Billy Paul had a big hit in 1972, Me and Mrs. Jones. Of course, I should qualify that statement. It was a ‘big’ hit and the one that is always remarked on because it registered in white pop consciousness, rather than only in the African-American charts. Beside that song, Billy Paul, one of Philadelphia’s great crooners chocked up many hits on the R&B charts in the four decades of his career.
He’s a versatile and lively voice who sang with such giants as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, it is a pity that he’s not so appreciated by white audiences as say Stevie Wonder or Ray Parker Jr.. As a youngster, I always saw his albums in the shops but had neither the adventurous spirit nor fiscal means to try him out. Poor me!
Today’s selection, Got My Head on Straight, has insinuated itself into my ‘all time favorites’ category. It’s an offering of that wonderfully lush Philadelphia International sound, which in the 1970s took off where Motown ran out of steam. Exemplified by great classics sides recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and the The Ojays, the Philly sound was not just full of groove but swirled with rich orchestral arrangements that few other regional sounds have been able to emulate. And there was a positivity of message too. James Brown and Nina Simone sang about being black and proud but Billy Paul and his Philadelphia colleagues wrapped everything in positive vibes.
And in addition to the sometime funky other time luxurious sounds of this record, I can’t recall a more ‘feel good’ album. Ever. And before you move on to the next blog or Youtube video, let me say, ‘feel good in the good sense.’ This is not a sentimental record nor are the ideas Diet-Coke bubbles. It is simply infectious. A man who obviously LOVES life, whether its singing about summer’s warm weather, coming home to his lover or even, I dare say, death! Essentially, Brother Billy, tells us life is what you make of it. You’ve got a choice. You can’t avoid the shit. The dying. Change. The broken hearts. But you can choose to be Enlightened, Truthful and you can have your head on straight. If you like. And if by the end of his record you’re not smiling and looking at your prospects with more optimism, then sue God.
Fantastic, mid-1970s American soul music of the highest order! A perfect way to start the day!
01 July, July, July, July
02 Billy’s back home
03 I’ve got so much to live for
04 My head’s on straight
06 When it’s your time to go
07 Be truthful to me
08 Everything must change
09 Black wonders of the world