Thursday, 31 March 2011

Barry White - Can't Get Enough Of Your Love Babe (1974/ No. 8/ 12 weeks/ Pye)

I often wonder if you'd approach Barry White records differently if you had no idea who he was. There always seemed to be an exceptionally large amount of baggage to get past, which stopped me from listening to him with open ears until I was well into my twenties; His enormous girth, the Vic Reeves character ("Throw that liver onto the fire, pet"), the moniker "the walrus of love", late eighties interviews when he'd say things like women shouldn't be surprised if they get raped when they wear tight dresses. Above all, the unabashed sensuality and complete preoccupation with sex can be wearing if you're not in the mood for it, and can sound like boasting unless you're listening quite carefully. I may have never been more embarrassed by a record than when a minicab driver was playing an eighties White album and that low voice promised "I'm gonna lick you up! I'm gonna lick you down! I'm gonna turn you over! And lick you round!"...

I was missing out on an awful lot though, specifically one of the greatest arrangers in the history of pop. Few people have known how to carry a mood over a whole orchestra as well as Barry White did. This orchestration complicates the lyrics and can make the experience of listening to White overwhelming slightly rapturous.

Can't get by opens with a massive "Shhhting!" sound that takes you into the singer's innermost reflections;

"I've heard people say that
'Too much of anything is not good for you, baby'
Oh no...
But I don't know about that
There's MANY times that we've loved
We've SHARED love and MADE love
It doesn't seem to me like it's enough...
There's just not enough of it...
There's just not enough...
Oh oh, babe!"

Note the tone of gospel testifying, the combination of salvation and sensuality at the heart of so much soul music. This spoken word passage also sets up something of a thesis that White explores for the rest of the song: Can you feel too much love? Need the feeling ever stop?

And this is where the arrangement comes in. The singers protestations that he can never get enough of your love (babe!) could easily lapse into bragging - this mood of more More! MORE! love needs to be measured, documented, by the instrumentation to give it lightness and an appealing tone.

The song is evergrowing, undulating, surging in a way that is as much like the swell of the tide as it is fleshy tumescence. A question that I often find myself considering when I listen to favourite records is what am I being encouraged to listen to here, apart from the vocals? It's obviously not guitars on a record like this, but neither is it the drums, which operate along a fantastically light tippytappyboppy rhythm, as in George McCrea's contemporaneous 'Rock Your Baby'.

Is it the piano? It's brilliant and underpins the thing, but it fades out for most of the time. The joy of this is that it makes you register the orchestra as a whole; the stabs of ecstacy and lightheaded amorousness are there in the flights of strings that then spill upwards with a harp, and its there in the spurts of brass, every detail seeming to give sound to a fresh epithany.

The other thing that is too often missed in Barry White's songs is that he does allow for the possibility of doubt. The inner semi-spoken voice does return in between the choruses;

"Tell me, what can I say?
What am I gonna do?
How should I feel when everything is you?
What kind of love is this that you're givin' me?
Is it in your kiss or just because you're sweet?"

Obviously, the chorus then refutes this doubt, with yet more of the caresses of your love (babe!). But it is there right in the DNA of the song, and this doubt and the precise evocation of feelings is what makes the joys seem hard-won and genuine.

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