 when it became an oft-requested song on radio station Super 91.7 WMPH in Delaware.
2003 saw Gibson recording her eight album: ‘Colored Lights: The Broadway Album’. This was her tribute to musical theatre.
Now, you thought you were shocked when Gibson pushed aside her squeaky clean image to portray a stripper? Well, you better look away for a paragraph now. In 2005 Debbie gave in to Playboy’s frequent requests and posed for them, timing it as a promotion for her next track ‘Naked’. I’m not implying anything about the photo shoot, but the song only got to number 35 on the Hot Singles Sales chart. Just saying.
Later that year it was announced that Gibson would be touring with The O’Neill Brothers, a duo that she had previously co-written and recorded with, including an acoustic version of ‘Lost in Your Eyes’.
In 2006 she teamed up with former New Kids on the Block heartthrob Jordan Knight for the single ‘Say Goodbye’ and took a role in the film ‘Coffee Date’, also writing a song for the soundtrack, ‘Sounds Like Love’. She continued to release songs through her official website over the coming years, with her ninth album, Ms Vocalist, being released exclusively in Japan in November 2010.
And the one-woman force of nature that is Debbie Gibson has not just continued with music, oh no. Alongside her song writing, performing and touring (once with 1980s, baggy jumper wearing pop darling Tiffany) she has also…(deep breath)…created a children’s summer camp, written another musical, judged talent competitions, become a spokesperson for a skin care company, appeared on and presented various television programmes, taken to the stage in many theatre productions, acted in a number of films (including the preposterously titled ‘Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, plus its equally ridiculous sequels) and taken part in Skating With Celebrities and The Celebrity Apprentice.
So there you have it. Debbie Gibson: all-round female powerhouse. You name a showbiz format, she’s written about, sung, produced, acted in or presented it. And worn some natty outfits on the way. Or nothing at all, in one particular case.