dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Throwback: You Can Depend On Me

This jumps ahead a year from the last Throwback post (from spring 1994 to spring 1995). But read on, for 'tis an exciting tale of mix tapes, first gay dance parties, forging friendships and—oh, yes—cheesy, cheesy pop.

In March of '95, I went to the "Chase Party," the tragic dance held by the IUP campus gay organization at the local church bingo hall (!). Christmas lights Scotch-taped to the ceiling tiles. Pretzels and potato chips in baskets. The DJ playing Madonna's "Bedtime Story" and Real McCoy's Run Away"...on cassette. It was the first time I'd attended this particular shindig, though sadly not the last.

That night a group of students came from another Western Pennsylvania university about an hour away, and I bumped into a guy I'd met briefly a year prior through a mutual friend. He had on a what I recall being a vintage men's tweed coat and retro-looking thick black-framed glasses. Today we all know him as Chart Rigger's Banterview master, MoogaBoo.

We got to talking, and suddenly the DJ played Dead Or Alive. So then MoogaBoo and I got to talking about Stock Aitken Waterman, British producers I'd paid little more than passing interest in during their late '80s heyday, though I did notice their credits on the Bananarama greatest hits I bought in '89 and, four years later, Boy Krazy's "That's What Love Can Do" cassette single.

MoogaBoo and I hung out the whole night, and then stayed in touch via e-mail and this ancient form of communication called handwritten letters, too. (It was still 1995, after all!) Within a week, we cemented our friendship with the most sacred rite of music-geek passage: Making mix tapes for each other.

On that very first one he mailed to me (pictured at the top of this post), I immediately latched onto Lonnie Gordon's "Happenin' All Over Again '93" and played it while walking to classes on a lame yellow walkman I'd borrowed from a girl on my floor (and didn't return for two years) to the point of causing audible crackling on the tape both before and after the song.

Moog also pointed out that Mike Stock and Matt Aitken were staging a bit of a comeback, and had produced a cover of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by someone named Nicki French. (This was still three months before it climbed to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.) I bought the single and, again, played it to the point of snapping.

It seemed that at least once a week that semester I was having to tell one of my friends that I was gay, either in person or on the phone. The process of "coming out" is different for everyone. For me it was just tedious. I think, in retrospect, it was probably harder for some of the people I told.

Everyone I mention this to always finds it somewhat unbelievable, but on my residence hall floor of 30 students, there were 10 of us who came out over the course of that '94-'95 school year. We all used to joke that it was something in the water fountain. But, being more practical, what did anyone expect—it was the English major floor!

Here's D'luv that year. The flannel was a super-dashing, no? (And to this day I still never know what to do with my hands in photos.)

Meeting MoogaBoo was so refreshing; here was a ready-made friend who was the same age, with the same interest in pop music, and, most importantly, with whom I didn't have to have some awkward conversation with about sexuality.

The next tape I got in the mail from him was, at my request, one with songs all produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. Sinitta, Brother Beyond, Laura Branigan, Sonia...and one in particular that stood out—Jason Donovan's "You Can Depend On Me."

For some reason, I couldn't shake that track in particular. I recalled seeing in an old issue of Smash Hits from 1989, which I bought in 9th grade, that Jason Donovan's first album got released here in the States. But, having long been out of print, where to find it in '95?

While most of the students went home that Easter weekend to be with their families, I stayed on campus and got online to search for more info on SAW and their artists. I came across an old-school "mailing list" for Kylie Minogue and Stock Aitken Waterman—the kind where updates were e-mailed en masse to everyone on the list, and if you wanted to contribute, you had to send your own e-mail to some general address.

The group was run by a Brit named Jeremy Kay (and, as someone pointed out in the comments, Aussie Paul Burnim), who would go on to be one of the overseers of this year's recent remastered Lonnie Gordon, Princess and Mandy Smith album releases from PWL and the Cherry Red label.

I printed out the massive list of SAW-productions that Jeremy forwarded to all new members that weekend and remember well how it took about two hours for the whole damn thing to come through my friend's poor old printer.

I was determined to track down as much of this obscure music as possible.

Another friend and fellow student at IUP named Mike picked me up in the final weeks of the semester that May, and we drove into Pittsburgh. I made him stop at a record/comic book store called Eide's on Penn Avenue, and there it was—Jason Donovan's Ten Good Reasons. Annoyingly, they only had it on cassette, but I paid the $4 for it anyway.

Yes, while everyone else was listening to TLC, Live, Pearl Jam and Coolio in summer '95, Jason Donovan's outdated 1989 album was my soundtrack.

