Graded on a Curve:
Barry White,
Greatest Hits

You’ve got to hand it to Love Man Barry White; his lubricious bass-baritone croon could charm the panties off anything–woman, man, antelope, albacore tuna–you name it. Hell, I bet you he could have induced sexual stimulation in a rock had he set his mind to it. There’s just something about that low flame timbre of his that makes you want to shout, “Ravish me, grossly overweight and not all that physically attractive soul man!”

Back in the seventies, the greatest Barry this side of Manilow ruled the airwaves like a weapon of mass seduction. His was a late-night, dim-the-lights, bedroom sound, and Barry wasn’t shy when it came to expressing his needs; on “Love Serenade” he sings, “I wanna see you the way you came into the world/I don’t wanna feel no clothes/I don’t wanna see no panties… “ Subtle he wasn’t. Indeed, White’s erotic entreaties bordered on comedy, and the parodists have been making hay of him for years; in an episode of The Simpsons, Bart and Lisa use Barry’s croon to lull vipers.

Musically, pop music’s biggest sex addict mixed R&B, soul, and funk, and is credited with helping to usher in the disco era with 1973’s “Love Theme,” by Barry’s backing unit The Love Unlimited Orchestra, whom The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau once hilariously dismissed as “Barry’s Jackie Gleason tribute band.”

Sadly–I love the thing myself–”Love Theme” is not included on 1975’s Barry White’s Greatest Hits, which remains the one-stop shopper’s LP of choice. Barry plays the role of sexsuasier (a French word I just made up!) to the hilt, and the mood rarely deviates from the lewdly priapic. Some of the songs sweep you along on string power alone, while others are midnight slow and give Barry the opportunity to ply his patented brand of dirty talk, but they’re all as heavy as the man himself.

I prefer the uptempo numbers, myself, although I love to hear the man talk–like he does at the beginning of the great “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything,” on which Barry rides a funky, strings-drenched groove to paradise. It’s off Barry’s 1974 smash LP Can’t Get Enough, the cover of which offers the happy record buyer not just one but four incredibly unflattering close-ups of the artist’s face. In the same vein: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” which Barry also opens with some smooth talk before stepping aboard the Soul Train and getting down and dirty with it. Me, I never make love without putting this baby on the stereo, and that includes those instances when I making love to myself. Never fails to put me in the mood.

The aforementioned are both archetypal Barry numbers, and the same goes for the breathless “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up,” which opens with what may be the world’s longest (I’m talking 45 seconds or so) brush cymbal solo. But it’s well worth the wait, because when Barry (after doing some world historical heavy breathing) goes into funky Love Man mode he’s impossible to stop. Throw in some delirious strings and one very cool chukka-chukka guitar and what you have is one of the finest expressions of male hormonal overkill ever committed to vinyl. With all the heat he gives off, I’m surprised the grooves don’t melt.

“I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” is a heavy funk number with a bottom almost as big as Barry’s, and for the most part everybody’s sexual blowtorch is content to hypnotize the women of the world by panting his way through it. You’re in Barry’s bed now baby, and his hands can’t keep still, and if you think you’re going to escape his sweaty clutches any time in the next 48 hours you have another think coming, because the man is insatiable.

“Love Serenade” is a hoot–the ladies do all the singing, while Barry politely issues orders along the lines of, “Take off the brassiere, my dear.” This baby is redolent of sweet incense and bad men’s cologne, and even the strings give off a funky post-coital musk. And towards the end the talking stops and the strings drop out, and what you get is some Super Fly-quality funkadunk, my friends.

Both “Honey, Please, Can’t Ya See” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love” have a marvelous Motown feel to them; the former is stripped to the bone (no strings on this baby!) with the drums way high up in the mix, while the latter features some very lively female backing vocals and a whole lot of moaning by Barry, who comes on like a horny man in a wind tunnel. Has a Temptations feel to it, this one.

The collection isn’t perfect. “I’ve Found Someone” is your standard soul ballad and comes up short in the love sweat department; much the same can be said for “I’ve Got So Much to Give.” They’re both good Barry songs, but there’s a reason they’re buried in the nether reaches of the B side–neither is what you might call an industrial strength panty remover.

Barry White was a randy Buddha, and the fleshly embodiment of carnal knowledge; in his music, all roads led to the boudoir, with its silk sheets and full complement of body oils. The man had a one-track mind, and he was anything but coy about speaking it. He was a great orator, our Barry, the Demosthenes of Snatch, and everybody’s vote for majority whip in sexual congress. But it’s wrong to speak of him in the past tense; he’ll be with us forever, seducing sweet young things from the tomb.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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