DeepSoul: DeBarge - "All This Love"

Their time on the charts was short, but DeBarge still managed to record one of the most memorable R&B ballads of the 1980s.
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In the early 1980s, Motown Records found itself at a crossroads. The heyday of their success--the '60s and DeBarge - All This Love'70s--had passed, and artists such as the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye had departed the label. Clearly Motown founder Berry Gordy thought he had found the 80s' answer to the Jackson Five in DeBarge, a Grand Rapids, Michigan group consisting of four brothers and one sister. After their debut album, 1981's The DeBarges, experienced only moderate success, the group wrote most of their sophomore effort, All This Love. The 1982 album proved to be their breakthrough, with lead singer El DeBarge proving his worth as a performer and hit songwriter. The title track has become a classic in contemporary R&B due to the siblings' harmonies and El's Michael Jackson-tinged vocals.

In a nutshell, "All This Love" exemplifies smooth R&B. As AllMusic phrases it, El's airy vocals and the song's light arrangement "sail along like the winds of a cool summer night." Reportedly, El wrote the song with Gaye in mind; after the star left Motown, the DeBarges elected to record the track themselves, with producer Iris Gordy (niece of Berry) at the helm. Starting with subtle percussion, El's voice immediately floats into the arrangement with a starry-eyed view of love: "I had some problems/ And no one could seem to solve them," he croons. "But you found the answer/ You told me to take this chance/ And learn the way of love." This leads to the memorable chorus "And all this love is waiting for you," with his siblings providing rich backing vocals that effectively showcase his dreamy delivery.

A particularly fascinating aspect of "All This Love" is its acoustic guitar solo, a lovely, intricately played piece that perfectly complements the overall romantic tone. Even more surprising is the guitarist: José Feliciano, who a Motown artist at the time. After reprising the chorus, El and the other DeBarges round out the ballad by engaging in a back-and-forth repetition of the following lines:

Say you really love me, baby
Say you really love me, darling
For I really love you baby
Sure enough love you darling

The drum pattern changes slightly during this section, giving the song a slight Latin flair. This rhythm alteration, interesting chord changes, El's emotional performance, and Feliciano's lovely solo gave "All This Love" crossover appeal, topping the 1983 Adult Contemporary charts, peaking at number 17 on the Billboard Top 200, and reaching the top five on the R&B singles chart. A featured slot during the now legendary Motown 25 TV special seemingly sealed their fate as successors to the Jacksons family group crown. Indeed, DeBarge recorded several successful tracks after their 1982 breakthrough, including "Rhythm of the Night," "Who's Holding Donna Now," "You Wear It Well," and "Time Will Reveal." El even briefly embarked on a solo career, scoring a hit with "Who's Johnny?" a tune from the Short Circuit soundtrack. Another sibling, Chico, also released "Talk to Me," a minor 1986 hit. The future appeared bright for the family; however, drug problems soon derailed the group, barring them from ever recapturing their early 1980s hit-making prowess.

Although DeBarge may not have enjoyed a lengthy career, their singles remain staples on R&B radio. Even the Notorious B.I.G. And Ashanti proved themselves fans; both of them based their respective songs "One More Chance" and "Foolish" on the keyboard riff from the 1983 DeBarge track "Stay with Me." Out of all their hits, "All This Love" stands out for its timeless quality, an ability to communicate a very familiar message (love conquers all) in a way that lingers long after the song ends.