Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
The fact that El DeBarge’s first solo album, while a gold-seller, didn’t catapult him into the mainstream when released in 1986 is a bit of a mystery. His time as the focal point of second-generation Motown super group DeBarge made him a darling in R&B circles and it seemed, particularly after the across-the-board success of “Rhythm of the Night” and the album of the same name, that El was poised for prime-time stardom. It’s been said in recent years that it was the family’s well-documented problems, not Hitsville’s propensity to push star singers out front, that sparked the shift toward El going it alone—but the move was inevitable.
In truth, El DeBarge didn’t stray too far from the basic formula that made Rhythm of the Night a commercial breakthrough. It was savvy Los Angeles pop at its best, complete with a star-studded supporting cast that included Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager, Michael McDonald, Siedah Garrett, and fellow Motown signees Vanity and Tata Vega. He clocked three hit singles out of the gate: “Who’s Johnny,” from the lovable eighties cult film Short Circuit, is a guilty pleasure of sorts, while “Love Always” and the criminally undervalued “Someone” should have generated greater returns at pop radio. Untapped album cuts like “Secrets of the Night,” “Private Line,” and “Lost Without Her Love” crackle with an exciting, renewed energy in El’s rhythmic lines, and could have easily been hits on their own. Even the fairly routine outings “I Wanna Hear it From My Heart” and “Thrill of the Chase” retain their charm and appeal some 31 years later.
Whatever El DeBarge didn’t generate in terms of career momentum is balanced out by its display of the singer’s interpretive skills, which can be challenging for artists who build careers singing their own songs. And as evidenced by the 2010 comeback effort Second Chance and a series of successful live shows over the last several years, El hasn’t lost his touch.