TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Number One on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart on Saturday, April 27, 1985.
SONGWRITER: Diane Warren.
PRODUCER: Richard Perry.
BACKSTORY: The most celebrated performing family at Motown? The Jackson 5, of course. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that another set of siblings signed to the company should have a connection to the boys from Gary, Indiana: it was Jermaine Jackson himself who heard music makers Tommy and Bobby DeBarge and helped their group, Switch, join Motown in 1977. On their debut album, Jermaine wrote and produced “I Wanna Be Closer,” and executive-produced the whole package with wife Hazel. As importantly, Motown delivered a Top 10 hit on the R&B charts for Switch, “There’ll Never Be.”
Fast forward to 1981, and Bobby DeBarge produced the debut LP by three of his brothers (Eldra, Mark, Randy) and sister Bunny, a foursome collectively known as the DeBarges. It’s on Motown, naturally, as is their next album, All This Love. By this time, the family band is known as DeBarge, and they’re making Top 10 R&B ballads, namely “I Like It” and “All This Love.”
Much of their early material was written within the group, but when 1985 rolled around, up-and-coming songwriter Diane Warren was drafted specifically to create some music for the soundtrack of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. “I was told about the movie, and I’d started the song anyway,” Warren explained about “Rhythm Of The Night” in The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits. “It turned out that the song really worked out.” Another outsider, Richard Perry, was recruited to produce the record for DeBarge. “I loved their previous work,” said Perry. “This [song] was very different for them, being uptempo.”
DeBarge provided the street sounds as well as the vocals, while producer Perry used live musicians – at a time of drum-machine ubiquity – for the instrumental track. And the party atmosphere? That was influenced by another Motown hit, Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).” With these assets and the exposure in The Last Dragon, “Rhythm Of The Night” traveled to the Top 3 of the Billboard pop listings during May 1985, and soared to the summit of the magazine’s Adult Contemporary and Hot Black Singles charts – a triple triumph. Moreover, the record racked up big sales in Canada, Holland and the U.K., among other countries. They got the rhythm, too.
REMAKES: The infectious, calypso quality of “Rhythm Of The Night” has helped the song to last, albeit that DeBarge’s original is the version which still draws most attention and airplay. Among the remakes was one by ’90s British poptastic trio 911 (it stayed close to the original) and Liz Menezes’ bossa nova rendering in 2014. “Rhythm” also returned to the big screen in 2001, sung by Valeria and deployed for a dance sequence in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.
FOOTNOTE: Sometimes, the night can be cold as well as rhythmic, and the DeBarge siblings have suffered tragedy as well as triumph. Bobby died prematurely in 1995 in the family’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, while other brothers have struggled to keep their music careers on track. Chico reconnected with the spirit of Motown in 1999, recording a version of Marvin Gaye’s “’Til Tomorrow” for the Marvin Is 60 tribute album; Eldra (El) DeBarge has also persevered, making solo records and performing in concert with the likes of Chaka Khan.