Monday, 5 October 2020

Barry White - Ecstasy (1976-1979)


Is This Watcha Wont? (1976)


Don't Make Me Wait Too Long/Your Love - So Good I Can Taste It/I'm Qualified To Satisfy You/I Wanna Lay Down With You Baby/Now I'm Gonna Make Love To You    

No new boundaries were crossed with this five-track album from Barry White. He ploughed the same furrow of orchestrated, highly polished extended love anthems and catchy disco-ish numbers. He does it really well, of course, but there was nothing innovative or new here to make the album stand out. The sound quality on the latest 2018 remaster is outstanding though. The album is pretty formulaic, though, and what seemed so ground-breaking and new in 1973-74 now seemed a lot like we had heard it all before. That doesn't mean it is not an enjoyable album. It is.
               
Don't Make Me Wait Too Long was a number 17 hit in the UK and is a proto-disco, upbeat and singalong number. It is one of his more underrated singles. The mammoth twelve-minute opus of Your Love - So Good I Can Taste It has six minutes of gentle beautifully-orchestrated instrumental before Barry arrives with a gruff, semi-spoken vocal and the rhythm gets chunkier and slightly funky, guitar-wise. Eventually, eight minutes in, he breaks into song. The track is basically two separate entities, and possibly should have been recorded as such, however, they ease seamlessly into each other to good effect.

I'm Qualified To Satisfy You is a lively, Philadelphia-sounding number with an intro a bit like Harold Melvin's Satisfaction Guaranteed. It is one of White's most energetic numbers. Highly enjoyable. I Wanna Lay Down With You Baby is back to extended, slow, spoken groove of serious lovin'. "I just love to undress you" growls Barry. Indeed. The sumptuous bass line is like an increased heartbeat as the pace gets more insistent and the sensual lengthy intro breaks into a gently addictive piece of seductive soul. It is actually quite beautiful and again has seriously good remastered sound quality.

Now I'm Gonna Make Love To You is another sweeping string-backed Philly-style disco-influenced groover. The album has been a nice mix of the upbeat and the sensual. As I said, it offers nothing new but it is certainly an enjoyable listen. In fact, it is a bit underrated alongside White's other albums.

I wonder why "want" is spelled on the album's title as "wont", though?




Barry White Sings For Someone You Love (1977)


Playing Your Game, Baby/It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me/You're So Good, You're Bad/Never Thought I'd Fall In Love With You/You Turned My Whole World Around/Oh What A Night For Dancing/Of All The Guys In The World     

After treading water considerably for a year or so, Barry White slightly tweaked his sound for this album to a more slick, polished soul sound with more of a beat and the vocals sung as opposed to whispered or growled. The result is a pretty good album, with excellent sound quality too.
                         
Playing Your Game, Baby has a melodic, mid-pace and pleasing feel about it, which a solidity and a strong, firm soulful vocal from Barry. It is sung, not whispered. It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me taps into the contemporary disco trend with a rhythmic, disco-ish groover. It was Barry's most "disco" groove thus far, with a captivating, insistent drum-driven beat and a good vocal too. You're So Good, You're Bad has an infectious Latin-style rhythm in its extended intro. Again, it is quite pulsating and upbeat (comparatively) with some of his previous material. Once more, the vocal is good and the croaky throat problems that seemed to beset White on 1975's Just Another Way To Say I Love You are now long gone.

Never Thought I'd Fall In Love With You has a Philadelphia soul vibe to it, with lots of sweeping strings and a gentle brass sound. Just when you thought the album would pass by without a sleepy, "come over here baby", semi spoken vocal track, we get the lengthy romantic late night groove of You Turned My Whole World Around. It already sounds a nostalgic track for 1973-74. Time for bed? Not quite yet, baby. Oh What A Night For Dancing is up next with its sweet soul tones and Barry sounding very much like Teddy Pendergrass. It is not as upbeat a track as you might imagine, but it has a Harold Melvin-esque soul punch. It is quite an unusual type of soul for Barry White. Of All The Guys In The World sees Barry's female backing vocalists join him on a horn-driven but rather unremarkable closer to the album.

The old "side one" (the first three tracks) is definitely the best part of the album, however, the second side just seems to drift away a little. Barry White's best recording days were over by now, but this one kept the fires burning just a little longer.




