Billy Paul - 1971 – Going East
After releasing Feelin’ Good At the Cadillac Club on Gamble Records in 1968 and Ebony Woman on Neptune in 1970, Billy Paul signed to a newly formed label in Philadelphia. It had been founded by two songwriters, musicians and producers. The label was Philadelphia International Records. Its two founders were Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Neither Billy Paul, nor Gamble and Huff, had any idea of what would follow, nor the effect both would have on soul music.
The music on Going East points towards the future sound of Billy Paul, Gamble and Huff and the Philly Sound. A year after Going East was released, Billy Paul would go on to release his most successful album. This was 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. It included Me and Mrs Jones, the song that would become synonymous with Billy Paul.
A2 (If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You? 2:42
A3 This Is Your Life 4:16
A4 Jesus Boy (You Only Look Like a Man) 4:17
B1 Magic Carpet Ride 5:19
B2 I Wish it Were Yesterday 3:50
B3 Compared to What 5:20
B4 Love Buddies 3:40
B5 There’s a Small Hotel 4:27
Review By R.Kesler
Some musical situations sound like a good idea during the concept stage, yet when it comes to the recording stage, and the acceptance stage, things go a bit sideways … and through the fault of no one in particular, it’s simply a matter of construct, and how to bring those initial notions into reality.
Going East would be Billy Paul’s debut with the Philadelphia International Records label back in 1971, with two previous albums under his belt, the man was no novice when it came to music and the recording studio. What was attempted, mostly on his second venture, was to find that sweet spot that sat right between Paul’s natural jazz inclinations and what was happening with the flowering soul music scene. Without a doubt, he did have some commercial success, though mostly with other musicians and music writers. Here, the direction was established to take a things a step further, much as The Beatles had done and looked to the east, though the concept here was to use what The Beatles brought back and incorporated into their music as that stepping stone, rather than going east himself. The goal was to keep those soul and jazz hybrid rhythms alive, while Paul made his run, and mix in some contemporary material to reinvent the nature of both soul and jazz … perhaps not one of the wisest decisions ever made.
One of the strangest aspects of the album was the choice of the song “Magic Carpet Ride”, a singular rockin’ number filled with heavy metal thunder, that while arrangers and producers Bobby Martin, Lenny Pakula and Thom Bell claimed that they ‘nearly’ had a hit with the song, in the music business, the term ‘nearly’ doesn’t count for much. And that brings to light the other major issue with Going East, … it had three arrangers, and to my way of thinking, that’s two too many, and surely accounted for the album feeling scattered, not cohesive, and with too many ideas floating around and not one of them being full actualized. Add to that that not one song was penned by Billy Paul, and it’s rather easy to see that the man had a difficult time putting his personal stamp on even a single track.
While I would never want or desire to reduce Billy Paul’s career to his sensational hit “Me and Mrs. Jones” the song did have all the hooks, the slow spacious build, the raspy vocals, and the burning arrangement, not to mention the subject matter to make the track a career defining moment. With his sophisticated cover of “Compared to What” he reimagines swing, and with “Magic Carpet Ride” rising slowly before resolving into a flute and vocal exclamation, we know something is happening here, but we just don’t know what it is. Other tracks consist of gliding strings along with morphing and shifting percussions that are interfused with a resolve that is almost epic in its nature, Going East was not appreciated in its time, and only now is being rediscovered, though still, that lack of cohesiveness continues to manifest itself; with people either instantly ‘getting it’ or not.
There’s no in-between stage here, there’s no learning curve, if you dig the grooves laid down here then they will be friends for life, if not, it’s an easy album to dismiss. Sadly, most people will be left on the fence, knowing in their hearts that the material presented here is first rate, that the concept is well worth consideration, but they just aren’t able to step down from the fence and live with this body of work.