23
Dec 07

BARRY WHITE – “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”

FT + Popular41 comments • 5,492 views

#361, 7th December 1974

One of the things I’ve realised writing Popular is that Britain tends to like – or tended to like – songs and stars with a tiny hint of the absurd, records that hook you with sincerity but sugar it with the option of reserve. Barry White’s signature hit is straight-up rhapsodic disco, an explosion of love and desire. But the fact that the smoothie who performs it is so recognisable, such a giant, so open to pastiche, unlocks the song for an audience who can take part in it without needing to feel it. This is why it’s a wedding disco favourite (which in turn is why I’m sort of sick of it): anyone can jog around the dancefloor and join in with big Barry’s open-armed professions without feeling stupid, because there’s a level on which the guy who’s singing it has already absorbed any possible ridicule. Which is generous of him, but then it’s a generous record.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 23 Dec 2007 #

    I think that part of the trick of this single is the arrangement – the contrast between the tense, lush strings and the propulsive bounciness of the rhythm section.

    It would be interesting to play this to someone who was unaware of who Barry White was and see if the jolly giant geniality was still detectable to them. I suspect that it would – there’s something enjoyably Herculean about the all-expansiveness of the love professed in the song.

  2. 2
    Mark G on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I’m sure his first hit “I’m gonna love you just a little more baby” had such a long preamble that it generally got faded to the next record on radio before the actual song even started.

  3. 3
    Dan M. on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I think you’ve got it exactly right, Tom. The gentle self-parody is what makes Barry White’s music so likeable today. At the time, as teens, I think we found his music rather silly and embarrassing, though it also seemed fairly risque as well. It was probably the combination of sexiness and self-parody that made us kids a little uncomfortable — nowhere near comfortable enough about sex to “get” a gentle spoof of seductiveness. Too subtle. The Bertha Butt Boogie was more our speed.

  4. 4
    Dan M. on 24 Dec 2007 #

    And has any other song put as much stress on the indefinite article “a”?

  5. 5
    Mark G on 24 Dec 2007 #

    Whereabouts?

    Anyroad, one lyric I always heard as “you’re the sun, my moon, my garlic salt”

  6. 6
    rosie on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding disco, so I wouldn’t know (I guess I don’t get invited to the kind of weddings where they have discos.) What I do know is that this song, leaving the singer aside, is big and confident and immediately raises the spirits when I hear it. It doesn’t do anything original, so a 7 seems as high as it merits, but it is a fair score.

  7. 7
    Waldo on 24 Dec 2007 #

    The conclusion/fade out to this one is absolutely blinding. The love walrus simply doesn’t reach the final note and you fear for him. In fact this song was totally wrong for Barry, whose trademark was to mumble his way through his numbers, relying on the arrangement courtesy of the Love Unlimited Orchestra and only singing sparingly and at a low pitch. On this occasion, the fat bastard literally had to sing for his supper continually and to negotiate a raised chorus which he survived only by dropping pitch on the “everything” until that last one, which he misses gloriously.

    The song itself, though, is a belter but should have been kept back for someone like Jim Gilstrap, who would have made a much better fist of it. But Barry’s it was and he just about gets away with it. The arrangement and the backing singers holding his hand saved the day, there’s no doubt about that whatsoever.

  8. 8
    Geir H on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I find it strange that this is his biggest hit (well, in the UK anyway). Because it doesn’t have his trademark – those “sexy” spoken passages that sounded like nobody else but him.

  9. 9
    Lex on 25 Dec 2007 #

    “Britain tends to like – or tended to like – songs and stars with a tiny hint of the absurd, records that hook you with sincerity but sugar it with the option of reserve”

    things i hate about britain/british pop no. 948473033

  10. 10
    Monitor on 27 Dec 2007 #

    But it does have the “sexy” spoken passage, only it’s right at the beginning (“We got it together, didn’t we?”) which would imply a great deal of forebearance on the part of 1974’s disco dancers grooving aimlessly until fifty seconds into the record when that morse-code style danceable groove comes in and everyone can start bopping. And actually he does start muttering into the mike in the closing moments but maybe he was sure that would be spoken over on the radio and faded into another song dans les discotheques.

    Of course, that hint of reserve – irony, let’s name it – can be a dead hand on British pop, and twenty years later it would become a governing force. But here I think it means a fraction greater openness to feeling, sentiment, and the impossibile extremity of love. It’s true, certainly, that Barry White can’t really keep up with the melody but this adds to the sense that the song is trying to capture the insurmountable joyfulness of love. If some multi-octave divo like Lionel Ritchie were to sing this, I suspect we’d wonder what all the fuss were about. Listen to the way the Walrus of Love almost entirely loses his way in love/the song after 3’30”, it’s delicious and prickly and slightly funny (in that straitened ‘we’ve all been there’ half-laugh).

  11. 11
    Dave on 29 Dec 2007 #

    If you have time to mark bazzers work while youre listening to it youve lost the whole point of what Barry White is about.. It’s music to make love to, plain and simple.. And in that respect you would have to score it 10/10. Next time try scoring it while youre scoring.. I guarantee you’ll agree with me.

  12. 12
    Al Ewing on 29 Dec 2007 #

    Translation: I’m desperately trying to overcompensate for something.

  13. 13
    Dave on 29 Dec 2007 #

    Whatever, i just find that dissecting any pop song to the nth degree quite a waste of time, Barry Whites music does what it’s meant to do and thats the point i was trying to make. Music is about emotion, not about pseudo intellectuals gabbing monotonously about it. Get a life.

  14. 14
    Al Ewing on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Yeah, that’s why I don’t read music reviews anymore, or books… all those pseudo-intellectual words! Ugh! In a perfect word, there wouldn’t be any thinking, just feeling, and we’d all walk the streets gurning at each other to show off our tortured hearts.

  15. 15
    Dave on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Haha.. You just get funnier Al, music isnt a media intended for books unless you happen to be reading sheet music to play an instrument of course. Reading is something you do with your eyes and brain Al, music is quite different.. to state the bleeding obvious you listen with your ears Al. What your brain then does to process the information depends on your own thoughts and feelings Al. Try harder mate.

  16. 16
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 30 Dec 2007 #

    feelings = distinguishes between “this works” and “this doesn’t”
    analysis = tells you WHY something works (or doesn’t)

    it’s true that analysis is harder and much more prone to vapid or meaningless generalisations (“this works because it has soul” = tells you nothing that isn’t circular; the issue is what is the technique or ingredient that SUPPLIES the soul… )

    (this applies to “scoring” also: if yr not, then you have to think about what yr doing or saying, or not doing or not saying, that’s going wrong)

    (also: the brain comes in sooner than yr saying dave, really — otherwise we wouldn’t be able to recognise a melody sung out of tune… when little kids’ choirs sing hymns, the tune is often VERY wayward, but we can spot what it is and react accordingly —> it’s more like multiple loop feedback, and with plenty of music the deeper feeling comes after deeper brain investment…)

  17. 17
    Dave on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Ask any musician worth their salt about what inspires them to make music.. Analysis doesnt enter the equation, only a non musician would analyse rather than feel the music. Sitting on your arse wondering why you like or dont like a certain song is a complete waste of time. Also i didnt state how long it takes the signals from your ears to reach your brain, i take it youve never been in a particular mood and heard a song you normally love but at that point in time couldnt listen to it? Thats how your brain processes the information and reacts to it with an electro chemical reaction that changes your heart rate etc changing your emotions, ever heard a song for the first time that makes you instantly smile? If you havent you’re a machine and machines have no appreciation of music either.

  18. 18
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 30 Dec 2007 #

    actual real in-the-world working musicians spend a LOT of time training, practicing, rehearsing, doing fiddly and tedious technical work, which involves a LOT of listening back, discussion, self-criticism and yes analysis: they play scales and changes, they try things out, they argue and dissect ALL THE TIME, because it’s a job and a profession, and they want to be paid and they want to be GOOD, and you get better by going back and asking “did that work? if not why not?” (to refer you over to yr comments on anther threads, one of the reason a lot of the new romantic music was a bit weak was that its makers spend too little time attending to this dimension of their music-making; they thought they could shortcut to the strong thing they liked elsewhere, and NOT do the dreary legwork — as the original post noted, spandau ballet TALKED about soul, but they never gave a thought to how to make soul happen…)

    is it a waste of time for us? well, if you don’t enjoy talking about music then you don’t enjoy it — but if you do, then it’s fun!

    the choices a composer or a song-writer makes — why s/he did this rather than that? — are the heart of what s/he does: not so much what inspired them to START in music (which you’re right may well be a rather nebulous and romantic delusion about dealing directly with feeling) but what inspires them to STAY in music, which is the same as anything else rewarding — a job well done

    the not-so-fun-to-listen-to dissecting and analysis aspect of music-making is it’s true mostly kept off-stage, on the grounds that it would distract from the one-off excellence of the performance, and it’s true that a lot of performers — comedians are even worse here the musicians — are very supersititious about giving the mechanics away; this is because the feedback loops between brain and body, technique and inspiration, are quite easy to disrupt, and they prefer the mythology of the intuitive gift to dwelling on the extensive work-and-analysis element, which lots of the less-thinking audience are easily alienated by) (i mean, who wants to know ken dodd’s strategies for facing a glasgow as opposed to a cleethorpes crowd? the thing is: i do, because it’s interesting in itself, being very under-discussed, as well as useful… i’m a professional writer and editor, and thinking about what makes what work and what doesn’t is the heart of my art, really; thinking about similar exploration in different not-so-distant disciplines is often a revelation…

    your second argument proves my point rather than yours :)

    emotions and reason aren’t separate, they’re intimately wrapped up in each other — and sometimes they quarrel and fight for dominance!

  19. 19
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 30 Dec 2007 #

    (ps before you say I AM ON HOLIDAY and so are my technical editing and bracket-closing skills!)

  20. 20
    Kat on 30 Dec 2007 #

    “Sitting on your arse wondering why you like or dont like a certain song is a complete waste of time.”

    B-but that’s what I spend 99% of my arse-sitting time doing!

  21. 21
    Dave on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Yes i agree that musicians analyse their music as they compose it and i agree they should, lyrics can make or break a song as does the music that carries it, i am stating the bleeding obvious again.. But theres a point when too much analysis can damage the purity of the composition, it loses its spontaneous charm, sometimes the rawness of the music works better than a polished performance, a good example is early Elvis v late 60’s Las vegas Elvis, one being natural and soulful the other being contrived and showbiz.. I know which one i prefer.
    btw far be it from me to criticise your editing skills at this time of year, we are only human after all. Happy new year

  22. 22
    mike atkinson on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Re. Dave and p^nk: I can see both sides of this one, but generally speaking, I’m instinctively more on p^nk’s end of the spectrum, and in total agreement with his excellent comment #18.

    The thing is, Dave: for me personally – and I’d never presume to suggest that this should apply to everyone – my enjoyment of music is enhanced by analysing what makes it good/bad/indifferent, and although I can see the danger of spoiling something by dissecting it to bits, I’m somehow not wired that way when it comes to music. (Comedy is another matter, though. I actively avoid trying to work out what makes something funny.)

    As a freelance music writer, my job is to think about what makes a piece of music or a live show good/bad/indifferent, and also to build up the sort of specialist factual knowledge that can support my critiques and inform my interviews. Hanging out at sites like these is all part of that process. (God, that’s really badly put. The love of, and interest in, music came way, WAY before the freelancing work. Sheesh, I’m not that careerist…)

    (Also, it’s fun to have specialist/expert knowledge of a particular subject, and music happens to be my area.)

    Anyhow, with all that said: there are some songs which I won’t touch, and this happens to be one of them. For me, “You’re The First…” is a sheer rush of exultant joy, one of the small handful of songs which always, always, makes me get up and dance if I hear it (more likely than not at a wedding disco), and despite a temporary wobble while it was co-opted by Ally MacBeal, an unassailable Perfect Ten.

  23. 23
    Monitor on 30 Dec 2007 #

    Dear Dr Magda Yacoub

    If you have the time to analyse how the heart and lungs works, the intricacies of the respiratory system and the circulation of the blood, you’ve completely missed the point. Any healthy person worth their salt knows that it’s just breathing and a pulse. Analysis doesn’t come into it – only a non-breather would analyse rather than breathe. Sitting on your arse analysing it is a complete waste of time.

    Unfortunately, following this logic, I died of emphysema.

    Yours posthumously, etc.

  24. 24
    Dan M. on 31 Dec 2007 #

    I think that it’s not only that it’s fun to analyze music (for some of us) (analysis is a bad, loaded word, though, isn’t it? It has “anal” in it, for one thing. ‘Figuring out what it is about a song that makes it work so well’ doesn’t sound so cold and, well, analytical), but that communicating with fellow enthusiasts about the songs we love adds greatly (for some of us) to the communal nature of music. Dancing, grooving to, or just basking together in the sounds may be all some people want or need to make music a communal experience. But for us intellectual types, there’s nothing like the excitement of finding the words — making them up, or hearing/reading someone else doing it — that express the feelings music gives us. And sharing that excitement with our fellow eggheads makes us feel less alone in the echo chambers of our own skulls, so why not? And then, there are different types of “analysis” — from the historical/sociological to the highly personal to the more technical, which is probably the type that tends to threaten to “ruin” music (for some of us) (not me). Of course, to each his own — whether or not one enjoys analysing or discussing music is not going to be a matter of life and death. On the other hand, someone who takes the “con” part in a debate on the pros and cons of analyzing in itself has already thrown in the towel by the act of entering into that discourse, haven’t they?

