How 1987 Music Helped Shape My Sexuality

1987_montage

by Diego Martinez

“Cassettes are back, babe!

Did you know?”

My googly eyes became even “googlier” after reading BuzzAngle’s latest report on the music industry, which registered a 140% increase in tape sales of U.S. artists and labels over the course of 2016. Hence the random remark to my boyfriend. Indeed, it was random and somewhat weird but, apparently, it is the signal of a brand-new trend, a swim back into nostalgia. Hell, if vinyl went through it, why can’t tape? 

Talking about swimming back into nostalgia, BuzzAngle’s report was the perfect excuse to reminisce about the lot of cassettes I owned at home in Venezuela. It was on the hundreds, most of them were property of my parents. I remember deliberately replacing their content with music straight from the radio. Oldie radio, that is. The ballads and early rock and roll of the 1950s, the counterculture of the 1960s, the disco-fied movement that ruled the 1970s, the techno of the 1980s and the producer-based sound of the early 1990s became the primary source of my musical curiosity as a child. My taste raised eyebrows early on, but no one seemed to mind. Least of all me. 

At the same time, I would indulge in the heavy catalogue of vinyl owned by my older cousins, already teenagers when I was born in 1985. Though my collective memory didn’t kick in until three years later, the music from 1987, precisely, has been with me forever and I proudly say it has made me the person I am today, sexual orientation options included. There’s something about it, a je ne sais quoi, that fueled my fantasies, my sexual drive and my reckless abandon to bust a move to a tune. And it all started with some teenage queens. 

Let me hear your heartbeat

Let me feel your heartbeat

Let me touch your heartbeat

‘Cause I can change your heartbeat

Tiffany was a favorite of my cousin Monica. The fresh-faced, red-haired 16-year-old, graced the front and back cover of her self-titled debut LP, produced by her manager George Tobin and released September 15, 1987, looking like a Debbie Gibson’s Bushwick, NY relative.

The album’s last two songs were monster hits worldwide—her cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” and the teary-eyed “Could’ve Been”. I can imagine Monica singing word by word on her broken English. I know, I’ve been there. I can forgive Tiffany’s hand dance gesture on the video for “I Saw Him Standing There”, but I can never forgive that dreadful Beatles cover. Just dreadful. I settled on the album’s deep cuts, like the mysterious “Danny” and “Promises Made” or the poppy “Should’ve Been Me” and “Johnny’s Got the Inside Moves”. Those to me were quintessential Tiffany.

Deb, her co-star on SyFy’s Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, also used her hands as part of her dance moves to convey emotion but unlike Tiffany, she was self-contained. Not only did she sing, but she was in hands of the production on her own debut album. A lush production, considering the results of “Out of The Blue”. All the dance songs and all the ballads were gleaming out of the record, literally out of the blue with her vocals on top, setting the stage for the triumph that was “Electric Youth”, two years later. 

I need a man who’ll take a chance

On a love that burns hot enough to last

So when the night falls

My lonely heart calls

Speaking of triumphs and queens, my dad and I worshiped Whitney Houston’s sophomore album, simply titled “Whitney”. As she nicely put it, I don’t know why I like it but…I just do. It’s the first album I remember seeing at my house’s record shelf, next to Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable…With Love”. In later years, I would often wonder whether our similar taste in music was an indication that he too was gay (he didn’t appreciate ABBA as much as I did, but we both owned cassettes by The Real McCoy, Londonbeat and Ace of Base). At least, he knew a good singer when he heard one. And Whitney was an exceptional singer.

Light years away from Being Bobby Brown, the carefully put together Nippy was at the top of her game when she got “So Emotional”, wanted to “Dance with Somebody” and asked “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”. 80s synth pop mixed with Michael Masser’s sappiness but aside the hit singles, my heart went straight to “Love Will Save The Day” and “Love Is a Contact Sport”, where she sang about the London fog with the same energy as she sang “How Will I Know” just a couple of springs earlier.

