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I make no apologies for diggin’ the hell out of “Love’s Theme” by Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, which I bought on a 45 during its chart run early in 1974. I still had my little portable record player then, with the handle and the lid that snapped on, and I remember being surprised at just how big “Love’s Theme” sounded, even through a single low-fi speaker. Down unto this very day, it remains one of the eminently crankable tunes in my library, rolling out of the speakers like a tidal wave, sweeping away everything that ain’t nailed down and a few things that are. The song came on in the car the other day, and I heard it again this morning thanks to this video, originally put up on Facebook by Chris from Buns o’ Plenty.
There’s a lot to love about this version of the song. It’s from The Midnight Special, presumably the edition hosted by White that aired on November 18, 1974. White’s only other guest that night was Eric Burdon, and what that meant was that the show featured a whole lotta Barry, singing and leading the orchestra. (The number of babies conceived during the show must have been particularly high that night.) The sound on the clip isn’t as rich as the record—it’s good-enough-for-TV mono—the rhythm is less smooth and more pronounced, and the strings aren’t mixed as high, probably because they were less effectively miked than they would have been for a recording session. Nevertheless, you can still hear Barry White’s great achievement—taking instruments that on their own don’t possess an iota of funk, the french horn to name one, and molding them into a giant engine of funk. And as I watch the clip, I’m most intrigued by the musicians themselves, men and women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, sawing away behind a rock rhythm section and who were, for four minutes anyhow, the unlikeliest of pop stars.
“Love’s Theme” rose to Number One on the Hot 100 during the week of February 9, 1974. In addition to backing White on his long list of hits, the Love Unlimited Orchestra scored four other instrumental hits on the Hot 100 under its own name. Only one of them made the Top 40: “Satin Soul,” which reached Number 22 in April 1975, is not quite so lush as “Love’s Theme,” but it has a more percussive Philly-soul groove, and is worth the download for the first 20 seconds alone.
Some amongst the readership will remember a late-night college radio production some of us did, a parody broadcast of a golf tournament, that used “Satin Soul” as theme music, just as ABC-TV did for its real golf telecasts in the late 1970s. (I know they used “Love’s Theme,” too.) I wonder whatever happened to that tape.