  25. 25
    Erithian on 2 Jan 2008 #

    Dan – spot on with your comment above, and Dave, could I respectfully suggest that if you dislike analysis of pop music you’re on the wrong website? To be fair you have a good point in your original posting that Bazza is aiming to have his music connect with you pretty much at groin level – and does it very effectively – and you also have a point about over-analysing music (everyone has their threshold when they’re free to say “enough already”). But reading this site has immensely enhanced my appreciation of the music covered and a lot of other things – and the site also serves as a forum for less academic reminiscences about just how much you enjoyed the songs at the time and how it affected your life, so it covers a lot of bases.

    Read any of Tom’s reviews (especially the anthologised “Eleanor Rigby” one) or any of Marcello’s comments (the initial ones at least, before we all start to get silly on the subject), and you don’t have to agree with them but you’ve had your braincells stimulated at least. Same with a book like Ian McDonald’s “Revolution in the Head” – it’s not going to change that electro-chemical reaction you mention, but it’ll help explain WHY that final chord sequence in “I Want To Hold Your Hand” grabbed its audience and had a massive influence on the history of UK and US music.

    Anyway, on to Bazza – as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of this genre at all, but I hope you won’t think I’m being snide when I say the most effective part of this track is the silence. By which I mean the momentary silence after “that’s what you are” and “brand new day” before the drumbeat whips the song back into motion. Other than that I can take it or leave it. There’s an even more effective use of silences within a song coming up in early ’75.

    Number 2 Watch – Bazza kept Gary Glitter from getting another number one with “Oh Yes You’re Beautiful”. Not one of Gazza’s finest moments either.

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Jan 2008 #

    One of the most irritating features of oldies radio in the UK, apart from the fact that they only ever seem to broadcast an unending/unendable cycle of the same 150 or so songs, is that whenever they play this one – and inevitably, since it was Barry’s only number one, lazy Guinness-reading programmers slot it in routinely – they invariably use the edit which omits the spoken prologue and epilogue, although both are for me what makes the record great…the purring smile of his “isn’t that NICE?” at the beginning, the merging of sex with true sensuality, the knowing and loving glow of achievement that they have actually MADE it (not to mention the guitar and bass riffs later to form the basis of Pulp’s “My Legendary Girlfriend”)…and the consummation at the end. Both make the untrammelled passion of his delivery of the song itself that much more marked and palpable…and how can I not identify with the lyric; yes, my view of this record is very much based on ourselves having finally “made it,” and ooh yes, it’s a lovely feeling…

    About Barry in general, I find it remarkable how he and arranger Gene Page managed to maintain and develop an unlikely spirit of 1967; the forthright testimonials and whispered confessions of Isaac Hayes suggest a distant relationship to psychedelia (and of course a far less distant one to talking blues and to gospel) but listen to those swirling flutes and harpsichords on early Barry sides like “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More Babe” or “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” – preferably in their full-length album versions – and there are clouds of cotton candy as well as purple silk negligee; in particular, have a listen to the exceptional second side of 1974’s Stone Gon’ album which instrumentally is but a butterfly’s breath away from the Cocteau Twins.

  27. 27
    Geir H on 3 Jan 2008 #

    I have never heard a version with that spoken introduction. Is it possible that introduction was on the album version only?

  28. 28
    Waldo on 4 Jan 2008 #

    Geir H – No, it certainly featured on the single and was never edited back in the day. I too am irritated that you never hear it now when it surfaces as a “Revive 45”. It’s rather like cutting out the “I am the magnificent..” on Double Barrel.

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2008 #

    Confirmed – I checked my original 45 copy when I was up in Glasgow for the festive season.

  30. 30
    tim davidge on 6 Mar 2008 #

    Sentiment was, by 1974, something that the older generation did. That’s why the listeners to this record needed the option of reserve, detachment or whatever they needed. It’s also, maybe, why White himself leavened the generous, unequivocal sentiment with something a little earthier. The arrangement matches the spirit of the record, being lush but with a bit of added edge and urgency, bits of percussion, a glissando – ‘George Melachrino meets Isaac Hayes’. And because it bears the indelible stamp of Barry White, who had a hand it its composition, arrangement and production, it doesn’t sound manufactured. It sounds ‘created’ and to my mind it’s one of the most likeable records of its era.
    .

  31. 31
    intothefireuk on 31 Mar 2008 #

    I don’t ever recall hearing the intro played on the radio and certainly most of the versions of this song I have on CD don’t include it and right now I don’t recall it either.

    Regards the above discussion I find myself straddling both camps (ooh er missus) being both a musician & an analyser. Most musicians can readily disect a piece of music into it’s constituent parts but most would probably shy away from writing about it or psycho-analysing it’s emotional effect or indeed it’s social impact. That’s what makes a site like this different. Of course how we percieve a particular piece of music does vary depending on our own emotional state which is why at the beginning of popular Tom commented that the marks he gave would vary according to his mood.

    Dance music of course is designed with one thing primarily in mind which means generally it stands or falls on that. Bazza’s song certainly stands and has stood proud ever since. The thumping rhythm, vibrant string section & powerful, exhorting vocal bring the song to life and enable it to rise above it’s humble origins. Yes it’s a wedding favourite but I suspect it’s for musical reasons and not just because BW is a larger than life character. I would offer that Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ is just as big a floor filler at yer average wedding (in fact the two go together rather well) and I’m pretty sure no one knows or cares what she looks like.

  32. 32
    Billy Smart on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Funnily enough, I once DJed at a wedding and we had an anxious discussion about whether ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ would work.

    In the end we decided against it, because the bride and groom were both pop-smart enough to know that any song that begins “What’s the sense in sharing this one and only life, just to find yourself another lost and lonely wife?” would strike the wrong note.

  33. 33
    intothefireuk on 31 Mar 2008 #

    Yes well that’ll tell you something about the sort of weddings I go to !

  34. 35
    Paul Ramsey on 5 Feb 2012 #

    I am delighted to say that the last wedding I was at played this record to welcome the bride and groom and they played the full version including the spoken intro. It was originally a country and western styled record that Barry took and turned into a dance floor classic. It’s also the first Barry white record where he sang instead of speaking/rapping. It’s a joyous roller coaster ride of a song with an irresistible hook and never fails to fill that dance floor ; every time you hear you just fall in love with it all over again; exceptional!

  35. 36
    Colin on 20 Jun 2013 #

    I have the original single on the 20th Century label. The full version on the album has quite a long spoken intro. On the single this was edited to “We’ve got it together, didn’t we? Nobody but you and me. We’ve got it together baby.” What you now hear on the radio and CD compilations is different edit without the spoken intro, and the vocal sounds to me like it’s a rerecording (listen for instance to the way he sings “Your love I’ll keep for evermore”, and the bridge after each chorus), and for me it’s frankly jarring, making me wonder what the hell happened to the original single. Anyway, although I haven’t found a clip of the original single, here’s the full album version. Just magine it with the spoken bit shortened to what I said above, and a shorter fade out without the spoken outro.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iep382TK-yg

  36. 37
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2013 #

    You’re right, you know. I thought that was my memory playing tricks on me. Somewhere on Popular there’s a thread on other familiar hits where oldies radio now plays the wrong – ie non-hit 45 – version. Most jarring for me is the Four Tops’ Walk Away Renee, with a ham-fisted piano that was barely audible on the original single.

  37. 38
    hardtogethits on 20 Jun 2013 #

    Fascinating. The story behind hardtogethits.

    Some other relevant discussions are here
    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2008/12/roxy-music-jealous-guy/ (see #47+)
    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2009/02/queen-and-david-bowie-under-pressure/ (see #65+)

    What puzzles me is how archivists could now know definitively whether a digital copy is close to the original single version might be in instances where

    a) they do not have the original single, or
    b) they have a digital copy and the original version, the running times are the same and they don’t have a particularly trained ear
    (that’s me in b).

  38. 39
    weej on 14 Jul 2013 #

    Thanks to this thread (especially #26) for helping me write this.

  39. 40
    hectorthebat on 7 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 959
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)

  40. 41
    lonepilgrim on 1 Nov 2019 #

    I quite like this song in all of its broadcast iterations but compared to the soothing, seductive tones of George McCrae or the Three Degrees, Barry sounds so hyper I fear for his health

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