Born in Texas but raised on the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles Barry Eugene Carter. His initial forays into the music business began in the early 1960s. He arranged songs for Felicity Taylor and Bob & Earl (both popular in the UK on the Northern Soul circuit) before getting his break when he discovered the girls of Love Unlimited. The album From a Girl’s Point of View We Give to You…Love Unlimited was a million seller and kicked off Barry’s penchant for intriguingly elaborate song titles.
Encouraged to make his own demos Barry was going to call himself White Heat but at the last moment decided to adopt the stage name Barry White for his first solo album, 1973’s I’ve Got So Much to Give. A Billboard R&B topping smasheroo this album contains signature White songs, especially the title cut and “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”, stone bedroom anthems both, though as a mark of respect, and as a way of passing on the flame, Barry actually kicks his solo arrival off with a cover on Holland, Dozier, Holland’s “Standing in the Shadows of Love”.
Still in ‘73 the prolific White gifts us Stone Gon’ – more epic and lengthy soul with the added frisson of “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up”, all breathy seduction, strings hitting peaks and a gorgeous undercurrent of synthesized keys that herald the birth of disco as far as we know. Genius. As is Can’t Get Enough (1974). The ever-sultry “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and the almost spiritually life affirming, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”, confirmed White as a master of romance who could also push forward the boundaries of technical excellence.
The formula doesn’t need tinkering with on Just Another Way to Say I Love You (stand out cut is the single “What Am I Gonna Do With You”). Mid-seventies and our man is making Platinum discs on a full time basis. If you need to play a little catch-up then his first Greatest Hits album is clearly recommended because you get ten essential White spells, most embroidered with his phone line raps.
Let the Music Play, Is This Whatcha Wont? And the return to magnificence of Barry White Sings for Someone You Love all enjoyed a renaissance when they were remastered for CD and the trio still sounds vital today. Indeed he keeps his R&B crown intact as the 1970s draw to a close and there is unshakable belief in the healing powers of soul to be heard on The Man and I Love to Sing the Songs I Sing – his final album for 20th Century-Fox Records.
We will pick him up again in 1987 as he delivers an R&B plus Latin mélange called The Right Night & Barry White with Gene Page providing strings and class sidemen like Nathan East and Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson putting the licks behind that rich and creamy bass-baritone. The ensuing The Man is Back! Doesn not lie but we’re really grooving on Put Me in Your Mix (1991) where he teams up with NiteFlyte man Howard Johnson while Isaac Hayes – a kindred spirit – joins him for the duet on “Dark and Lovely (You over There)”.
By now it was clear that White was worthy of serious re-evaluation – he’d been taken for granted for too long. His real comeback is The Icon is Love album (1994), which is critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated and bang up to date in his choosing to work with Jam and Lewis. The flashpoint for this disc is “Practice What You Preach”. Dig yourself up a copy.
Sadly, Staying Power will be White’s final album. Judging by his version of War’s rumbling “Low Rider” and Sly Stone’s Thank You” he had plenty left in reserve.
Of course with an artist of this stature and importance we have a selection of hits and anthologies. All-Time Greatest Hits is satin soul perfection thanks to “Love’s Theme” followed by over an hour of magic hit songs. The 2-CD The Ultimate Collection comes in our Icon series and sounds simply magnificent. White Gold: The Very Best of Barry White (2005) delivers on every front: lushly detailed strings, enchanting lyrics and vocal arrangements to seduce.
Sorely missed by the soul loving fraternity and sorority Barry White left us with some of the most definitive and sensual sounds in the R&B canon. Posthumously inducted into the Dance Music of Fame in New York, White would also receive the coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6914 Hollywood Blvd. Not bad going for a kid who’d survived the gang culture of So Central LA. But then not so surprising when one considers that this man was a perfectionist with an ear and eye for what keeps the public purring.
In his case it’s invidious to second-guess where the best music lies. The compilations are mighty strong but then the albums are packed with lesser-known items that continue to pique interest. Anyone who desires a crash course in how R&B mutated into disco should start with his work with Love Unlimited, the girls and the Orchestra and then keep on going. Ecstasy awaits.
Words: Max Bell
Stone Gon' was the second release in an incredible run of sensually charged titles White produced during the first half of the '70s. His patented mix of love monologues and rich vocal dynamics would come to mark the best songs of the period, including the two chart-toppers here, "Honey Please, Can't Ya See" and "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up." Of course, White's inventive arrangements and crack band only add to the stock of these soulful pop excursions. And beyond the hits, tracks like "You're My Baby" and "Hard to Believe That I Found You" maintain the high standard, compliments of mesmerizing backdrops and more vocal seduction; with wine and candlelight already casting a spell, it's just a matter of time before White's supremely tranquil delivery and blissed-out wash of strings and saxophone will cause the amatory to completely lose it. Bringing things back to earth, White displays unerring sensitivity on "Girl It's True, Yes I'll Always Love You," a love song as sincere and sanctified as any he's made. Essential listening.
Words: Stephen Cook
The third in White's mostly stellar run of albums on the 20th Century label, Can't Get Enough finds the bedroom alchemist coming up with another solid batch of lush, proto-disco gems. White went from strength to strength during the '70s, collaborating with co-arranger Gene Page on some of the most sophisticated and seamless charts in popular music (Philly soul architects Leon Huff, Kenny Gamble, and Thom Bell also deserve recognition in this regard). And thanks to an amazing succession of hits, White not only impressed the music cognoscenti, but repeatedly scored with the radio faithful, too -- Can't Get Enough features two of his biggest chart toppers, "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe." And besides the hits, it's not just all padding here: "I Can't Believe You Love Me" and "Oh Love, Well We Finally We Made It" qualify as two of White's most fetching slow burners, while "Mellow Mood (Pts. 1 & 2)" shows off his knack for layered instrumentals. Another highlight from White's prime.
Words: Stephen Cook
Barry White turned into such iconic figure that it’s odd to hear his beginnings on his 1973 debut I’ve Got so Much to Give. In a sense, his sound is fully formed -- there’s no mistaking his velvet baritone or his lush, string-draped surrounding, particularly on the album’s closing “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby,” a song so seductive it set the pace for the rest of his career. Still, behind that creamy drapery it’s possible to hear a strong debt to Isaac Hayes throughout I’ve Got so Much to Give, particularly when the whole affair opens a slow, steady, eight-minute crawl through “Standing in the Shadows of Love” that strips all the bounciness out of the Supremes original, just like how all of Hayes reworkings of ‘60s pop hits turned the hit versions inside out on Hot Buttered Soul. Barry may be following in Isaac’s footsteps, but he winds up on his own path, one that isn’t quite as ambitious, one that is fairly hellbent on romance to the exclusion of everything else. Compared to what White did later, I’ve Got so Much to Give does display a fair amount of extraneous frills -- this is all about sex, but there are shifting textures and moods, it’s more serious about its seduction because White’s reputation as a loverman is not secure -- which makes it a richer, more interesting record than much of his body of work, perhaps containing some dead ends, but being all the more captivating for its slight touch of messiness. [Hip-O Select’s 2010 reissue contains instrumental tracks of “Just a Little More, Baby” and “I’ve Got so Much to Give” as bonus tracks.]
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Barry White's soundtrack to the 1974 blaxploitation film Together Brothers doesn't match the quality of classic efforts like Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, Isaac Hayes' Shaft, or Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man, but it is an appealing and welcome release all the same. Mayfield's and Gaye's soundtracks, in particular, benefited from solid material throughout, whereas White's soundtrack does suffer from some plodding moments; "You Got Case" and "Stick Up" recycle past funk grooves, while the main theme "Somebody Is Gonna Off the Man" is ineffectively reconfigured throughout. An eerie, Morricone-style whistling and harp interlude on "Killer's Lullaby" intrigues at first but falters with a thin arrangement. The lightness of tone and many string-laden numbers on Together Brothers shouldn't be a surprise, though, since they reflect White's romantic soul style: ghetto streets flowing with champagne. In fact, on a majority of the tracks, White's spacious and silky arrangements and the Love Unlimited Orchestra's adroit backing are substantial enough to offset the album's weaker moments. The vocal version of "Somebody Is Gonna Off the Man" and the soundtrack's one hit "Honey, Please Can't You See" are classic examples of White's pop-soul style, while mood numbers like "So Nice to Hear" and "Can't Seem to Find Him" benefit from strong and varied arrangements; the latter features an effective three-way collage of funk, noir ambience, and orchestral bombast. Together Brothers is a must for dedicated White fans and a respectable title in the blaxploitation soundtrack catalog.
Words: Stephen Cook
With his 1973 debut, I've Got So Much Love to Give White redefined the R&B and pop with his grand arrangements and pursuit of studio excellence. The frothy "Love's Theme" from his Love Unlimited Orchestra is considered influential early disco. By the time this was released, the sound was slightly on the wane. With his demanding schedule of cranking out an album or more a year, as well as work from Love Unlimited and Love Unlimited Orchestra This effort shows the strain. The album kicks off with "Heavenly, That's What You Are To Me," and despite its great intro, it ultimately pales in comparison to earlier tracks. On "I'll Do for You Anything You Want Me To" finds White in ragged voice throughout and the onslaught on his grunts and groans didn't help him not be a parody of himself. Just Another Way to Say I Love You seems to cautiously plod along, but White had something innovative planned here. "Love Serenade" has him throwing all caution to the wind with lines like "I don't wanna feel no clothes," followed by the even better, "And take off that brassiere, my dear." As for regular ballads, "Let Me Live My Life Lovin' You Babe" clocks in at a sleep-inducing 10:29. This album closes out with "Love Serenade (Part II)," a bass heavy, libidinous instrumental. This is not a horrible effort, but he no doubt could do much better.
Words: Jason Elias
In between his run of gold in the first half of the '70s and a pre-comeback sabbatical in the '80s, Barry White produced this top-notch album in 1976 as one of a long line of releases on the 20th Century label. While not full of any Top Ten pop hits, the six tracks do feature minor successes in "Baby, We Better Try to Get It Together," "You See the Trouble with Me" (co-written with White's guitarist at the time, Ray Parker, Jr.), and the title track. White's disco arrangements are of the highest order here, full of sophisticated orchestrations and silky but solid funk-lite rhythm tracks. The lyrical content, though, does not speak of the endless nights of lovemaking and blossoming relationships addressed in earlier songs, but instead focuses on the hurdles and downside of love. White expertly couples his subtle vocal delivery with just the right amount of pathos to highlight the lover on the outs. Something of an overlooked gem, Let the Music Play is a must for Barry White fans and qualifies as a fine choice for listeners looking for something beyond the singer's base of hits.
Words: Stephen Cook
After an incredible three-year run of topflight material and several chart-toppers, Barry White's star began to dip a bit with this 1976 release. Though not as disappointing as later albums like Sheet Music, Is This Whatcha Wont? still wears thin at times because of some weak tracks -- "Don't Make Me Wait Too Long" and "Now I'm Gonna Make Love to You" find White recycling past glories and stretching his proto-disco magic a wee thin. Maybe he was just opting for a lighter production approach than before, but even taken more as pop ephemera and less like some dancefloor classics, these tracks still falter, especially under the weight of White's preferred extended-mix mode. Nevertheless, there's a lot of quality stuff to be had, especially sensual slow burners like "I Wanna Lay Down With You Baby" and "Your Love -- So Good I Can't Take It" (the latter featuring fine work by White's guitarist at the time, Ray Parker, Jr.). Also included here is the up-tempo hit and Philly bump sound-alike "I'm Qualified to Satisfy You." There are plenty of White and Gene Page's top-notch arrangements, too; during the disco era, who did strings better than these two? Those who want to explore White's output from the latter half of the '70s should first check out the excellent Let the Music Play. White fans, though, could certainly do a lot worse than picking up this highly enjoyable record.
Words: Review by Stephen Cook
This was Barry White's first bona fide success in close to two years. It is due in part to the slight change of his music formula. After albums such as the Love Unlimited Orchestra's Music Maestro, Please and 1976's Is This Whatcha Wont? disappeared without a trace, White ended his over the top musical extravagance and returned with a sleeker more relaxed style. Barry White Sings for Someone You Love is often so laid back, it's almost reclining. This album biggest hit was "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me." That song more than anything else here typified White's new and improved production style and offered one of his drollest vocals. The amazing "Oh What a Night" has him effortlessly capturing the drama of R&B from a decade or two earlier and it is both sensual and romantic. The sleeper of the album, "I Never Thought I'd Fall In Love With You," is lush, confident, and assured. If it appeared on an album before this, it's doubtful White could have gotten the subtle musical nuances or the plaintive vocal. As for pure ballads, "You Turned My Whole World Around" and "Of All the Guys in the World" are good, but with their interchangeable dirge-like paces, they practically cancel one another out. Barry White Sings for Someone You Love in essence restarted White's career and contains some of his best work.
Words: Jason Elias
1977's Barry White Sings to Someone You Love put him back on the right side of the charts. He shed the pomposity that landed him in the cutout bins by as early as 1976. In contrast to this album's predecessor, Barry White Sings for Someone You Love, there's more of a balance between the dance tracks and ballads. "Look at Her," "You're Sweetness Is My Weakness," and "Sha La La Means I Love You" all employ Latin flourishes and tough horn charts. Although his Latin seemed closer to Ricky Ricardo than Tito Puente, White's good spirits and the crack backing band make it all worthwhile. The sensual "It's Only Love Doing Its Thing" does its business in under five minutes with White saying, "Let me put my hand right there/Lord have mercy." On the ballads he seems a little more reflective than usual. As they somewhat diminished Barry White Sings for Someone You Love, the ballads enrich The Man. On his cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," he gives the lyrics complete seriousness and somehow makes them bittersweet. "Early Years" has a flamenco-styled guitar and an autumnal arrangement. The track gives him to a depth beyond "relationships," even though it was clear from his disconsolate delivery that his reminiscing didn't exactly make him feel any better. With such rich and varied songs, The Man might be the only album one might need from Barry White, but it will make you seek out even more of his catalogue.
Words: Jason Elias
Covering the '70s through the mid-'90s, Gold: The Very Best of Barry White features White's hits as a solo artist, as well as his work behind the Love Unlimited Orchestra and the female group Love Unlimited. An extensive overview featuring some of the 1970s' most romantic, lushly detailed music, its 30-track playlist ranges from the 1973 number three Hot 100 single "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" to the 1994 Top 20 hit "Practice What You Preach."
Words: Andy Kellman