There are few artists who can be said to sum up an emotion, but that is precisely the case with Mr Barrence Eugene Carter, aka the late, great Barry White. Utter his name to anyone, afficionado or casual music lover, and you will likely get the same reaction. Barry White’s music is synonymous with romance, with love in all it’s glory, and with sheer sensuality. Helped of course by that trademark voice, that most deep of instruments that would send shivers down a million spines. But there is so much more to Barry White than as a metaphor for a cheesy kind of loving, for as a musician, composer, arranger and performer he was truly outstanding, and has left behind some of the most sumptuous recordings of all time. And perhaps none moreso that the spell-binding proto-disco classic “Love’s Theme” by his Love Unlimited Orchestra.
This 1973 cut is exceptional in all sorts of ways. Not only did it pre-empt the disco explosion that took over the globe throughout the mid to late 1970s, but it did so in such a fashion as to render everything that followed almost sub-standard in comparison. I’m not saying, of course, that there are not absolutely incredible disco tracks that follow this benchmark, and many have merits over and above “Love’s Theme” in all sorts of facets.
And yet there is something in the ambition of this record, in the scale of its production, in the simple swell of joy and delight that it produces on every listen, that for me sets it apart from its contemporaries and descendants. That it was made with little or no precedent to follow in terms of it’s musical construction is further proof of course that here is a sensational record. But also, it seems to me that “Love’s Theme” transcends the genre almost before it has even been established, and as such it is up there in the very rarest of airs, a truly seminal offering in musical history. An orchestral masterpiece, it is still one of the only fully instrumental songs to top the US charts, and is notable of course for it’s establishment of the sweeping strings and wah-wah inflected guitar chops on which disco would be built, and a generation of club-goers would whirl to under crystal cut mirror balls. With regards the arrangements of strings special mention here should go to longtime White collaborator Gene Page, himself well worthy of our attention, but that is for another time.
“Love’s Theme” is also interesting for gracing two albums simultaneously, White’s own absolutely outstanding 1973 player “Rhapsody in White”, a must-have for any collection, but also his phenomenal side-project Love Unlimited, of whom his orchestra of course provided much of the backdrop to. Their own worthy album appearing in that year was “Under The Influence Of…”, and kicks off with “Love’s Theme”, while White’s solo project ends with it. And so in a sense these two monster albums can be seen as a double album extravaganza of the highjest order, with “Love’s Theme” the impossibly brilliant hinge upon which it balances. On one side the solo soul of White and his orchestra in full flow, and on the other his delicious female trio laying down their own brand of soulful excellence. So, while there is much to say about each of these artists, in singular fashion, and together, for now let us simply marvel at the wonder of one of their joint moments of greatness, when the music came together to create something magical, the soundtrack to all our lives. Love itself.