There's no actual family relationship and no discernible physical resemblance, but more and more, Debbie Gibson is turning into the daughter of Rodney Dangerfield; no matter what the circumstances, she gets no respect.

The reasons for this are decidedly unclear. The Debster had her share of detractors during her teen-idol days, to be sure — the redoubtable Mojo Nixon once put out a song suggesting that "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child", a funny tabloid sendup that was, if possible, even less serious than Mojo's subsequent call for the death of Don Henley — but surely none of them were in any position to thwart her career, and if they were, they had better and more lucrative ways to earn their keep.

Still, the bottom fell out of Debbie's world somewhere along the way. The first two albums, Out of the Blue and Electric Youth, sold in the bazillions and yielded up satisfyingly-simple songs for single release. For a New York teenager, even one who had sung professionally for over a decade, these were heady times.

Then came album three, Anything Is Possible, which fell off the charts about halfway up in spite of its ambition, its demonstrable economy (sixteen tracks, 73 minutes, longer than some double-LP sets we've seen through the years), and its more mature material. Not to say sexy.

Atlantic Records, uncharacteristically panic-stricken at the sight of their golden girl in the bargain bins, called in the cavalry — specifically, the guys from Rhythm Syndicate, Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken — and told them to clean up Deb's act. What they did was submerge it in a seemingly-endless tidal wave of pointless electronic noodling that did nothing either for Deborah's voice or for the New Improved And Sexy! image that Atlantic wanted to sell. Body Mind Soul tanked, and the House that Ertegun Built suddenly closed its doors, though they would be reopened just long enough to shove out a Greatest Hits collection two years after the hits stopped coming, a feat of timing worthy of a Pet Rock revival.

Charles Koppelman, who had headed EMI's publishing division, which administers the Gibson catalog of songs, eventually signed Deborah to his SBK label, distributed by EMI. Apparently persuaded that bad Paula Abdul imitations (thank you, Tish) weren't necessarily going to play any better for EMI than they did for Time Warner, Deborah responded with Think With Your Heart, a self-produced collection of piano ballads that never got within bubbling distance of the Hot 100. Hollywood and Vine was not happy, and there would be no second album for SBK.

This is not to say that the fans have abandoned her. The fan club continues to send out material and merchandise, crowds continue to turn out for her performances — most recently, she has played both Sandy and Rizzo in various touring companies of Grease, and will be opening this fall in Funny Girl — and Debheads who are also Webheads can subscribe to a newsletter, take part in a Usenet newsgroup, and visit a Web site. For someone who sells no records, she definitely has a following. The fan club will be distributing Deborah's sixth album (title not released yet) later this year, and while it will utterly lack the marketing muscle of a Big Six record company, I suspect she really doesn't care; respect like theirs, she can do without.

The Vent

#21
10 September 1996

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 Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill