Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Top Five Barry White Songs

Instead of blowing the dust off of my trusty old thesaurus to seek adjectives that might describe the phenomenon known as floodwatchmusic, I'm going to break this down into terms that even the elementary level soul children will understand...Flood is fuckin' brilliant. Whether he's creating an infectious mix of unforgettably dope tunes or using his razor-sharp mental skills to examine the intricate complexities of a particular track, this man comes about as correct as it gets. Be sure to explore the mind (and record collection) of this genius even further by paying a visit to his site or checkin' for his exemplary posts over at the almighty ear fuzz. With that, let the music play...Scholar

I won’t lie – brainstorming ideas for a guest post here at Souled On was no easy task. The challenge of writing a post to equal the level of content here is daunting, to say the least. I have been a regular visitor of Scholar’s long before the idea of starting my own audioblog even entered the picture, so to be asked to drop something here is truly humbling. Much love.

The late, great Barry White created a body of music that has different meanings for everyone. Some will forever associate him (and moreover, his voice) with the idea of tender romance set to music, his songs occupying the centerpieces of those dime-a-dozen Midnight Love compilations, his sound encompassing the very definition of sensuality. For others, the name “Barry White” signifies the worst of ‘70s excess: flat-out vulgar fashion trends and hairstyles, endless a.m. coke binges, nauseating disco lights. Many unfairly lump him in under the “music I’ll never listen to outside of a wedding” category. What most overlook is the indisputable fact that Mr. White, aka The Maestro, aka The Man, was a phenomenally talented songwriter, arranger, and producer that the music industry has rarely seen before or since. In fact, few Soul artists dominated the ‘70s charts like he did, and the amount of quality material in his catalogue extends far beyond well-known party favorites like “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and the exhaustively-parodied sex jam “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby.”

My affinity with White’s music has grown into something more complex a dozen years or so into our relationship. Sure, at times it’s bordered on unhealthy: I’ve snapped on more than one person as the result of some innocent jibe about the man’s weight or hair. I played his records for nearly fourteen hours straight when I heard the news of his death a little over four years ago. I’ve often fantasized about the number of house keys – somewhere in the tens of thousands – mailed to him over the years by housewives of all ages, with notes containing nothing but an address and the hours of the day when their husbands aren’t home. What can I say? Dude’s music has that effect on me, and my bashfulness about it ceased years ago. It took me hours to narrow down the five favorite Barry White songs that follow.

5. “Your Love – So Good I Can Taste It”Barry White
(from Is This Whatcha Wont?, 1976)

Without a solid chart-topper in two years, White’s popularity had waned a bit by 1976, but that didn’t stop him from releasing two full-lengths that year, Let the Music Play and Is This Whatcha Wont? Both records had their share of duds, but it was the centerpiece of the latter, the twelve-minute bedroom epic “Your Love – So Good I Can Taste It,” that justified its purchase entirely. Essentially a two-part suite, the first half is an instrumental showcase for White’s own Love Unlimited Orchestra. All of his signature musical elements are in place here: caressed Fender Rhodes keys, gently sweeping strings, weeping guitars, all atop an irresistible quiet-storm groove. If there’s one thing that White didn’t lack, it was patience –the track has the feeling that the music could continue on forever, a concept that formed the backbone of his whole “we’ve got all night, baby” steez. The actual song itself enters around the halfway mark after a slow buildup, at which point White begins pushing the limits of taste with another one of his signature love raps: “You know, ever since I was a young boy, I used to get in devilment and I used to do all kind of things with little girls, but when I become a man I put away childish things.” The pendulum-like 12/8 rhythm provides the foundation for White to describe his late-night fantasy: “Whole lotta lovemaking, a lotta butt-shaking.” As the track concludes, his delivery has escalated into an urgent declaration, and one can just envision the beads of sweat glistening off his forehead and off the tips of his Jheri curl. It’s corny and crass, overblown and overlong, and that’s what makes it so brilliant.

4. “Never Gonna Give You Up”Barry White
(from Stone Gon’, 1973)

The success of “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby” (from White’s 1973 debut I’ve Got So Much to Give) was so overwhelming that what did he do? Replicated it, of course, but in doing so he actually surpassed the original. “Never Gonna Give You Up” takes the structure and mood of “I’m Gonna Love You” and injects it with more everything: more grandiose orchestration, more provocative lyric content, and
naturally, more dirty talk – note White’s orgiastic “uugh!” as the music enters, after a long, tension-building intro with the drums and strings. Every arranged bit of music here radiates with steamy sexuality: that throbbing bass, the electric harpsichord, those rapturous flute runs. This was one of my earliest introductions to White’s music, as a standout on a record full of highlights, the soundtrack to the film Dead Presidents (1995). It has remained a favorite since.

