Thursday, February 4, 2021



(Source, 1979) I consider Debarge one of my favorite groups of all time, and because they were such talented songwriters (Diane Warren wrote their too corny hit, and someone else gets the blame for "Who's Johnny;" all their magnificent compositions were original) you can make an argument they they were the most talented Motown family act. You would lose that argument, Michael's intangibles alone are G.O.A.T. stuff, but you could make and sustain the argument for a respectable arguing session. As big a fan as I am, I intentionally have not found out everything about the group, because the more you learn the sadder and worse it gets. I know there is some kind of self-published Tell All, and a Bobby Debarge melodrama movie, but I just...can't. The music is so good and does not make me sad, and the tragedy is just too much for me. But that willful ignorance has kicked me in the tuchus this time, as I did not know anything about Smash, the pre-Debarge/Switch act. So, what is kind of commonly known, is that Bobby and Tommy Debarge were is Switch who got on Motown, and Bobby helped five other siblings get signed as Debarge (though even that is still kinda confusing, when El sings Switch's "I Call Your Name" in concert, as one example). What I did not know was that Bobby and some of the musicians of Switch were originally part of Barry White's team under the name White Heat. So the crazy part comes next: most of White Heat become Hot-Ice (different than the disco group Hot Ice that were out at the same time) and they release an album in Germany that, according to a note on the back of the Smash LP, "hit the top of the West German-Swiss music circles" in 1977.  This group had most of the future Switch musicians playing on it,and a few of the Switch vocalists, plus it added El, Marty, and Randy Debarge, so 60% of Debarge, and most of Switch, plus some other guys. That's a lot of dudes making a lot of sounds, which I know because in 1979 they re-released it in the US under the band name Smash with a fantastic, if incongruent, pseudo-Jack Kirby cover. So my choosing to be dumb about Debarge for that last four decades meant I was sentenced to never listen to their lost funk album until 2021! And this is funk, not disco. While the brass heavy stuff is pretty akin to classic Kool and the Gang stuff, there is also a ton of Hammond and Rhodes on some tracks that are layered in a way that teases the synth density on the Minneapolis stuff that was about to hit. The lead track (the only one with Switch's Phil Ingram, as a percussionist, not vocalist) is a manic funk instrumental recalling Billy Preston's "Outa-Space," but with so many musicians and vocalists involved the sound changes track to track, and only three of the eight songs even hint at the kind of falsetto vocal arrangements that the Debarge clan made magical. But on side 2, track 3 we get a Bobby-written tune called "Please Don't Let Me Go" which is just a straight up Debarge/Switch ballad in every way, time warping this LP a few years into the future, giving 70s ears a glimpse into the best of 80s R&B. This album is all over the place but all the places are good and I guess I am glad I was so dumb for so long, because there is delight in discovery. I wonder how things turned out for Bobby...wait, don't tell me!

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