Whitney knew her own strength then, or so we thought, but as far as the charts were concerned, the queen of 1987 was no other than Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone.  She carried the success of 1986’s “True Blue” all the way to the following year but there is never a softer spot than for the entire “Who’s That Girl” phenomena. The screwball comedy sucked hard and didn’t do anything good for her film career, but the likeability towards her was virtually universal. Everybody loved her, wanted to be her or tried to dance like her. She was omnipresent and her 1987 hits were a testament of the possibilities she provided to an entire generation of kids everywhere, yours truly included.

Technology came late at my home, so when I finally had access to a CD-player, I knew just the albums I’d get. The first was “The Best of KC and The Sunshine Band”. The second, Madonna’s 1987 remix comp “You Can Dance”. I scratched that bastard like crazy from all the countless hours I listened through re-imagined versions of deep cuts and singles. It was the soundtrack and homage to dancers. It was my soundtrack. And I wasn’t even a dancer.

I swear I won’t tease you
Won’t tell you no lies
I don’t need no bible
Just look in my eyes

I was well aware of my sexual orientation by the time I stumbled upon George Michael’s first post-Wham effort “Faith”, but his unbashful honesty and rawness caught my eye at a very early age. He was a man, a grown-up man with sunglasses, a beard and very tight trousers, in control of his destiny. He was also in control of some sexy dancing that sent his faithful fans into a frenzy. Long before Ricky Martin shook his Bon-Bon, George was already doing just that, along with some substantial material to back it up.

I stopped and stared when I first saw the video for “Monkey” and soon enough, he had me hypnotized. The camera frame was not powerful enough to restrain his moves. Armed with a white shirt, suspenders, a hat and a song, he was all over it. Yet this guy was versatile; he could be sassy just as much as he could demonstrate sensibility. But he was not the only male artist of 1987 to show all different sides of his personality.

The ever-unapologetic Prince didn’t need to envy any of George’s assets, as he played against Sheena Easton “in the World Series of love” and addressed the issues of the era in the title track to his album “Sign O’ The Times”, while his archrival Michael Jackson not only proved that he could be “Bad” but that he’d make the perfect duet partner on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, with Sideah Garrett. The “Bad” album holds a special place in my upbringing, as it was one of the very few things that me and my older sister could enjoy without judgement or criticism. We both loved Michael and his jerry curls. We both hoped he’d remain that way forever. We both enjoyed watching the “Moonwalker” movie on reruns. Every move he made on that flick felt like magic for us.

We’re no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
You wouldn’t get this from any other guy

Writing about the good music of 1987 and its perennial effect on me would take hours and even longer paragraphs. Still, there’s some room left to mention other great bands, singers and songs that tickled me then and now. There’s not a day gone by that I don’t underestimate the lasting power of British pop producers Stock Aitken and Waterman. Their mainstream and Factory-like take on Hi-NRG and underground House music surely led to the Calvin Harrises, the Zedds and the Chainsmokers of today. SAW made glam icons out of Bananarama, Samantha Fox and Mel & Kim and took a drummer named Rick Astley from obscurity in Newton-le-Willows to international superstardom—later to gain notoriety once more as a living meme.

But what about the Miami/Freestyle explosion of Gloria Estefan, Exposé and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam? (btw, sing a string of “Lost in Emotion” and you’ll get a smile from me) The pioneering LGBTQ influences behind Dead or Alive, Depeche Mode, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys? The female front held by Kim Wilde, Janet Jackson, Jody Watley, Anita Baker and Belinda Carlisle? Or the hit making strength of bands like Heart, Starship, Fleetwood Mac, The Bangles and The Jets? They’re all there, all present along with the greats in the playlist that shaped me as an individual of value, heart, body and soul. Three decades have gone by and the quality is still unparalleled to my ears. Every day I find something worth feeling in these songs. Would new generations of music listeners take a chance on these old tapes and LPs? The statistics are evident, and they’re saying what The System suggested back in 1987: “Don’t disturb this groove”.

Bio

Journalist, Writer and media producer, originally from Venezuela and living in San Francisco, CA.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram

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