Debbie Gibson Q&A: Celebrating 25 Years Of 'Electric Youth'

Debbie Gibson

Troy Smith Photography

On Jan. 24, 1989, Gibson released her sophomore album. It would spend five weeks atop the Billboard 200 and yield the Hot 100 No. 1 'Lost in Your Eyes.' On the set's 25th anniversary, Gibson reflects on its success and reveals what's ahead in 2014

Cautiously exciting.

That's it how it feels to listen to a highly-anticipated second album from an artist after you've been won over by a captivating debut.

Will it be as good? Will there be more hits? Will the overall sound have changed?

Can it even be better?

Twenty-five years ago today, fans of pop music's then-teen queen Debbie Gibson pressed play on their boom boxes (or, CD players, if you believed that CDs were going to catch on …) and began getting to know "Electric Youth," her follow-up to her smash first album, "Out of the Blue."

Quickly, "cautiously" was surely removed from the experience.

Gibson had an impressive track record to follow. "Blue" yielded four Billboard Hot 100 top 10s in 1987-88: the No. 4-peaking hits "Only in My Dreams" and "Shake Your Love," the No. 3 title cut and her first No. 1, ballad "Foolish Beat." The album peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in a hefty 89-week run and was certified triple-Platinum by the RIAA.

"Electric Youth" measured up.

The set's first single, piano ballad "Lost in Your Eyes," soared to a three-week Hot 100 reign, while the album ruled the Billboard 200 for five frames. (In the '80s, only four other albums by solo women posted commands as long or longer, two each by Whitney Houston and Madonna.)

The "Electric Youth" title cut (No. 11) and ballad "No More Rhyme" (No. 17) both hit the Hot 100's top 20, with Gibson listing fourth single "We Could Be Together" among her five favorite songs of hers (when pestered last year by a certain zealous fan to rank her releases in order of preference).

On the milestone 25th anniversary of the release of the double-Platinum-certified "Electric Youth," Gibson muses on many facets of the album, along with plans for upcoming projects, all with an energy that aptly mirrors the set's lasting effervescence.

Billboard: Debbie, congratulations on the anniversary! It's said that an artist has his or her whole life to make a first album, but a limited window to make the all-important follow-up. Did you feel that pressure when making "Electric Youth"? Perhaps not so much, since some songs I know were written, and performed live, years earlier? Plus, you could draw on the experience of having made "Blue."

Gibson: I love this question and it definitely applied, but not to my first two albums, because, in a way, I feel like they were my debut combined. I had presented Atlantic Records with more than a hundred songs before they signed me, just to release "Only in My Dreams" as a 12-inch single, to make sure it wasn't a fluke, since I was a teenager who wrote.

So, even though some of the songs [on "Youth"] were written after "Out of the Blue" came out, many were actually from that first batch of songs I wrote between the ages of 12 and 16.

Also, the beauty of recording as a teenager is that you don't really know pressure yet. I had no bills to pay and I lived with my parents, so it was all really a glorified hobby to me. Pressure just did not enter into the equation.

I later did feel the pressure to release albums and had not accumulated songs from true-life experiences, which is why a lot of the material, I think, became mediocre.

I'm thrilled to say I have now taken real-life moments to accumulate my next batch of songs for an upcoming record. I feel like it's "Out of the Blue" and "Electric Youth" all over again, because I am in a true channeling mode that can only come from giving yourself the luxury of time and living, as opposed to trying to create, or recreate, something.

How do you compare "Out of the Blue" and "Electric Youth"? To me, the latter presented a more mature artist (yes, even at 18), with songs like the flute-driven "Silence Speaks (A Thousand Words)" and "No More Rhyme" more adult-leaning, lyrically and musically, than much of "Blue."

It's funny to think a maturation process happens between the ages of 16 and 18, but I think, yes, those songs do represent a more poetic/less teenage point-of-view.

And, now thinking about it, I had traveled the world in the time between "Out of the Blue" and "Electric Youth" and went from rags to riches, so to speak, all of which will grow you up real quick.

How did "Lost in Your Eyes" come to be the first single from "Electric Youth"?

I had started performing that song on the road on the "Out of the Blue" tour. From the opening two bars of the piano intro, it elicited screams from audiences. It had yet to be recorded or played on the radio, but it was already a hit. That's not ego talking. It's just true of any artist and any song that has that feeling of being familiar, yet new. My acting teacher, Howard Fine, said that phrase to me in relation to what is a hit, be it a hit piece of theater or a hit song.

It's so true. It's like an old friend. You predict that the melody is going to go in a satisfying way.

Was there any trepidation, either from you or the label, about releasing a ballad first, with pop radio historically tempo-driven? Obviously, the success of "Foolish Beat" provided key evidence that you know your way around a ballad.

I don't remember exact conversations, but it was no contest. And, at that point, I instinctually knew what would work next for me in my career. I had also witnessed firsthand audience response to the song on the "Out of the Blue" tour.

Obviously, dance songs can stand the test of time, but nothing penetrates and spans all age groups, all ethnicities or all genders like a ballad. One of my favorite things, to this day, is that many people come up to me and tell me that they learned how to play the piano from that song and from that sheet music, which is such an honor to me.

I curse my younger self, though, every time I go to belt the high D at the end live. (Laughs)

NEXT: Gibson on her next album and more

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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