By the beginning of 1974, soul crooner Barry White was on a commercial roll. In 1973, he scored two hit gold albums—his first solo effort I’ve Got So Much to Give and the follow-up Stone Gon—as well as three hit singles, two of which went gold (“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” and “Never Never Gonna Give You Up”). In addition, his protégées, the female trio Love Unlimited, had a huge hit gold album in 1973 entitled Under the Influence of Love.
What would be next for him? An instrumental album, of course.
All of the music on the early albums by Barry White and Love Unlimited was brilliantly done by a 40-piece orchestra created by White called the Love Unlimited Orchestra. He also conducted and arranged the orchestra, which provided some of the most danceable and romantic music ever performed in music history.
White decided to spotlight the orchestra on their own album so that music listeners could appreciate the musicianship that backed all of White’s hits. In fact, the B-sides of many of White’s early 45s featured instrumental versions of the A-sided hits of songs such as “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby,” “I’ve Got So Much to Give” and “Honey Please, Can’t Ya See.”
Released in January 1974, Love Unlimited Orchestra’s debut album was entitled Rhapsody In White, a variation on the classical song “Rhapsody In Blue.” Indeed, the title was indicative of White’s magnificent craftsmanship in not only composing, writing and producing his music, but also in his ability to conduct a 40-piece orchestra.
The album cover features White looking resplendent in a beige suit, surrounded by four lovely ladies in the background. The back cover showcases a drawing of White conducting his orchestra.
The album kicks off with a mid-tempo cut entitled “Barry’s Theme,” which begins slowly with the sound of a drum then the rhythmic sound of bongos and then a piano before it segues into a danceable jam. This is followed by the great uptempo title track, which features a lot of strings and drums which is characteristic of most of White’s music.
Track three is the romantic tune “Midnight & You,” which starts off with a trademark rap by White. In one line he says, “There is no place than I’d rather be than with midnight and you. Right on, baby. Right on.” Many couples must have surely played this mysterious and seductive piece at midnight into the wee hours of the morning.
“I Feel Love Coming On,” the fourth track, is an uptempo dance tune featuring another rap intro by White in which he tells his lady that he feels like “squeezing you and teasing you and holding you and pleasing you.”
The fifth track on the album is undoubtedly one of the sexiest and most orgasmic tunes ever recorded in music history. The boldly seductive track, “Baby Blues,” has to be one of the best “baby making tunes” ever. Indeed, the soft lush tune starts off with White telling his lady, “Certain things turn me on, the way you might say a word, the way you wear your hair. You’re really turning me on right now in your baby blue panties.” Then the track becomes all instrumental with the sensual, soft and mellow music by the Love Unlimited Orchestra. This ballad received extensive airplay on radio stations after the album was released and it still gets played on many Quiet Storm urban radio formats. One can also bet it got played during many intimate and romantic evenings. White was close to giving Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” a run for its money with this one.
The sixth track is “Don’t Take It Away from Me.” It starts off with a rap by White pleading his lover not to “deny me of the things I want, the things from you that I need, the things about you that I love.” Then it turns into an uptempo dance track, sounding like hip elevator music with a disco beat. One can almost see White with his baton conducting his orchestra on this song.
“What a Groove” is the next aptly titled tune, and what a groove it is. It starts off slow and then explodes into a funky jam.
The last track on the album is the classic “Love’s Theme,” which originally appeared on Love Unlimited’s “Under the Influence of Love Unlimited” album in 1973. This track is hailed by many music historians as one of the early harbingers of disco music. Indeed, its relentless beat packed dance floors across the U.S. and went to number one and ten respectively on the pop and soul singles chart in early 1974, earning White another gold record.
Of interesting note, “Love’s Theme” was re-recorded in 1974 with lyrics sung by Love Unlimited, and was featured on the group’s 1974 album In Heat.
Rhapsody In White went to number two on the soul album charts and number eight on the pop album chart, and earned gold status in a matter of weeks. The album is quite simply classical soul music with a touch of romance and disco. The orchestra went on to record five more instrumental albums, including the soundtrack for the 1974 urban teen drama Together Brothers. The vast body of work that White created for himself, Love Unlimited and the Love Unlimited Orchestra only further solidified him as the all-time “Maestro of Soul.”
Download Rhapsody In White on iTunes and Amazon.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer/performer, Soul Train historian and soul music and movie historian. He is also a former Soul Train dancer. He is featured in the Soul Train documentary Show Me Your Soul and is also featured in the new book Love, Peace and Soul: Behind theScenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train by Ericka Blount Danois which is available on Amazon and in bookstores.