3. "Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It"Barry White
(from Can’t Get Enough, 1974)

Bonus: "Oh Love, We Finally Made It"Love Unlimited
(from Under the Influence of…, 1973)

“Can’t get enough” sums it up about right, as I’ve been known to play this song on repeat for hours. Originally composed by White for his Supremes-like project Love Unlimited, he eventually got around to covering his own version of “Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It,” nestled into side two of his best selling album Can’t Get Enough (1974). It could have been the song’s unique structure that kept it off the airwaves, which eschewed the usual verse-chorus routine for an extended orchestral intro, multiple sax solos, and more key changes than the average listener would detect upon first listen. While I have a special place in my heart for Love Unlimited’s more stripped-down (relatively speaking) version, it’s ultimately White’s take that wins me over, and with the female trio providing animated backing vocals, it’s like the best of both worlds in my book. Just listen to the amount of push and pull in the shuffle, which makes it nearly impossible to sit still for the song’s duration. There are also two sonic curiosities in the production that deserve mention, as they give White’s version even more character. For one, Nathan East’s thick, rounded bass tone is jacked up alarmingly high in the mix and almost seems like it could explode out of the speakers; it would likely be a hindrance were his playing not so remarkably tasteful. Secondly, the amount of reverb on the strings borders on grotesque, but instead of washing out every other instrument in the stereo field, the effect creates a swirling, hypnotic bed of sound that’s the aural equivalent of standing in the rain during a sun shower. Studio tricks aside, what really matters is White’s inimitable ear for melody and arrangement, of which “Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It” demonstrates at the height of his abilities.

2. "All Because Of You"Barry White
(from Just Another Way to Say I Love You, 1975)

For me, few songs embody the essence of summertime like “All Because of You,” an achingly gorgeous, uptempo ballad that is perpetually overlooked in discussions of White’s contributions to the R&B songbook. But the effectiveness of this track lies in the contributions of his band, beginning with East, who thumbs out a lovely bass solo to open the track. This leads into yet another extended interlude of syncopated bass hits under a floating string arrangement by White and Gene Page. White certainly loved that skipping 12/8 rhythm, and when it kicks in nearly halfway through the song, the band shifts into the groove like they’ve been anticipating it for years. The sleazy porn guitar from “Love’s Theme” is all over this track, slithering around every beat and dropping those scratchy wah-wah slides that Charles Pitts (from the Isaac Hayes Movement) was lacing tracks with at the time (listen at 5:53 for an example). It’s unfathomable for me to place this song in the context of winter or cold weather, but even if I did, I would still be able to detect the aroma of a nearby barbecue, hear a light breeze rustling through the trees, and feel the late afternoon sun warm my skin.

1. “Playing Your Game, Baby”Barry White
(from Barry White Sings for Someone You Love, 1977)

Take a moment to think about a song that theoretically, you could listen to once a day, every day for the rest of your life and not tire of it. Not easy, is it? Since this is the kind of topic I spend most of my free time musing over, I can state with full confidence that White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” is one of those songs. As the opening cut on Sings for Someone You Love (1977), this track, and the rest of the album for that matter, revitalized White’s career after a mid-decade drag, in no small measure because of his decision to enlist outside songwriters for the bulk of the record’s selections. “Playing Your Game, Baby” was penned by Austin Johnson and Smead Hudman, two gentlemen whose identities I know nothing of, and frankly, don’t care about. Put simply, the seven minutes that make up the duration of this track are some of the sexiest ever committed to analog tape. The arrangement is responsible for a significant chunk of the song’s potency, as the orchestra is relegated to the background, serving to accentuate the interplay between the rhythm section, keyboard, and horns. “Playing Your Game, Baby” also displays White in a rare mood, as he concedes his avoidance of playful bedroom shenanigans and uncharacteristically says, “bring it, girl.” The song is seductive tease, baadasssss attitude, funky pimp strut, and sweaty, carnal sexuality all wrapped up into one, and there isn’t another selection in White’s discography like it.

Word From Flood's Moms:

"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." ---Mary Shelley


soup said...

A desert island track that is 'Playing Your Game'? Hell yeah.

Strings in a song is good at anytime for me. Much appreciating the digital version.

Matthew said...

Another just flat-out unreal post. Thanks for sharing these gems with us. I learned so much along the way.

Adam said...

One of my all-time favorite episodes of 'The Simpsons' is the Whacking Day episode where Barry White utters that immortal line, "I love the sexy slither of a woman snake." Other than that and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," I'm woefully ignorant of Mr. White. Thanks for the tutorial

Travis said...

will these get me laid? I might have to try them out.

Good stuff, I'm not always on the up and up when it comes to Barry White, but I learned a lot. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Just came by to say, that "Your love - so good I can taste it" is such a dope & nice tune. Especially the 6 minutes intro-part. Keep up the good work. One.

Anonymous said...

Your Love....what can I say! All these years a Barry (and in particular a Love Unlimited Orchestra and still the best stuff hasn't been heard!) fan and I cam across this track just blew my mindIt just sends visions of trips out of London to soul clubs and coming across some beautiful woman and just taking in the sights and sounds of a new place with a beautiful woman...only the master can make you dream like that. Boss track!!

Anonymous said...

Those are all fantastic but you missed off this one:

Hee hee hee! said...

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