20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
What: The third Motown album by the record company’s second family group to break into the big time, helped by a member of its first, Jermaine Jackson.
When: From this album, DeBarge’s first Number One single, “Time Will Reveal,” debuted on the Billboard R&B charts in October 1983, but the group had Motown connections dating back at least five years. At that stage, Bobby and Tommy DeBarge were part of Switch, brought to Berry Gordy’s business by way of Jermaine Jackson, who had heard a demo tape of the band. Later, a different combination of family members made up the DeBarges (as they were first known): Eldra, Mark, Randy and Bunny. That quartet signed to Motown in 1982. (For more about DeBarge, read here.)
Where: In A Special Way was recorded in Los Angeles at studios in Burbank and West Hollywood – a considerable distance from the family’s Michigan roots (the siblings were born in Detroit, and raised in Grand Rapids). “The group always depended on me to put all the music together,” El explained in The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits. “My family does play instruments, but they would bring all the songs to me and have me arrange them.” Both their previous albums for Motown, 1981’s The DeBarges and 1982’s All This Love, were cut in California.
Why: All This Love had established DeBarge as hitmakers on both the R&B and pop charts, with most of its songs written by the group. That same creativity was the hallmark of In A Special Way, with the album’s biggest hit, “Time Will Reveal,” penned by El and Bunny. “She used to whop us up the side of the head if we refused to practice or if we missed a rehearsal,” said El of his sister. “When I remember growing up, I remember that. But it was for our own good. She held us together.” Added Bunny, “I remember El sitting at a piano with me standing next to him, making up little songs. We all started writing at an early age. Of course, the songs were kind of silly then. We wrote about a dog or playing in the neighbourhood. But it taught us to put our thoughts down and work them out.”
What else: DeBarge’s work has often been sampled, notably on BLACKstreet’s 1997 hit, “Don’t Leave Me,” and Notorious B.I.G.’s 1995 chart-topper, “One More Chance.” Later, “Foolish,” the first blockbuster for Ashanti – Number One on both R&B and pop best-selling lists in 2002 – sampled “Stay With Me” from In A Special Way, as did Mariah Carey’s “I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time” six years later. Special, indeed.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?