Billy Paul – 1972 – 360 Degrees of Billy Paul
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1972 was a very important year for Philadelphia International Records. One, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff(The Deans and Founders of the Philly Sound) signed the major distribution deal with CBS Records. Two, this album by Billy Paul was one of the records that took them to another level. Me and Mrs Jones was in worldwide smash breaking the charts for weeks. MFSB and Bobby Eli make the record and what sets the Philly Sound apart from Motown, Stax, and the New Orleans music movement. The follow-up single “Am I Black Enough for You” didn’t make the waves like “Me and Mrs. Jones”, but this album is a must have if your an avid Sound Of Philly fan.
A1 Brown Baby
A2 I’m Just a Prisoner
A3 It’s Too Late
A4 Me & Mrs. Jones
B1 Am I Black Enough for You
B2 Let’s Stay Together
B3 Your Song
B4 I’m Gonna Make It This Time
Paul’s first album for Philadelphia International was straight club jazz — sales were slow. This time, Gamble Huff gave Paul material strong enough to make his sophomore release a viable commercial entity. “Brown Baby” speaks of people of color making their parents and others proud, and the message is positive and correct. “I’m Just a Prisoner” is real but would have been better served without the string section. It’s a stark depiction of a man who has served five years and is contemplating his future. It is about the unsettling fact that he’s just a prisoner. Its chilling chorus tells it all — “The cell is cold as hell/you’ll never get use to the smell/my bed is hard as wood/I got to fight to keep my manhood.”
The riveting saga doesn’t just end — the fade is lengthy and features a dejected Paul woefully mourning about the conditions, the situation, and the turmoil of prison life. He sounds believable and frustrated belting “Me & Mrs. Jones“ a classic that many relate to, and those who don’t have no problem being down with the passionate singing and clawing lyrics describing the unapologetic infidelity. His “It’s Too Late” is a fine rendition of Carole King‘s classic. You might not recognize “Let’s Stay Together” popularized by Al Green. Paul does it MOR/jazz style, with a lot of improvising before crooning the original lyrics.
It shows versatility, but people who bought “Jones” probably didn’t appreciate it. A version of Elton John‘s “Your Song” introduced the Britisher to fans of soul music. Vince Montana’s magical vibes punctuate the rhythm, which turns into a lightweight gospel revival. “Am I Black Enough for You” fit in with the times of overt black consciousness, a social message moved along by a perky bongo and clavinet-dominated beat and well-spaced, brassy horn hits. A too staid “I’m Gonna Make It This Time” co-written by Bunny Sigler, marked Paul’s second adventure in urban, club jazz on 360 Degrees; this one has bite, and Paul sings it with fire.