El DeBarge, El DeBarge_
Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Throwback Tuesday Album Review: El DeBarge, El DeBarge

Singer El DeBarge was in the midst of a successful career as the lead singer of DeBarge when the time came for the inevitable solo record. Following the group’s fourth album, Rhythm of the Night, began recording his solo debut.

Gordy Records (a Motown sub-label) released El DeBarge on July 14th, 1986. Expectations were high for the album. El had substantial success with the #1 single “Who’s Jonny” from the film Short Circuit. Written by Peter & Ina Wolf, the song was an infectious summertime song that eighties babies still know the chorus to.

It’s clear that Berry Gordy was looking to turn El into a pop star, sadly the material wasn’t durable enough for a singer of El’s talents. Legendary songwriter contributed four songs, “Secrets of the Night,” “I Wanna Hear It from My Heart,” “Private Line,” and “Don’t Say It’s Over.” Berry Gordy wanted to duplicate the success that Warren and DeBarge had with “Rhythm of the Night.” Still, none of the songs are particularly memorable and come off more as outtakes than actual songs.

El regains his footing with producers Jay Graydon, Mark Mueller, Robbie Nevil on the mid-tempo “Someone.” Where the producers do their best to bring out the lushness of El’s voice. The same can’t be said for Jack Conrad and Larry Henley’s production on “When Love Has Gone Away.” The production just doesn’t land and is beneath El’s vocals, as is “Thrill of the Chase.”

Thankfully iconic songwriter and producer Burt Bacharach arrives to save the album with one of my favorite El DeBarge solo songs, “Love Always.” Co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, is a sentimental ballad that still sounds fresh in 2020. El also has another winner in songwriter Randy Goodrum’s “Lost Without Her Love.” While the song may come across as pop, Debarge’s vocals are top notch. 

Surprisingly, DeBarge, a talented songwriter in his own right, didn’t contribute any songs to his debut solo album. Also, it’s a surprise that Gordy didn’t use his clout to pull big-name R & B producers for the project. For instance, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Babyface, and Leon Sylvers III could’ve all assisted with El’s debut, as they could’ve brought out the best in the singer.

El DeBarge’s debut achieved gold status by September of 1986. DeBarge would release another album Gemini on Motown in 1989 and later depart from the label. Since then, El has released three more albums 1992’s In the Storm, 1994’s Heart, Mind and Soul, and his most energetic release 2010’s Second Chance.

El DeBarge’s debut isn’t a total failure, but considering DeBarge’s talent, it is a letdown. El Debarge’s debut is available to stream on all streaming platforms.

Final Re-Listen Grade: C

Best Songs: “Who’s Johnny,” “Love Always” and “Lost Without Her Love”

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