(Originally posted at Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat.)
I really, really miss Barry White.
He was much more than a roly-poly punchline, you know. As anyone who’s really listened to his music can tell you, he truly earned the honorific of The Maestro, just as much as he deserved to be called The Walrus of Love. (God, what a great nickname. I wish I was The Walrus of Love, goo goo gajoob, baby.)
Of course, there’s that voice. It’s not just that it’s low, or sexy–he sings with such conviction and control that you could almost swear (as in “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby”) that he’s singing harmony with himself like some sort of sexed-up Tibetan monk. And those spoken-word sections–when he says “Now that I’m a man I’ve put away childish things,” you believe him.
His amazing ear for orchestral ambience helped bring gorgeous, complicated string sections out of the opera house and into the on-the-one funk arena. He had a compatriot in this regard with funk’s other great low-register loverman, Isaac Hayes, but where Ike conveyed turmoil and torment, Barry exuded confidence, warmth, and world-in-your-eyes (or thighs) passion. Funk’s later users of sexy strings, like P-Funk and Rick James, owe Barry a huge debt, as do every DJ and producer who’ve based hip-hop tracks around violins.
Barry also made the most persuasive case for disco I’ve ever heard. I vividly remember reading the liner notes to a friend’s copy of Barry’s greatest hits my sophomore year in college, in which Barry offered an eloquent apologia for the much-maligned dance genre. Disco, he argued, was not about the trendy fashion atrocities we’ve come to associate with it, but about people looking beautiful, feeling beautiful, listening to music that made them feel beautiful. After reading White’s words I felt instantly able to appreciate the genre for the fun-loving (and fun, and loving) music it’s bequeathed us, from K.C. and the Sunshine Band to Giorgio Moroder’s collaborations with Donna Summer to Chic to (I couldn’t believe it myself) the BeeGee’s disco stuff to, of course, Barry’s tunes themselves.
And what tunes they were! The titles alone speak volumes: “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Babe” (with the unforgettable “feels so good” opening), “Love’s Theme” (we used it as the entrance music for the wedding party at our reception), “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me” (featured in a seriously sexy scene in Spike Lee’s compelling, underrated Summer of Sam, it may be my favorite Barry jam). But beyond the greatest hits, there’s the proto-trip-hop epic “Your Love (So Good I Can Taste It)” the 12-minute bedroom-funk equivalent of “Stairway to Heaven” from Barry’s awesome record Is This Whatcha Wont? (Yes, that’s how he spells it–how cool is that?) Folks, words simply cannot describe how good this song is, as it transitions from an anticipatory string-laden opening to a downbeat foreplay-in-music-form spacey relentless groove to a full-throated climax (in every sense of the word). It’s a full-fledged journey deep into the cosmic groove. Please, please go buy this album at Amazon, and discover the joys of White’s art beyond the best-of comps and radio staples.
Man, he was good. In my Missus’s words, the world is a much less sexy place without him.
Sean T. Collins can’t lose with what he uses. He blogs at Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat, where this post originally appeared.