The Man (1978)


Look At Her/Your Sweetness Is My Weakness/Sha La La Means I Love You/September When I First Met You/It's Only Love Doing Its Thing/Just The Way You Are/Early Years          

This was released at the height of the disco boom and quite a lot of the material is extended dance-floor style in a way that Barry White had not done quite so clearly before. The numbers are upbeat, infectious and the emphasis on the vocal is underplayed, they are far more about the groove. It is a far more of a disco album than a "lay down next to me, baby" one. Although in some ways it is a "more of the same" album, as Barry White albums are, in some ways it is just a little different. Just a little, mind. Actually, not really too much, but a "Barry-ologist" will notice the small variations.
                                            
Look At Her is an impressive, string-dominated disco grinder with White's vocal floating in and out  of the instrumental dance-floor groove. There are good "hustle"-style horn breaks on it too. The disco groove continues on the sumptuous Your Sweetness Is My Weakness. The has some great bass lines and subtle electric funky guitar ones too. The vocal comes into its own near the end of the track's eight minutes plus. Sha La La Means I Love You has an addictive Latin intro, sumptuous, kicking horns and a samba-ish beat to it throughout. Similar to the previous album, the original "side one" contained three extended rhythmic danceable numbers, whereas "side two" concentrated more the ballads.

The lush, ballad side of the album opens with the sublime, sweet syrup of September When I First Met You. It is a gorgeously string-backed soulful ballad. Sure it doesn't pull up any trees, but it has a heck of a laid-back soul atmosphere. The vocal is more upbeat than those gruff, semi-whispered ones of the mid-seventies glory days. It's Only Love Doing Its Thing is a smoocher, but it also has a it of a slow-pace dance groove to it, featuring some killer percussion and addictive horn breaks. Personally, I love this track.

Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are as actually made famous by this, White's sublime soulful cover, which was a huge hit. Excellent stuff. Everyone knows the song, it is just gorgeous. It is included here in its full-length incarnation, with Barry's spoken intro. There is a superb saxophone solo on it too. The album ends with the bassy and funky slow-burning Early Years which some seriously good guitar and more intoxicating percussion. It has a jazzy feel to it and an ambience that is slightly different from White's usual material.

I actually think this is a pretty good album that has often been overlooked and has hidden depths, together with great sound and production quality. It is easy to write off these later Barry White albums, as he really made his name with the first three albums, but I have to admit I have enjoyed listening to this, and the previous two a great deal, in their latest remasters.


I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing (1979)


I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing/Girl, What's Your Name/Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine)/Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy)/I Can't Leave You Alone/Call Me, Baby/How Did You Know It Was Me?    

This was Barry White's last album for 20th Century Records, and it was released at the same time as his first one for his new label, CBS, (The Message Of Love), so it got virtually forgotten about. That was a bit of a shame, as it is a good soul album, a sort of celebration of soul music, with a variety of influences at play - Motown, Atlantic, Stax, funk, sweet soul. All of those are in here on an album considerably different to the previous ones.
                 
Barry begins the album by telling us that I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing, not in an extended, growling, semi-spoken style, but in a short, sharp, Motown influenced poppy toe-tapper. It is completely different to any of the material on all his previous albums. Girl, What's Your Name starts with a more familiar spoken intro, but soon launches into a sweet, soulful, Delfonics-style soul ballad. It is a beautiful song. Again, it is comparatively short. Four minutes is short in Barry White terms. Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine) is a sumptuous soul ballad in the Harold Melvin style.

Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy) ends the original "side one" with a slow burning gently smouldering ballad more typical of White over the years. It has a big, full bass sound and some excellent strings and percussion. Horns are also used, as they are on quite a bit of this album, a rarity for White.

The second side kicks off with an Atlantic soul-sounding track in I Can't Leave You Alone which, although not the George McCrae track of the same name has some similarities. It also has huge Aretha Franklin influences, as if it is White's homage to her. Atlantic/Stax-style horns punch their way all over this. Again, it is like nothing White has ever done before. Call Me, Baby sees Barry bring in the funk. A funky bass, guitar and drum riff underpins the whole lengthy, eight minute, workout. Once more horns are present. This is as funky as Barry has been thus far. The track gets into a groove and the last few minutes are instrumental, but it always remains rhythmic and invigorating. The sound quality on the latest remaster is excellent too.

The album ends with How Did You Know It Was Me? , which is a sort of Philly soul meets disco number. It is infectious, vibrant and upbeat. The horns are excellent. Barry's vocal is soulfully powerful too. I am at a bit of a loss as to why this album disappeared without trace. Marketing, I guess. It was recorded as a contractual obligation. That doesn't mean to say it is a throwaway album, though. There is quality material on here. I actually really enjoy listening to it every now and again. Anyway, that was that for Barry White's glory years. For me, I have the first album on CBS (see my review) and that was that for me too. They had been six wonderful years too and the best of Barry White is so evocative of the period 1973-79, particularly 73-75. He left an impressive soul legacy. His influence cannot be underestimated.




