There’s a great bit in Barry Williams’ memoir I Was A Teenage Brady where the erstwhile Greg Brady chronicles an attempt to put the moves on costar Maureen McCormick. He’s got her in his room and he heads over the stereo to choose some make-out music that will set the amorous mood for Marsha. He flips past his Bread and Blood Sweat & Tears albums to choose the “big gun” of his collection, the primo example of 1970’s boudoir boogie… you guessed it, a Barry White album.
And Mr. Williams wasn’t alone in making this choice. Barry White was the defacto seduction-sound choice for countless lotharios during the 1970’s and he continues to be a brand name in the genre today, so much so that he was immortalized on The Simpsons. The heavyset White didn’t look like an Adonis but he had game and he could sell it with a honey-dipped basso profundo croon. Better yet, he stretched his tension-and-release approach to romantic music into bedroom-opera realms via a Spectorian sound that fleshed out its funky grooves with what sounded like a dozen orchestras.
I’ve Got So Much To Give was the opening salvo of White’s career as the premier “love man” of soul music and it lives up to its title from every angle. There are no tightly-arranged, three minute pop-soul tunes to be found here. He stakes out his territory with the opening cut, an epic cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic “Standing In The Shadows Of Love.” It was a risky choice to cover such a distinctive and familiar tune but White is up for the challenge, building up from a single keyboard line into an orchestra-and-female-chorus-backed juggernaut over a period of eight minutes. The backup singers don’t enter until the 2:30 mark and White’s lead vocal doesn’t kick in until around 3:46. When the main melody kicks in, the release is downright explosive.
The rest of the album continues along similar lines, with methodical buildups flowering into lush arrangements as White lays down a mixture of spoken raps, crooning and gospel-inspired testifying over the top of each plush, instrumental sound-bed. White’s secret weapon is the amazing Gene Page, an arranger whose skill with strings and horns gave White’s work a Hollywood-style sense of extravagance and grandiose emotionalism. Page offsets the funky grit of the rhythm section with an easy listening-inspired approach to melody that makes the album sound indulgent and comforting all at once. This style lends the album an expressive depth that lives up to romance and intensity of the songs – and sets the listener up for White’s silky vocals.
The track listing of I’ve Got So Much To Give forms a sort of concept-album arrangement with White acting as our narrator as he rages against loneliness (“Standing…”) and pines for a lost love (“Bring Back My Happiness”) before getting another chance (“I Found Someone”), pledging his heart to his new love (the title track) and, finally and most importantly, sealing the deal (“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby”).
The last two tracks are the album’s big killers. “I’ve Got So Much To Give” is the prototypical White ballad, with a lead vocal that moves from tender spoken-word intro to velour-smooth croon before reaching a torchy, impassioned peak at the chorus. The music provides an elegant cushion for his theatrics with a gentle, swinging jazz groove and those glorious Gene Page-led strings and horns. “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby” uses the same gradual build with White’s vocal, only this time the pleading is replaced with a seductive growl. The music seals the deal with a taut drum groove, an oddly gothic but effective use of harpsichord and a glorious, Cinemascope rush of strings at chorus time.
The finished product is bombastic but masterfully so, an example of seductive soul at its finest. It’s undeniably inspired by Isaac Hayes’ pioneering blend of passionate soul and orchestral grandeur but it takes that combination to the next level to create a romantic fantasy that lavishes the listener with sonic frills.
Any student of 1970’s soul should check it out and the recent Hip-O Select reissue offers a nice opportunity to do so. The new disc is slim on liner notes but makes up for it with crisp remastering and the addition of the rare instrumental b-side versions of the title track and “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby.” The opportunity to study the intricacies of those Gene Page arrangements is most welcome, plus the instrumental version of “I’m Gonna” offers an alternate track of echoey backing-vocal frills from White that give it a different edge.