Barry White: 20th Century Masters (The Millennium Collection)

Barry White
20th Century Masters (The Millennium Collection)
The Millennium Collection

Soulfully Inadequate

Barry White’s untimely passing in mid 2003 left an indelible mark in the annals of soul music history. Though he is primarily remembered for the carnal love ballads that were his trademark, White’s contributions to popular music are far more substantial; he, along with his backing unit, — the Love Unlimited Orchestra — pioneered a unique hybrid style of soul which heavily incorporated orchestral strings (though music historians tend to attribute this innovation more to Philly-soul pioneers Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff). White’s music — together with the simultaneously burgeoning Philly-soul style created by Bell, Gamble, and Huff — effectively foreshadowed the coming dominance of disco in the mid and late ’70s. Now, at long last, many of Barry White’s greatest hits have been remastered as part of Universal Music’s successful 20th Century Masters (The Millennium Collection) series.

The concept behind this series seems simple enough: compile many of the most recognizable hits from a singer or musician’s catalogue and place them together on a reasonably-priced compilation. The problem with this approach lies more in the respective artist than their material. Certain musicians have long, distinguished careers, and condensing their legacy, no matter how slightly, tends to diminish the overall impact of their music. Such is the case with Barry White.

In all honesty, this compilation has little chance of conveying the sheer potency, much less the passion, of Barry White’s music. White was, after all, a genius, and genius cannot be condensed. While this collection boasts many of the choice tracks from White’s career — “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me”, “Let the Music Play”, and his 1994 comeback tune, “Practice What You Preach”, there are the notable exclusions; “I’ve Got So Much to Give”, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”, and the timeless classic “Love’s Theme” are all noticeably absent. White’s immortal “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More” opens the collection, followed by the equally timeless “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”. Next, the mid-tempo “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” segues seductively into “What Am I Gonna Do With You”.

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of White’s music is its equal playability in a dance floor or romantic setting; songs like “Let the Music Play” and “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me” play as comfortably alongside the music of Salsoul Orchestra and Gloria Gaynor as they do beside Marvin Gaye or the Three Degrees.

Though the compilers obviously set out to make a collection that is reasonably priced, yet fairly enjoyable, 20th Century Masters (The Millennium Collection) is ultimately a lackluster compilation, made less enjoyable by the exclusion of some of Barry White’s most definitive tracks. The sound quality is superb, the sequencing chronological, but the finished result leaves far more to be desired. This collection functions best as a starting point for those interested in White’s music when he was at the top of his game, albeit an incomplete one. Those in search of something more substantial would be better served to try Barry White: All-Time Greatest Hits, or the exhaustive three-CD set Just for You.