Breakin’ In Space #12: Debbie Deb – When I Hear Music/Fantasy


Born in Brooklyn and raised in Miami Beach, Deborah “Debbie Deb” Wesoff-Kowalksi was “discovered” by the mighty Pretty Tony, best-known for his production work under the pseudonym Freestyle – his seminal track 'Don't Stop the Rock' was used by Cadbury's on that advert where the kids waggled their eyebrows. Tony met Deb in a record store and liked the way she spoke and asked if she could sing. She had no formal training, but had been singing for most of her life. The very next day they co-wrote the catchy electro-pop smash 'When I Hear Music' and it was released on the Jam Packed label, a subsidiary of Sunnyview, in 1983, becoming a massive club hit that still endures to this day. (Both Diplo and Craze put it on their Fabric.Live mix albums, and Pitbull has sampled it, though the less said about that the better. Worth checking out, though, is Pónmela, a banger by the Reggaeton artist Volito, which lifts Tony and Deb’s track wholesale for its breakdown.)

Deb’s story is kind of tragic – on the plus-size, clothes-wise, the record company would often hire imposters, Milli Vanilli-style, to pose as her for live PAs and wouldn't put her on the cover of her records. The cover of her debut album, Lookout Weekend, featured a drawing instead of a photo. Her confidence and self-esteem was understandably crushed, and she faded into obscurity. It's not all bad though – Gwen Stefani often bigs up Deb, Janet Jackson covered another of her hits, 'Lookout Weekend', and she was part of the mid-00s freestyle revival show alongside artists like Lisa Lisa, The Cover Girls and Shannon. She made a comeback with new material in 2009, but it’s ‘When I Hear Music’ that she’ll always be remembered for.

As much as I love 'When I Hear Music' (and how could you not?), like all the classics, it's been overplayed. Instead, I often find myself coming back to 'Fantasy', a later cut (1987) with a more upfront Deb vocal, but this time produced by Jam Packed's Mark Roofe and Jesse Diaz. It sounds like a harder Yazoo – definitely Vince Clarke vibes on the synth melodies, but with a tougher drum sound, lashings of cowbell and some nice Latin Rascals-style edits at the end.