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.
For those of you that remember the music and song-craft of Barry White, you remember a performer that could touch the heart of an emotion, and make it stand out with a unique, often breathy, bass vocal. In the ’70s, almost everything Barry White released became an instant hit. In fact, there’s a collection of singles that achieved gold and platinum status. Of course, his albums did quite well. But most of us remember him primarily by his string of radio hits that still resonate because his voice and delivery was never replicated.
It took quite a while for a definitive Barry White compilation to hit the market, but All-Time Greatest Hits – part of Mercury's Funk Essentials series – finally filled the bill in 1995. Boasting a full 20 tracks from White's heyday of 1973-1978, more than half of which made the R&B Top Ten, All-Time Greatest Hits is easily the most generous single-disc White collection on the market. It includes the edited single versions, not the full-length album tracks, which actually makes for a more digestible introduction to White's achievements. Like his forebear Isaac Hayes, White was not just a deep-voiced crooner, but a talented producer and arranger who'd spent years honing his craft behind the scenes in the industry. And like Hayes, White spent a great deal of time setting up moods on his albums, using lush, sweeping orchestrations to build very gradually to climaxes. (Actually, that probably explains a good deal of his effectiveness.) But White was not simply a Hayes disciple; his swirling productions were less complex than Hayes', but more in tune with the emerging disco sound, which certainly boosted his popularity.
Say the name Barry White and you'd be hard pressed to follow it with the name of any other recording artist with such a huge, cross-sectional following. He was at home appearing on Soul Train, guesting with a full band on The Today Show, and appearing in cartoon form in various episodes of The Simpsons. During the '70s, Dinah Shore devoted a full hour of her daily syndicated Dinah! show to White. While there was a period where Barry White wasn't releasing records or making the pop charts, he did stay active touring and appearing on other artists' records including Quincy Jones' "The Secret Garden (The Seduction Suite)," Regina Belle, and rap star Big Daddy Kane's "All of Me." It's surprising to find out that such an illustrious career almost didn't happen because White wasn't interested in being a recording artist.