A year after the release of Billy Paul’s most commercially successful album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul in 1972, an album that featured the Grammy Award winning number one single Me and Mrs Jones, Billy released his follow-up album War of the Gods. By this time, Philadelphia International Records had undergone something of a transformation. Their legendary house band M.F.S.B. had become the slick, sophisticated and polished band that would appear on so many great albums. Driven along by the rhythm section of Baker, Harris, Young, guitarist Bobby Eli, while Vince Montana Jr. would add vibes, and Don Ronaldo’s strings and horns would provide their trademark sound. Together with the talents of producers Gamble and Huff and Thom Bell, arrangers Jack Faith, Bobby Martin and Lenny Pakula, Philadelphia International Records would transform seventies soul music, when the Philly Sound was born. Variously described as sophisticated, polished and slick, the music was ultimately beautiful, becoming critically acclaimed and a huge commercial success. An album that perfectly demonstrated the new direction Philadelphia International Records was heading, was Billy Paul’s third studio for Philadelphia International, War of the Gods which was recently rereleased by BBR Records.

Recording of War of the Gods took place at studios where the Philly Sound was born, the Sigma Sound Studios, in Philadelphia. With M.F.S.B. accompanying Billy, six songs were recorded, four written by Gamble and Huff, who produced the album. Recording got underway in 1973, with Bobby Martin and Lenny Pakula arranging the six tracks. These included The Whole Town’s Talking and the ten minute Magnus Opus that’s the title track War of the Gods. Among the other four tracks, were Thanks For Saving My Life, which would be released as a single from the album. With the six tracks that made up War of the Gods recorded, the album would be released in 1974.

On the release of War of the Gods in 1974, the album reached number 110 in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. Thanks For Saving My Life reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Another track that was released as a single, The Whole Town’s Talking, which three years later in 1977, featured on Teddy Pendergrass’ debut album Teddy Pendergrass. When it was released as a single it gave Teddy a US R&B hit single. However, The Whole Town’s Talking was originally on Billy Paul’s third album for Philadelphia International Records, War of the Gods, which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening War of the Gods is I See the Light, written by Bunny Sigler. Arranged by Lenny Pakula and produced by Gamble and Huff. The track opens slowly and dramatically with just melodic keyboards and percussion, that give way to Billy’s thoughtful vocal. His vocal starts off gently, before quickly growing in power. Meanwhile drums punctuate the track, with the arrangement growing to include the Sigma Sweethearts, rasping horns and lush strings. At the heart of this dramatic track is Billy’s vocal, as the arrangement and vocal veer between a gentle to powerful style. This works really well, holding your attention. It gets that you’re hanging on Billy’s every word and wondering what direction the track is heading next. For six minutes Billy’s vocal is powerful, laden with emotion and passion, while the arrangement fuses drama and power seamlessly.

War of the Gods Magnus Opus is the title track War of the Gods, one of four Gamble and Huff penned tracks, arranged by Bobby Martin, one of Philadelphia International’s legendary arrangers. This is a track that’s like many similar big, ambitious productions that were popular during the early seventies, and something Gamble and Huff did so well. It’s a mid-tempo track, where frenzied sirens open the track, before slowly, slightly dark keyboards enter joined by piano, vibes and bass. Subtle backing vocalists join adding light to the darkness of the arrangement, as slowly and dramatically the track unfolds. It’s over two minutes before Billy’s considered, thoughtful vocal enters. Accompanying him are piano and organ, as Billy sings of the evil and darkness in the world, before the arrangement heads takes on a jaunty style. Billy’s accompanied by backing vocalists as his voice grows in power, when he calls for “bad things to end.” Later, the arrangement becomes jazz tinged, especially when the tempo slows. By then, you realize that truly, this ambitious track is deserving of the description Magnus Opus. Not only is it Billy Paul at his best, but M.F.S.B., arranger Bobby Martin and Gamble too. It’s a sign of what was still to come from Philadelphia International.