The Message Is Love (1979)


It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It)/Hung Up In Your Love/You're The One I Need/Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me)/Love Ain't Easy/I'm On Fire/I Found Love    

This was Barry White's first album for CBS Records, after six successful years with 20th Century Records. It was certainly not a bad album, not by any stretch of the imagination, but, unfortunately, it heralded a decline in his career that he would only briefly recover from. Personally, I have all his albums up to this one, so this is where I turn off the road too. It has been a smooth, smoochy journey, however, and a most enjoyable one.
                                                   
It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It) is a pumping, horn and percussion-driven lively disco number. It is a solid, rhythmic and in possession of a strong, confident vocal too. Hung Up In Your Love is a lovely sounding number, with addictive cymbal work and a deep bass line. The horns are good too and the vocal is jazzy and laid-back. It is a gently breezy, slightly jazzy number in its feel. Both these tracks differ slightly from the material White had put out over the previous six years.

You're The One is a beautifully semi-funky, insistent, grinding soul slow burner. I love the feel of this track, actually. Beautifully sung and featuring another sublime bass groove. The strings are gorgeous too. Barry goes all toe-tapping and finger-snapping on the jaunty Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me), which is a horn-powered disco groover. All those lengthy smoochers from 1973-74 seem a long time ago at this point.

Surely it was time for a bit of trademark Barry White "lurrve" and we duly get it on the smouldering, gruff tones of Love Ain't Easy which has time flashing by in front of your very ears. The sound is top quality on this album as well, I have to say. This track has that Just The Way You Are feel to it. Sweet soul. Lovely saxophone on it too, just as on the afore-mentioned hit. Lovely easy listening horns come in at the end as well. I'm On Fire is a typical end of the seventies laid-back soul number. Nice late night stuff. All gentle brass and sweet backing vocals. I Found Love ends the album with a spoken intro straight out of the mid-seventies and once again familiar string orchestration and mid-range vocals from White. It is quite apt that my own particular journey with Barry White's music ended with this very Barry White sort of number. It is lifted by some sumptuous brass, though, in a way that earlier material was not. White would briefly re-surface with a hit in Sho' You Right in 1987, but, to all intents and purposes, his glory days were over now. They were great days, though. Thanks for the memories big man.




The Complete 20th Century Singles (1973-1979)


This is a truly excellent compilation of all the singles and ‘b’ sides released by Barrry White between 1973 and 1979. Yes, there have been many “Greatest Hits” collections in the past, but this one is different for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is in chronological order of release and each single is followed by its mostly instrumental ‘b’ side, which was something Barry White did on his 45 rpm singles. There are, of course, extended versions of the songs on all the albums, but these instrumental ‘b’ sides are quite unique in their own right and are a pleasure to listen to, as indeed it was on those original 45s back in the seventies.

Secondly, the remastered sound quality is absolutely superb - full, defined and beautifully bassy, but not at the expense of the rest of the sound. The percussion and keyboards are crystal clear and Barry’s wonderful deep voice is sumptuously sonorous.

I have to say that I enjoy listening to the songs in their full extended versions on the individual albums and that, to a certain extent, the “single versions” are a bit frustrating in that they end too soon, but this is alleviated by the instrumental ‘b’ sides following immeditaely after. This is not really a problem in any way, though, as the satisfaction from this outstanding collection far outweighs any personal nitpicking. Highly recommended.


The 20th Century Albums (1973-1979)


The sound quality is excellent - clear, defined and also nice and bassy, just as I like it.

The best material is to be found especially on the first three albums, on which Barry White introduced the world to his (at the time) unique brand of lengthy, seductive soul, with often spoken, deep, growling vocals. He often stretched tracks out to eight to ten minutes of intuitive smooching of his lady featuring highly orchestrated, lush and polished instrumental backing. Nobody had attempted this sort of thing before within the soul genre and for three (and a half) albums it was genuinely ground-breaking and innovatory. After Just Another Way To Say I Love You, however, White's fourth album, disco was beginning to make its presence felt (ironically inspired by White's Love Unlimited Orchestra's Love's Theme amongst others) and the public's desire for extended smoochers such as White was delivering waned considerably. There were still some notable tracks scattered around on all the albums, but it is on those first three offerings that White's love fire burned at its brightest. A strong shout out for Let The Music Play, though.

Highly recommended though, the remasterings are excellent and long overdue.

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