One of my most vivid memories is driving to a club in downtown Pittsburgh on a Thursday night that June with a friend of mine. My car's tape player had been defective for about two years at that point, and music sounded really muffled when played through it.

She was so sick of the radio, though, that she grabbed the Ten Good Reasons tape without knowing what it was and said, "Just put this trash on!" After that, I think the only other person on the planet who played that album as much as I did that year—or at all—was her.

Here's the big single off it, "Too Many Broken Hearts":

Anyway, Ten Good Reasons (as well as Jason's second album Between The Lines) was added to iTunes last week. It's classic pop, and was actually the best-selling record in the UK in 1989.

If you're not willing to grab the whole thing but have got the 99 cents to spare, definitely give "You Can Depend On Me" (the album version, not the candyass "original mix" included on the "Hang On To Your Love" EP) a shot.

There was once a 21-year-old kid in the middle of nowhere who romantically dreamt away an angsty summer to that song.

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  • At 9:44 PM, Anonymous Gay-aiken said…

    After looking at that pic, how could ANYONE believe you were straight? You had a mean case of the gayface. :P

    Aussie Paul Burnim created the SAW list.

  • At 9:45 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    Oh the glorious days of mix tapes! I still make the occasional mix CD for friends but even that is becoming increasingly pointless in the days indiscriminate downloading.

    It's bizarre to think how much effort we used to go to in order to find music. I remember ordering things through my local CD store and waiting for up to 6 months for tapes to arrive. How times have changed!

    This is a great post but I have one criticism. I want to see a photo of MoogaBoo - preferably in that sexy tweed coat!

  • At 10:04 PM, Blogger xolondon said…

    You did not have gayface. Please!

    (maybe gay ass, but I am not sure...)

  • At 11:10 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    First of all, I was trying *so* hard to be funny with those tracklistings, wasn't I? Ha ha. Well, everyone who who was friends with D'Luv tried to emulate his style back in those days. (And probably still do from time to time!)

    For the record, your first mix tapes for me still sound amazing, they deserve a post of their own. I shall photo and send for just that purpose.

    And I don't know *what* my life would be like today had I not sashayed into that Chase party that night. 1995 was year zero for me in a lot of ways. We had so much fun!

  • At 1:26 AM, Blogger Paul said…

    brilliant throwback post as always. the flannel is at least a move on from the denim (which is actually apparently probably sometime coming back into fashion!) and the mix tape looks brillo. I still do cd mixes for my friends (see today's post) even though as Mike points out, it's quite hard in the days of indiscriminate downloading. Luckily most my friends aren't really computer orientated so i don't have to worry about that too much!

  • At 7:50 AM, Blogger Adem With An E said…

    As Paul said, another ace throwback post. It's interesting, I actually made a proper cassette mix tape for a 20 year old who was incredibly excited at the novelty of listening to the creation I'd made her on cassette.

    Within hours, she asked me if I could make her a CD of the same songs so she could put them on her iPod. It was a good idea at the time I guess.

  • At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is such a great post! I too, spent many an angsty summer listening to many of these same songs...in the middle of nowhere.

    Incidentally, my favorite SAW production from that era would have to be Donna Summer's "Another Place And Time", which still gets airplay to this day in my musical universe!

  • At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jason Donovan! My favorite parts of the video:

    - Jason chops wood!

    - Jason plays electric guitar on top of a mountain with no place to plug it in!

    - Sexy girl on a gigantic tractor!

  • At 12:13 PM, Blogger Phil said…

    What was the Lisa Stansfield track in the top one? The song title is under the fold!

    I wonder if SAW will ever get the ABBA recognition? They were un believably chart meisters in the late 80s...

  • At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh man you and I have the same taste in music. I'm still obsessed with the PWL sound, and just when I think I've heard everything, there's always something more to be heard. Keep up the good work.

  • At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Shane said…

    I was another PWL fan(atic). Funny reading this, as I could have written a parallel post with many common points!

    I remember those days, and how excited I was the first time I had "Ten Good Reasons" in my hand (the cassette) which meant a whole tape's worth of new Stock, Aitken, Waterman songs sung by a cutie. Oh the thrill. I played that thing to death. "You Can Depend On Me" was one of my faves, although if iPods were around back then, "Too Late To Say Goodbye" would have the highest Play Count. Back then that song kept me rewinding that tape to the point the spools got a bit off-kilter. Thank God I located the CD shortly thereafter.

    Thanks for the post, D'luv. Fantastic!

