(Pictured: Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, on stage.)
Forty-three years ago this week, “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra hit #1 on the Hot 100.
“Love’s Theme” first shows up at ARSA in mid-November 1973. A survey from WXUS in Lafayette, Indiana, dated November 24 shows that it was #1 in Lafayette the previous week. It hit #1 at the R&B formatted WLIB in New York City on November 30. It starts taking off nationwide in mid-December, debuting on WLS in Chicago on December 15, the same week it vaults into the Top 10 at WFIL in Philadelphia. On Christmas Eve, WABC in New York has it at #11. It’s mid-January before it starts racking up Top 10s everywhere. “Love’s Theme” is especially humongous at WQAM in Miami, where it blasts from #28 to #14 to #1 and stays there during the whole month of February. The station charts it until the end of May, and ranks it #2 for the entire year of 1974.
The eighth-grade boy of 13-going-on-14 who ran out to his local record store and bought “Love’s Theme” on a 45 sometime in January could not have articulated his reasons very well. The geezer he grew up to be can do a better job. The mere sound of the thing is remarkable: even out of the little speaker on the portable record player I used at the time, the one with the handle and the lid that snapped on, “Love’s Theme” sounded enormous. On big speakers, as on the console stereo in the family room, “Love’s Theme” is deep enough to swim in.
So let’s live-blog it, using the 45 version. Certain critical aspects of the extended metaphor that follows have been time-compressed in the name of creative license. (I hope for your sake they’re time-compressed.)
0:00: A rising string flourish grabs your attention. She’s in the other room and you’re waiting for her to come out.
0:05: Lower strings come in, accented with guitar. You’re stunned by what she’s wearing. Or not wearing.
0:14: High-hat cymbal comes in softly and gets progressively louder. You’re ready for what’s going to happen next, but a gentleman never rushes the moment.
0:24: Piano glissando down, drums kick in, and you fall together.
0:25–1:46: Twice through the main theme, accented with that wakka-wakka rhythm guitar. The bottom is rock solid but the beat never overpowers, making the flow of the record unstoppable, like passion itself.
1:46: A blast of low horns takes us to the bridge, during which wakka-wakka guy gets to change it up a bit, and a flute reminds us that gently nibbling on her ear is just as hot as whatever you two may have going elsewhere.
2:03: Hang on, we gotta move in rhythm a little bit here because oh god don’t stop.
2:11: Wakka-wakka guy hits the whammy bar, that rising string flourish comes back, and you’re all a-quiver.
2:18: Those low horns—your french horns, your mellophones, your tubas—come on like a tidal wave, sweeping the two of you still further out to sea.
2:37: Main theme again. It has words, by the way:
Play our love’s theme tonight
My love’s here, it’s no dream tonight
It’s been so long
Since we danced to our love song
3:03: High strings play you out, eagerly and insistently, to the fade at 3:30.
You are going to want this to last longer, so there’s an album version of “Love’s Theme” that runs 4:06, which includes a short breakdown featuring only bass guitar, drums, and wakka-wakka. There’s also a Disco Purrfection version at YouTube that runs over eight minutes. Not all Disco Purrfection remixes work—some of them are marred by odd choices and others contain technical errors—but the Disco Purrfection version of “Love’s Theme” is damn near perfect. And if you could do something that feels so good for twice as long, why wouldn’t you?
That “Love’s Theme” is written, produced, and conducted by Barry White should surprise nobody.
Unlike some radio jocks, I do not routinely play my studio speakers very loud. Only a few records get cranked until the windows rattle. “Love’s Theme” is one of them.