The song "Secret Garden" came on my iPod yesterday as I was walking home from work. If you don't remember, the song came out in 1989 on Quincy Jones' "Back on the Block" album (and yes back then they were albums), and the song featured (in order of appearance): Barry White, Al B. Sure, James Ingram and El Debarge. The song used to be a staple during the slow grooves portion of parties I used to attend, and now the song has been relegated to the slow jams portion of your local radio station. Or perhaps people are still using this song to woo the panties (or boxer briefs if I'm being PC) off their mate.
I haven't heard the song in awhile, so I found myself breaking down the song way more than a man should be doing as he's taking a relaxing walk home from work. I will break the song by vocalist and say a bit about the arrangement overall.
Big Barry kicks off the song by saying "Tell Me A Secret" in that big booming baritone of his, which used to make the ladies go wild. I will readily admit that if my voice were as lush and deep as Barry's, I'd have wooed women with substantially less effort than I ended up having to use with my regular, gravelly voice. At this point of the song, the music--which consists of a cymbal, a guitar, and some keyboards--are sparse, and off in the distance. This serves as a perfect contrast to Barry's deep voice, and then Al B. Sure comes in and ruins it..
Al B. Sure
Al B. Sure is the Randy Jackson of this particular group. Normally when people want to heavily downplay the importance of someone's accomplishments they like to invoke the name of Tito Jackson, but that's some bullshit. Tito is a great guitar player and well after the Jacksons stopped performing, he had a second career as a studio musician. Randy Jackson was a freeloader. You don't believe me? Look at this clip and notice how he chose to do some foolish dance, as opposed to singing "We Are The World" with everyone else.
Anyway, the only reason Al B. Sure was invited to sing on this song was the fact the he was the "hot" guy at the time. "In Effect Mode" had been released one year earlier, and Al B. was tearing up the charts (and the acid washed jeans he frequently wore) with hit after hit. Quincy Jones probably felt like the other three gentlemen did not appeal to the younger crowd, so Al B. was called in to save the day. During his brief appearance on this classic song, he had two effeminate "Ohhhs", he tried to overly use vibrato which clearly was not his strength, and he ended up being a supreme waste of time. Unlike the other three vocalists whose voice could be heard even when they weren't singing lead parts, Al B. was on for about 40 seconds and then he was not to be heard from again. Good riddance buddy.
Mr. James Ingram is a professional singer. He's done duets with Linda Ronstadt, Anita Baker and Patti Austin. He sang background on MJ's "PYT", and he's been the closing vocalist on songs as well (see that same We Are the World clip I linked earlier). Whenever Quincy Jones makes an album, he makes it his business to include Ingram in some way, shape or form, and this song is no different.
I remember Johnny Gill telling a story about his appearance on New Edition's song "Boys to Men", and he said that he tried his hardest to sing his ass off on that song, because he wasn't given very many parts to sing on the "NE Heartbreak" album. And if you listen to Johnny on that "Boys to Men" song you know he was not lying. Well James Ingram sang verses on "Secret Garden", like he was an American Idol contestant trying to get to Hollywood He started soft, hit the high notes, had a few impressive runs, and just made the song even more adult than Barry White had done with his voice. He also successfully washed the nasty taste of Al B. Sure right out of the listener's mouths (yes I'm aware of everything wrong with that sentence).
El Debarge aka "The Debarge" as Black Thought called him in this song
El's appearance as a lead vocalist on this song was just as brief as Al B's, except he actually left you wanting more. El's vocals are smooth, not overdone, and you just picture him swooping in and stealing the girlfriend/wife of any man at that moment. Granted, El's background vocals are strewn all over the damn song, and he blends perfectly with Al B., Barry White and James Ingram, so the listeners don't feel totally shortchanged, but still, I wanted more.
El ends his verse by saying, "I can keep you satisfied..make it alright...all night", and then it is as if there is a 3some going on, and he tags out, and tags Barry White back into the mix. Again, Quincy got it right by contrasting the light voice of El with the strong masculine voice of Barry.
Barry White (again).
Barry's first appearance was simply him doing the "Barry White", which is to use his deep baritone to woo the ladies. In his second appearance, Barry actually got a chance to croon. He's on old-school singer and most of his lines involve him doing that old school singers always promise to do. "I'll take care of you", "I'll do it all night", "Let me get you in the mood". If anyone else was saying these things, it could easily be labeled as corny. But Barry's the deep-voiced crooner, so he can get away with it. Plus, right when you think you've had enough of his deep-voiced begging, El Debarge comes back in to sing the chorus
The rest of the song goes like this: El Debarge sings and ends every sentence with Barry White's famous phrase, "Sho' you right". Barry White continues to talk that non-sensical crap in that sexy voice of his, and James Ingram presides over it all with his infamous closing runs. It is a great song and the co-writing credits go to Quincy Jones, El Debarge, Siedah Garrett (co-writer of MJ's Man in the Mirror and co-singer in MJ's "I Can't Stop Loving You) and a little someone I like to call Rod Temperton who wrote Rock With You, Thriller, Off The Wall, Lady In My Life, Tamia's You Put A Move On My Heart and George Benson's "Give me the Night". All that star power (even Al B. Sure) in one song and it is awesome. Please get yourself reacquainted with this beautiful song: