Babyface turns 30 this year. Sure, the Man Who Would Be Babyface — Kenneth Edmonds — was born in 1959, but the singer, songwriter, producer, and all-around hit maker extraordinaire began taking baby steps up the Billboard charts the year Michael Jackson’s Thriller dominated every chart. Join Robert Cass, Jeff Giles, and Mike Heyliger as they take a look back at the first three decades of Babyface’s career, with various detours along the stream of consciousness.
Robert: We’re opening the request lines this time (I would say “week,” but I realize ‘Face Time has been scheduled rather erratically lately) for John, the Rocky Mountain Ranger who always leaves thoughtful comments under these posts. Thanks for reading, John, and remember to keep your feet in cement while you look at the stars, or however that old saying goes.
Jeff: Like After 7’s “Ready or Not,” this is one of those songs from the ‘Face songbook that takes a pretty obvious sentiment and makes it sound profound. “I only think of you on two occasions / That’s day and night.” I mean, damn.
Mike: I’m melting already.
Robert: Here they are performing “Two Occasions” on Soul Train on January 30, 1988. Dig the dance moves as each of the song’s three lead vocalists — Babyface, Darnell “Dee” Bristol, and Carlos “Satin” Greene — step up to the center microphone. Don Cornelius, as always, sucks all the energy out of the room as soon as he begins to interview his guests.
Mike: Ah, Soul Train … Even with bad lip-syncing and a host with barely any interviewing skills, it’s a gem.
Robert: I wasn’t aware that longtime Babyface collaborator Daryl “DeRock” Simmons had joined the Deele by the time of their third and final album, at least as a touring member of the group, or in this case, as a miming member of the group. “Play” that guitar, DeRock!
Jeff: Who “plays” a better “guitar,” DeRock or the Chicago horn section in any of the band’s ’80s videos?
Robert: Hard to say, but the guy playing the tiny saxophone in this “performance” of Babyface’s “I Love You Babe” on Soul Train on October 3, 1987, certainly gives Walt Parazaider, and maybe even Lisa Simpson, a run for their money (skip to 2:15 on the counter if you need to see the Tiny Sax Machine RIGHT THIS INSTANT).
Mike: You think bands are happy they don’t have to do the Soul Train/American Bandstand circuit anymore?
Jeff: I think the smart ones miss the days when they could easily and affordably tap into that kind of captive audience.
Robert: I’m sure it was preferable to soliciting funds on Kickstarter for low-budget music videos. “If you pledge $10,000, we’ll somehow promise that the end product will go viral …”
The oft-sampled and -quoted “Two Occasions” was Babyface’s first visit to the Billboard top ten as a performer, peaking at number ten in the spring of ’88 (and number four on the R&B chart). It was also the Deele’s one and only top-ten hit — they never recorded a follow-up to Eyes of a Stranger. However, Simmons and bassist Kevin “Kayo” Roberson became LaFace’s “B team” of producers in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and Bristol cowrote Bobby Brown’s “Roni” with ‘Face.
We close with a special dedication to the Rocky Mountain Ranger, a “live” version of “Two Occasions” from Babyface’s 1991 remix album, A Closer Look: