Mr. Billy Paul has been on my mind a LOT for the past month or so – probably because is a really cool dude! Therefore, I want to write about this singer while he is still with us in the physical world, because the way time is “flying”, who knows which of us will make it to the “finish line”, which keeps moving anyway, lol! To watch or listen to the news these days, brings to mind one of his best album titles, “War Of The Gods”, or as my Mum recently put it, “in our life time we’re seeing the last days of man – the Bible – Revelations.”
I remember the opening synthesizer sound as used by many of us in commercials we produced for nightclub parties – I used the piercing lazer over just about any upbeat jam at the time – and still will!
Lately I have been playing, not a vinyl, but a “live” CD of his “World Tour 1999”. The disc affects you with the feel that you are really there at the show, and I love the band that backs him, especially the drummer. It reminds me of the time I was lucky enough to get front row center seats to watch him perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City! Ah, the perks of having record company Promotion Department friends back in the days. If you are too young to know who he is, or just never were “into” R&B music of the 1970s, just think, “Me & Mrs Jones”, and that should nudge those musical memory cells, as that is Billy’s trademark tune! The first, and one of my personal favorite BP jams I ever heard was the 1971 cautionary song, “This Is Your Life” from the album “Going East” (one I didn’t manage to get hold of, but I have the 45rpm) and of course, as I say often in these posts, heard over the airwaves of WLIB FM, New York City, as it transitioned to WBLS FM, programmed by the legendary Frankie Crocker. I met Mr. Billy Paul back in the year 2000 while doing my duty at southern New Jersey station WVLT FM. Like, I was in there talking to one of my co-workers, or getting ready to do some production,turned around and saw this Brother as my mind went something like, “Hey I know him! That’s Billy Paul!!” Holy Cow!” WVLT is not a huge, high-profile radio station, it was out in the woods of Millville, N.J., but not all that far from Philadelphia, the city whose 1970s musical legacy gave Mr. Paul his most famous stardom. I found him truly a gracious and down-to-Earth celebrity and gentleman, and I believe his obviously very loving, protective wife, Blanche was also with him at the time. A couple of years later, he granted me a live on-air interview via telephone after I moved-on to kick-ass at a tiny R&B AM station in Nashville.
So, now onto the rest of my vinyls, all on the Philadelphia International label, distributed by Epic at the time I acquired them, and the oldest one which is 1974’s “Live In Europe”. The featured in-concert version of his “Brown Baby”, was a “catch” for me at the time because it is another cut off of “360 Degrees”. It also includes his treatment of Elton John’s “Your Song as does the above compact disc (recorded ‘live” in Paris, France). I always love the way Billy’s unique voice [especially his “high notes” no other singer can match] compliments the Top 40 songs he chooses to cover; he even made a Paul McCartney composition, “Let “Em In”, the title track of an album in 1976 – not to mention the production re-working of it to further politicize it – into a definite chant of needed racial inclusiveness. On the album version that I have, you hear clips of the voices of Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other legendary human rights leaders. I love most of the tracks on this album as U can C from my notes on the back cover at the top! OMG! I am playing “We All Got A Mission” over and over again as I write this: “Change the world around, change the world around, CHANGE IT!”
Next in my library is an album that was huge during my days at the University, 1975’s “When Love Is New”. It is special because of the schitzo-sided way it plays: you have Billy, the social philosopher at the height of the anti-war/racial civil rights era boogie on “People Power” and the funk of “Let The Dollar Circulate” on side one. Then flip the side and you hear the tender romantic ballad, “When Love Is New” that progresses into “I Want ‘Cha Baby” and then climaxes on “Let’s Make A Baby” in about nineteen minutes – woo-wee, that’s getting a little bit too “lucky” too fast, IMO!
I somehow acquired two copies of my final Paul vinyl, the nondescript, “First Class”, a more formulaic MFSB-style album of its time whose outstanding feature is the derby he sports on the cover, at least to my musical mind. He could always sport some vines (fashions) on his interesting album covers!
I have always admired that Billy has a penchant for including socially aware and uplifting messages in the lyrics he sings. He covers the whole spectrum, from love to politics, much like his late and very close soul-brother, the musical genius, Marvin Gaye did. What is your favorite of his songs? Where were you when you first heard “Mrs. Jones”? Have you ever had a “Me & Mrs. Jones” situation? Just 4 fun, can U guess Billy’s given name?
Seek some Billy Paul singing soon and get a needed reality check; find out if you are as good as you think you are! It all depends upon “How Good Is Your Game”?
Congratulations on prevailing in the suit vs. Gamble & Huff, by the way, Mr. Paul!