Who’s Johnny – El DeBarge | Top 40 Chart Performance, Story and Song Meaning

Chart Performance: Pop (#3), R&B (#1) & Hot Dance (#10); 1986

Story Behind The Song By Ed Osborne

After the Jackson 5, Motown’s first family of soul was DeBarge. The Grand Rapids, Michigan group debuted on the R&B chart in 1982 with Stop! Don’t Tease Me.

Single number two, I Like It, reached #2 and kicked off a string of seven straight smash hits, many written by lead singer El DeBarge. The family’s final R&B Top 10 marked a billing change to “DeBarge with El DeBarge,” followed shortly by El’s first solo single, Who’s Johnny.

“Johnny” turned out to be a runaway robot featured in the film Short Circuit who wants a name other than “Number Five.” Someone suggests “Johnny” and the song is off and running. Peter Wolf wrote Who’s Johnny while lying in bed one morning and his wife, Ina, helped polish it off.

Peter urged El to breathe a lot of energy into his vocals. El followed instructions and delivered a performance that powered him to #1 R&B and #3 Pop; his best chart showing ever. (Born Eldra DeBarge 6/4/61)

This content and all Song Meaning articles were created and written by Top 40 Contributing Editor Ed Osborne. © 2024 Ed Osborne. All Rights Reserved. In addition to these song meaning articles, Ed has written our “Year in Music 1960s-1990s” articles.

Produced by:

  • Peter Wolf

Lyrics Written by:

  • Peter Wolf
  • Ina Wolf