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Universal Music Enterprises
Released Sept. 12, 2009
I know how to use it
Let me prove it
Ain’t nothin’ like sheet music”
— “Sheet Music” (1980)
The quatrain, without question, captures the essence of its author – the late Barry White (BW).
It was 1974; protest songs were wearing off, but singer/songwriters were still telling poignant stories. The idea of a symphony orchestra conducted by a person of color was unheard of — completely far fetched. BW, a rotund artist with an intense love for music, ignored the recording industry and music critics and produced a #1 pop single (#10 R&B hit) with “Love’s Theme” by his outfit, The Love Unlimited Orchestra. With its danceable beat; funky rhythms and classical string arrangements, not only did BW have an incredible ear for sound, but there was no doubt that his genius was limitless.
Black music, in the early 1970s, was full of possibilities and created its own tune through a multitude of voices. Like BW’s counterparts, he was a part of an elite breed of successful superstars and creative minds. Sly Stone merged psychedelic funk with the counterculture. George Clinton was an intergalactic space oddity striving to clone black life through bass riffs and distorted vocals. Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes introduced street life to award-winning film scores. Gamble and Huff crafted “The Philly Sound,” a mélange of communal anthems over the music of their session musicians, MFSB. Stevie Wonder ushered in his self-written and produced Utopian vision over multi-instrumentation. Marvin Gaye challenged our thoughts about politics and balanced it with love. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the CHIC Organization, embellishing in funky disco sounds while Rick James, with his glam-meets-indulgence punk funk, came later.
BW was “The Maestro of Love.” He didn’t write anything down; he played what he felt and explained thoroughly to his session musicians the sounds he wanted them to recreate. He wore his hair long: giving Beethoven; Chopin; Mozart; Bach; Brahms and Strauss romantic makeovers. He was robust: prolific and multi-talented with sensitivity flowing from his heart to the ink that printed his lyrics. His arrangements were lush. He’d sing with a sexy bass baritone voice that gave sweet and sticky substance to his brand of symphonic soul: possessing a strong knack for self-producing and doing the same for other acts.
BW’s posthumous box set, Unlimited, resurrects the double Grammy Award winner’s legacy and musical mastery. The collection’s pink binding and hardcover packaging might resemble a gift box of chocolates, but Unlimited is a tasty collection that celebrates The Maestro’s wealth of musicality. Commemorating his 65th birthday (which would’ve been Sept. 12), the five-disc set comes with an assortment of delectable offerings – overtures into slick R&B ballads; sonatas into pre-disco rhythms; concertos into pop melodies; crescendo-laden jazz horns; sensual vocal arrangements; funk guitars and little hints of Latin percussion here and there.
Unlimited brings out the hits: “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby” (1973); “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe;” “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” (1974); “It’s Ecstacy When You Lay Down Next to Me,” and “Playing Your Game, Baby” (1977). On the flipside, there are extended versions; alternative mixes; outtakes and rarities of every song included. It’s vintage BW with each disc exceeding 75 minutes.
BW is all over the first two discs; the only tracks he didn’t produce are “In Your Wildest Dreams (1996),” his duet with Tina Turner and “The Erotic Garden (The After Hours Version of ‘The Secret Garden’),” his1990 recording with legendary producer Quincy Jones. BW shines on countless moments: the 12’ version of “Your Sweetness Is My Weakness” (1978); “Let Me Live My Life Lovin’ You Babe” (1975); “It Ain’t Love, Babe (Until You Give It)” (1979); “Ghetto Letto” (1980) and “Ella Es Todo Para Mi (She’s Everything to Me)” (1980).
The third disc is completely BW’s signature acts. The Love Unlimited Orchestra, featuring young and aspiring musicians such as saxophonist Kenny G.; bassist Nathan East; guitarist Wah Wah Watson and songwriter/musician Ray Parker, Jr., appears on eight tracks and shines on “Whisper Softly” (1978); “Sweet Moments” (1973) and “My Sweet Summer Suite” (1976). Female trio Love Unlimited, including his widow Glodean James-White, rounds out the disc with six tracks: they bring incredible harmonies and vocals to “Walkin’ In the Rain With The One I Love” (1972); “Under the Influence of Love” (1973) and “High Steppin’, Hip Dressin’ Fella” (1979).
The fourth disc is a collection of BW’s rarities and collaborations with offspring acts. Gloria Scott belts out “Just As Long As We’re Together (In My Life There Will Never Be Another) (1975).” Jimmie & Vella Cameron bring the funk on “Be Fair To Me” (1981). Jay Dee’s “Strange Funky Games and Things” (1974), which was sampled on Destiny Child’s 1997 breakout single “No No No Pt. 2,” is featured. The Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Satin Soul” (1975) was given a funkier makeover courtesy of Gene Page, one of BW’s longtime collaborators. Tom Brock has three impressive tracks: “Have a Nice Weekend Baby”; “I Love You More and More” and “If We Don’t Make It Nobody Can” (1974).
The visuals elements are as Unlimited as the music. There is a DVD including nine music videos and five performance clips (including one with classical singer Luciano Pavarotti). The set also comes with a 50-page book featuring a collage of 30 album sleeves and vintage photos of BW in black-and-white and drenched in pink. There are also testimonials from boxing legend Muhammad Ali; BW collaborators Page and Jack Perry; BW’s session drummer Ed Greene; Quincy Jones and reflections from BW himself.
BW’s career resulted in 13 Top 40 pop hits (two #1 singles); 20+ Top 40 R&B hits and 100+ gold and 40+ platinum certifications in the U.S. and abroad. Racking up 100 million in record sales, there was even a 1976 study in The New York Times that reported a five percent increase in America’s birth rate in part to BW’s music. Unlimited is a strong fraction of BW’s catalogue: a testament to the power of his music.
Unlimited, at its best, highlights BW at the height of his fame but showcases his brilliance without compromise to his sound. BW’s legacy continues – going on to be sampled by countless artists such as Black Moon; Daft Punk; Ghostface Killah; Mary J. Blige; Busta Rhymes; T.I.; Eric B. and Rakim; Luke; 2Pac; 50 Cent; Mos Def; Robbie Williams; Ja Rule; Quad City DJs and Diddy among others. In the end, Unlimited is the pivotal word to describe BW: an incredible artist that pop and R&B music will probably never experience again yet study for years down the line. Take heed and listen to BW when he says, “Let the music play.” He did and proved that his music was without a shadow of a doubt – unlimited.
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