05 July 2023

"All This Love" by DeBarge (1982)

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLASSICS

There are three main ways to classify a classic song.  First is the type that instantly makes you think of a certain era, due to being amongst the most-popular tunes of its day.  A good example of this phenomenon, as far as an American song goes, is I'm a Believer (1966) by The Monkees.  It's like as soon as you hear the hook of that track, you think of the 1960s.

The second type of classics are those which effectively and entertainingly speak to a timeless concept.  One modern artist who was a master at putting together those types of songs together was Bob Marley (1945-1987).  His classics are not only acoustically pleasing but also usually possess a spiritual dimension which allows them to withstand the test of time.

Then there are songs that are classics because even though they came out so many years ago, usually via an artist that's no longer poppin', still, if it had just been released today, people would feel it.  I believe that out of all forms of African-American music, no genre has accomplished that feat as consistently as R&B and more specifically that without a hip-hop influence.

All This Love is the title track of DeBarge's
sophomore studio album.

One of the songs I can think falls into the category, as verified by the most-popular comments currently on its YouTube page, is All This Love (1982) by DeBarge.  This is about as perfect of a love song as you're going to get from back in the days that doesn't sound aged, and achieving such a task is not an easy feat.  For instance, there's another DeBarge song that came out the following year called Stay With Me (1983) which has become sort of a classic.  But there are certain instrumental elements of the track which would not appeal to 21st century music fans.

WHO WERE DEBARGE?

Officially, DeBarge was only extant for a decade, from 1979 to 1989.  Within that time they dropped five studio albums and afterward sorta participated on a gospel LP called Back on Track (1991), which is credited to the entire DeBarge Family.

In other words, DeBarge was a family act that consisted of siblings.  Throughout the years the group had seven members, though the siblings, in total, number 10, all born to the same mother and father.

Bunny DeBarge is the oldest of them all and one of only two females her parents, the late Robert DeBarge Sr. (1932-2009) and Etterlene DeBarge (née Abney), had birthed.  Most of the DeBarge children are still around, with the exception for Bobby Debarge (1956-1995) and Tommy DeBarge (1957-2021).  Tommy was never part of the DeBarge, though Bobby was but only for a couple of years near the end.  However, both were more notably down with another R&B act from that same era known as Switch.

DeBarge's biggest hit was Rhythm of the Night (1985), which was associated with The Last Dragon (1985), one of the best "Black" films ever made.  However, All This Love has aged a lot better than that song.  Rhythm of the Night was really trending during its day, being one of the best music videos out at the time.  That was back in the days when like music videos were only played at night, and that clip could wake you up from a slumber, like a cup of coffee.  But you're not likely to come across somebody singing it these days.

Contrast the cover art above to that of Bad Boys
Debarge's 1987 album.

Perhaps due to being a family act, you can say that DeBarge was destined not to last.  Amongst the issues that broke the band apart were Bunny and El, i.e. the only female and the lead singer, getting the star treatment from Motown while everyone else got the boot.  Besides that, some of the brothers had drug problems, and a couple, Bobby and Chico, even did time for trafficking.  You're not likely to look at a picture of DeBarge and be like 'these are some bad boys', but Bad Boys was in fact the name of their 1987 album.  That was around the same time, after Rhythm of the Night, that DeBarge fell off.  

THE SONG

No disrespect to El DeBarge, who wrote All This Love, but the lyrics aren't what makes this piece outstanding.  As with many, if not most other love songs, the singer sets out to illustrate that his life is so much better with his boo-boo by his side.  But one way these lyrics are different is that said sweetheart actually went about initiating the relationship with the singer, not vice versa, as is usually the case.  Perhaps, due to the fact that his mind was plagued with "some problems", El's thoughts weren't really on romance.  But now that she does have him open, he's willing to give 'all that he has', i.e. 'all of his love', to his sweetheart.

I never knew the lyrics of this song possessed those intricacies until I just read them, because it's really DeBarge's delivery that makes this song, not its wording.  And you have to give credit where credit is due.  For instance, to be totally honest El DeBarge doesn't have much of a vocal range.  But what he does have is a very smooth voice which was seemingly made for songs like this.  And also keep in mind that this track came out during the post-disco 1980s when falsetto singers, such as Michael Jackson and Prince, also had to be a little sweet.  Like you couldn't sing falsetto back in those days - especially as a Blackman - and come off as being super-masculine.  So that reality likely influenced El's style also.

But what I really think makes this song stand out are its latter segments, i.e. the bridge and the outro.  And with the outro especially the rest of DeBarge - and apparently Bunny in particular - do an excellent job of backing El up.  Like it's kinda rare that you come across a song whose most exceptional part is its outro.

Besides Bunny, all of the members of DeBarge could play at least one instrument.  On this song, both El and James played keyboard.  But here's an interesting fact.  The guitar solo that's played between the second and third verses is held down by José Feliciano, aka the writer of Feliz Navidad (1970).  And the other instruments on the track were also played by musicians who were not part of DeBarge.

What's also interesting is the fact that El produced the song with Iris Gordy, i.e. the daughter of music mogul Berry Gordy, with Iris apparently being a VP at Motown at the time.  And according to Wikipedia, Berry himself was also involved, serving as the executive producer of the song, which probably means he had the final say on whether it was released or not.

COVERS OF ALL THIS LOVE

A number of prominent artists have put their talents to All This Love.  At the top of the list, in terms of notoriety, would probably be Boyz II Men, who did so in 2007, when they were a trio instead of quartet.  It can easily be argued that Boyz II Men are better singers than DeBarge.  But still, the original is better.

Johnny Mathis dropped a smooth, jazz-sounding rendition in 2008.  His cover does a good job of illustrating how versatile a composition All This Love is, as in how it can be effectively covered by different singers.

Further back in the days, in 1996, Xscape also gave it shot, in the name of their cover being featured on New York Undercover, i.e. that cop show that was hot for a minute.  And theirs is actually the best of the lot, instrumental and all.  But you know, they still can't see El.

Patti LaBelle also dropped a cover in 1994.  I've never been a big Patti Labelle fan, but mom dukes loves her to death.  Her rendition, unlike the others on this list, was actually released as a single and therefore has its own music video.  In fact, it seems that even the original doesn't have its own video, which is understandable considering how long ago it came out.

CONCLUSION

DeBarge didn't sell a whole lot of records.  The 1980s was the decade in which music videos, i.e. visual imagery, really became an all-important part of marketing musicians.  And my argument is that they just weren't showy like that.  But either way, they did get around to dropping at least one genuinely-timeless hit, an achievement that most musicians can't really boast of.