Billy Paul – 1975 – Got My Head On Straight
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From the height of Billy Paul‘s career, nestled in between 1973’s classic ‘War Of The Gods’ and ‘When Love Is New’ from 1976, “Got My Head On Straight” appears to be one of his most ignored albums. The fact that it is only available on vinyl is also testament to its obscurity by an artist of Billy Paul’s stature. Well to rectify the injustice, we are proud to present the LP this week – and from a crisp, now unavailable, PIR CD pressing, courtesy of our regular scribe Trakbuv.
We would also like to state for the record that this is one of his greatest achievements to boot – an ambitious and totally successful concept album with an invigorating sense of positivity. Hope you agree.
This is a @320 rip of the now unavailable PIR CD
A1 July July July July 5.29
A2 Billy’s Back Home 4.32
A3 I’ve Got So Much To Live For4.49
A4My Head’s On Straight3.12
B1 When It’s Your Time To Go 4.59
B2 Be Truthful To Me 3.08
B3 Everything Must Change 5.19
B4 Black Wonders Of The World 4.57
Review by Trakbuv
Billy Paul needs no introduction to a column like this, and is yet another sad reminder of what today’s music is crying out for – singers whose gifts are instantly recognisable and distinctive from the first few ruffles of the larynx. Boy were we treated to the good stuff like gold ran from the tap. Appearing in concert with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Miles Davis, it was clear that his style would embrace a Jazzy sway. And coming from North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it was also only a matter of time before he would bump into Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The fruits blossomed fat and juicy on his first two LPs, ‘Feeling Good at the Cadillac Club’ (Gamble, 1968) and ‘Ebony Woman’ (Neptune, 1970), both having strong jazz inclinations that were important developments for his vocal delivery and his relationship with Gamble and Huff over the ensuing years. ‘Going East’, his first official release on Philadelphia International Records in 1971, was the transitional chrysalis before the far more soulful ‘360 Degrees’ spread its wings in 1972. The LP contained his iconic ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ and was an awesome demonstration of how his husky expressive boom fitted as snug as a bug in the rug of the establishing Philly groove. Probably his strongest LP of all followed in 1973. ‘War Of The Gods’ was arguably self-indulgent containing just 6 tracks, but is a wonderful time-capsule of the amazing versatility and inventiveness of the blossoming Philly sound.
His next studio album didn’t surface until 1975 – enter “Got My Head On Straight” stage right. This is my personal favourite of all his collective 33 and a thirds. I am probably standing in a corner all on my own – but the title says it all. It is an incredible assertion of life, living life and embracing every last breath. It is the equivalent of Cassius Clay hitting you around the head with one glove of optimism and the other full of positivity, while kicking in your tender area with a bootiful of gleaming joy – all the while with a stupid grin. “July July July July” sets the tone – with the sunshine beaming down and lighting up an incredible horizon ahead of you – I wish I could change the words to ‘Soul music soul music soul music soul music’ because this captures what it means to me perfectly !! Then we have the spellbinding “Billy’s Back Home”. Dexter Wansel is one of my personal heros, and this is one of his earlier contributions to PIR not long after he had graduated from Yellow Sunshine and a year before his debut ‘Life On Mars’. His synthesizer embellishments give the orchestral arrangement an added warmth and freshness that I simply cannot play enough – and a ultra mellow taster of his classic ‘Nights Over Egypt’ to come.
Back to the beach again folks. Sand in your toes and shouting at the bright orange sun. “I’ve Got So Much To Live For” is one of those calypso-flavoured ditties that Philly excelled at, and it perfectly cradles the glowing sentiments. Tie that crazy ass to the floor – I can’t resist shaking a positive vibe to this one ! And it’s more philosophical magic in the captivating title track. “My Head’s On Straight” has a tingling undercurrent of pathos while still sounding upbeat – I cannot fathom how they have managed to achieve such an incredible sensation. And for me – one of my two all-time favourite Billy Paul tracks comes up next. “Enlightment” is a possible successor to the earlier epic ‘I See The Light’, but it has its own message and is one of Gamble and Huff’s crowning glories. Utter utter genius from the first note to the last – I cannot praise this high enough. It is also a clear inspiration for the classic ‘Blind Baby’ LP by the New Birth that came out the same year. Or was it the other way round ? Spooky.
His first foray into funk comes in “When it’s your time to go” – this time attempting to put a positive shine on falling off this mortal coil – yep, nothing is safe from the optimistic vibe ! Wonderful. Probably the most lightweight and pop-flavoured track, “Be Truthful To Me” is still incredibly catchy and so hard to dislike. Bernard Ighner’s perennial “Everything Must Change” is given a similar treatment to Bernard’s from Quincy Jones ‘Body Heat’ LP the year earlier. Apart from demonstrating Bernard’s much more limited vocals, I do feel this was possibly an unnecessary inclusion when there are so many other songs they could have chosen to cover. But it is still an incredible tribute to Billy’s vocal prowess and is definitely in keeping with the concept of the album. Also, this sombre epic does provide a masterful intro for my favourite all-time Billy track. This track is just TOO GOOD. I weep for my ears when I put this on – they are being spoiled far too much for a mere mortal ! “Black Wonders Of The World” is the purest synergy of the best of Billy, Kenny, Leon and whole damn Philly mothership – the greatness of this tribute could only have been conceived by powers greater than we. My goosebumps are screaming for a holiday after this triumphant triumph that, at nearly 8 minutes, is far too short ! And just to add more compliments to the pile, I venture to suggest that Stevie Wonder’s ‘Black Man’was inspired by this very track. And all credit to Billy Paul who, together with the title track, helped in writing the song.
Well you may have guessed that I have a special place in my musical heart for this LP. An extraordinary life-affirming concept album from and extraordinary bunch of folk. And one of the most underrated gems out there, especially when you consider the might of the associated personnel. Get to the program, get to the vibe, and get involved.
You can also enjoy his 1973 classic album “360 Degrees of Billy Paul” including the timeless “Me & Mrs. Jones” in our back pages here.