  • At 5:54 PM, Anonymous ROD™ said…

    The era of the mix tape...fond memories coming flooding back. I definitely made many a mix tape for my friends back then. I always relished putting together a SAW mix tape and having my friends flip out over the songs. Thanks for the throw-back post D-Luv. Our paths crossed briefly via mixtapes and postal exchanges back in the day. It's funny how those prolific British producers had such a major impact on us. If our music is the soundtrack to our lives, then from 1987-1991 mine was a non-stop SAW dance party. Good times! :)

  • At 7:45 PM, Blogger J.Me said…

    I also still have the mix-tapes that Moogaboo made for me all those years back. Sadly, I'm sure they sound wretched having been moved around so much. When I moved away from Western, PA to Eastern, PA his tapes are what sometimes got me through the day.

  • At 8:39 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    Well that's flattering, J. Me, considering *you* got me into pop music in the first place way back when. We could write volumes about the years 87-89, I think. But that's another blog...

  • At 10:09 PM, Anonymous The Secret Diary Of Sonia said…

    I was moved...great writing and a great post. I miss the past, but I love how you can summon it up so eloquently.

  • At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    eff the chart rigging. please make this a throwback blog. i feel like i'm on a 4-year lag on yr reference points but it all makes hilarious sense, perfectly

  • At 1:29 PM, Blogger D'luv said…

    Gay-aiken, thanks for the correction (updated the post). And gay face? We must have different definitions of that one, you Jersey devil.

    Mike, there is a photo of Moogaboo from that time period, in a similar yet not nearly as extensive post about four years back. See if you can find it!

    XO, thanks for the defense! Gay-aiken's just jealous cuz he wants my flannel.

    Moog, aww, we certainly did. I can't believe it's been 14 years! And as for the tracklisting, I wouldn't change a thing ;) Send those pics!

    Paul, thanks! I'll never live down the denim from previous Throwbacks, but there's so much more tragic attire to come! I do mix CDs for friends, too, though not as much as I used to. Sometimes I'm not happy with the tracklisting, and I keep those for my car.

    Adem, your story reminds me of all those tapes in the Alphabeat "Boyfriend" video for some reason. And thanks!

    Anonymous, I forgot to mention in there that I bought Donna Summer's SAW album used in '92, and played it that last semester of my senior high school year to death. I always loved "This Time I Know IT's For Real" back when it was out, though.

    Todd, you forgot to add: Jason plays guitar in certain parts of the song where there is no guitar.

    Phil, the Lisa Stansfield track is "Set Your Loving Free," and the Saint Etienne one is "I Buy American Records." Also not shown on the front side is Donna Summer's "Carry On." The mix was called The Gift Of The Grab. As for SAW, they didn't really get much applause when the 3-disc Gold compilation came out in '05, so if they do, it might not be for a while.

    Supereurobeat002, thanks! Will do.

    Shane, thanks! I was this close to also recommending "Too Late To Say Goodbye," and writing a line lamenting how that one and "You Can Depend On Me" should have been singles over "Sealed With A Kiss," but I wanted to just focus on the one. I love TLTSG too, though.

    Rod, yes! We swapped some tapes back in summer 1996, and then I believe a few CDs in 2000, as well. Good memories. Thanks for the kind words.

    J.Me, that same summer ('95), he left a mix someone else made for him in my car. I made a copy of it before returning, and when I told him, I believe he said I was "ghetto"—ha! As for the mixes, I dug out an old boom box and plan on playing them today! The car I have now actually has a tape deck and a CD player, but the tape deck is F'd and plays music backwards.

    Secret Diary Of Sonia, aww, shucks. I am an eloquent bastard, no?

    K.I.A.T.W.F., I think about doing that sometimes, but I'd run out of stories at some point! You'll just have to keep being surprised when they pop up :)

  • At 12:58 AM, Anonymous Blair said…

    "I printed out the massive list of SAW-productions that Jeremy forwarded to all new members that weekend and remember well how it took about two hours for the whole damn thing to come through my friend's poor old printer."

    Memories...I remember finding Jeremy's SAW lists online (94-95) after I had just changed jobs and had my own computer with Internet access. I printed those lists off and man it took ages. Some miserable prick I worked with kept beating me to the printer and I thought for sure I was done for (company paper and all that).

    Those damn lists let me now just how insignificant my precious collection was in the grand scheme of things- but I have been known to refer to them from time to time as they are quite detailed and currently unavailable online, I believe.

  • At 7:32 PM, Blogger musicdivaSF said…

    Love this throwback entry. I, too have rediscovered the music of the late 80s brought to you by Stock, Aitken, and Waterman and those wonderful days of mix tapes. I actually made so much back then and also started handing them out to friends. I'm quite glad to see someone else enjoying the same music I did growing up. Thanks.


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