Monday, March 11, 2019

"Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2704
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  75
Peak:  3
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The family band DeBarge had their peak moment with their #19 gold selling album Rhythm of the Night. It should have led the siblings to something even greater, but drug addiction and other factors took a toll on the group and their leading force El DeBarge finally decided to exit and try for a solo career. Staying with Motown's Gordy label, DeBarge moved forward and recorded his self-titled debut solo album. The first single from the LP would be this track, which also served as the theme song to the sci-fi comedy film Short Circuit. The tune took off and hit the #1 spot at R&B while reaching the Pop Top 10. It also made it to #10 Dance and #18 AC. The hit helped to make the album a gold seller. DeBarge's solo career was off and running.

ReduxReview:  This infectious piece of pop candy was one of those love-it-or-loathe-it kind of songs. For me it was quirky fun. I got a kick out of the track even though it was nothing like the smooth sounds DeBarge had been doing with his family. It was an in-your-face 80s synthpop tune boosted by a popular film. The bummer part was his album. DeBarge had proved himself to be a good songwriter and producer, yet when it came to his solo debut, he did neither. All the songs were written by A-list songwriters supplying their best B-list material. Established writers included Diane Warren, Jay Graydon, Burt Bacharach, Robbie Nevil, Randy Goodrum, and in the case of this song Peter and Ina Wolf, the husband/wife team that had just scored a #1 with Starship's "Sara." Peter Wolf and Graydon would co-produce the LP. I'm guessing the label wanted to turn DeBarge into a big crossover artist and took over control of content and production in order to make it happen. It resulted in a gold album, but in the process they eliminated the soul that made DeBarge famous. The LP is full of mediocre AC-leaning pop tracks. It's a shame they didn't let DeBarge take full control. He might have created a special debut. But it seems the music machine was in full motion and DeBarge was caught in it. This song was really the only bright spot on an otherwise bland album. DeBarge deserved better.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The film Short Circuit, which starred Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, was mainly about an escaped robot named Number 5 that ends up being befriended by Sheedy's character. This song was written to be used in the film and those involved in the making liked it so much that they included a scene near the end where Number 5 changes his name to Johnny 5. Although the movie received a mixed critical reaction, it was a sizable box office hit. It did well enough to warrant a sequel that came out in 1988. Sheedy and Guttenberg did not appear in the film. It starred Fisher Stevens, who was a side character in the original. The film was far more expensive to make and took in only half of what the original did making it a box office dud.



  1. Happy to see you give this a 7 - I'd go higher but you're one of the few that likes it - it's just a wonderful pop tune.

    1. It's such a happy, clever, fun tune. What's not to like?