Although many people will think of The Whole Town’s Talking as a Teddy Pendergrass song, it was Billy Paul that sung the track originally. The two versions are quite different, but both have one thing in common, a fantastic deliver by soul superstars. While Teddy sings the track as a ballad, bathed in sadness and emotion, Billy’s version has a slightly jaunty, faster arrangement. Opening with just the rhythm section, keyboards and rasping horns, Billy’s delivery is quicker, maybe not as emotive as Teddy’s version, but laden with drama and passion. He’s accompanied by punchy horns, Philadelphia International’s legendary female backing singers the Sweethearts of Sigma. Add to this, dramatic flourishes of piano,  lush cascading strings and Billy’s dramatic, emotive, punchy delivery of the lyrics. The result is a powerful, impassioned and dramatic version of The Whole Town’s Talking that’s quite different from Teddy’s later version, but like that version, features a stunning vocal.

I Was Married is the first in a trio of slower songs, co-written by Cary Gilbert and Joannie Arc. Bobby Martin’s arrangement is stunning, and demonstrates just how talented an arranger he is. Opening with a sultry saxophone, Eddie Green on piano and lush strings, while Earl Young’s drums provide the track’s heartbeat. Then, when Billy’s vocal is full of sadness and regret. Behind him, slow, sweeping strings, rasping horns, stabs of Hammond organ and flourishes of piano provide a gorgeous jazz tinged backdrop. This is perfect for the emotion and sadness in Billy’s vocal, resulting in one of the true highlights of War of the Gods.

Thanks For Saving My Life was a single released from War of the Gods and is similar to the jazz tinged, emotion of the previous track. Here, Billy decides to kick loose, while the Sweethearts of Sigma accompany him, as this jazzy track swings along. With M.F.S.B. seamlessly transformed into a jazz band, a myriad of blazing horns, rhythm section, flourishes of piano and swirling strings accompany Billy. While M.F.S.B. play a huge part in ensuring the track goes with a swing, credit must be given to the Sweethearts of Sigma, who like Billy revel in their role on another swinging slice of sumptuous jazz.

Closing War of the Gods is one of the most emotive and beautiful tracks, Peace Holy Peace. Written and produced by Gamble and Huff, while Lenny Pakula is the arranger, this is the slowest song on the album. It’s also the most emotive and in a way, uplifting and hopeful. Just the meandering Hammond organ played by Lenny Pakula, slow strings and rhythm section accompany what sounds like a celestial choir of backing vocalists that accompany Billy’s slow, emotive and almost spiritual vocal. The arrangement has an understated sound, allowing Billy and his choir of backing vocalists to take centre-stage on one of the most moving, beautiful and hopeful songs Billy Paul ever recorded. What a beautiful way to end War of the Gods.

While War of the Gods was Billy Paul’s follow up to 1972s hugely successful and critically acclaimed 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, there wasn’t a hit single like Me and Mrs Jones. That’s the only difference between the two albums, with War of the Gods   featuring more in the way of new music. This included four songs from Gamble and Huff plus one from Bunny Sigler and I Was Married co-written by Cary Gilbert who cowrote Me and Mrs Jones. The six songs on War of the Gods featured the Magnus Opus that’s the title track, the emotion and sadness that are The Whole Town’s Talking and I Was Married plus the jazz tinged, swinging Thanks For Saving My Life. That’s not forgetting the moving, beautiful and hopeful Peace Holy Peace. Overall, War of the Gods’ success is due to everyone connected with the album. Obviously, crucial to this was Billy Paul’s powerful, emotive and impassioned vocals, plus arrangers Lenny Pakula and Bobby Martin, along with Gamble and Huff. However, War of the Gods which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, wouldn’t have been the same album without the versatility of M.F.S.B. Whether it was soul or jazz, they could deliver it with aplomb on the album’s six tracks. Adding backing vocals were the Sweethearts of Sigma, who contributed some beautiful backing vocals throughout the album. All of these musicians, backing vocalists, arrangers and producers all played their part in helping Billy Paul make War of the Worlds a fitting follow-up to the peerless classic that is 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Standout Tracks: The Whole Town’s Talking, I Was Married, Thanks For Saving My Life and Peace Holy Peace.



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