BILLY PAUL-GOT MY HEAD ON STRAIGHT.

BILLY PAUL-GOT MY HEAD ON STRAIGHT.

Three years before Billy Billy Paul released Got My Head On Straight in 1975, he’d released his fourth album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Not only had 360 Degrees of Billy Paul made Billy Paul a worldwide star, but had played its part in launching Philadelphia International Records as one of soul’s premier labels. Since the success of 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, Billy’s life had been transformed. No longer was he just one of soul music’s rising stars, now he was known worldwide, helped no end by the success of Me and Mrs Jones. Now, Billy Paul was Philadelphia International Records’ first male superstar.

During the three years since the release of 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, Billy had only released one studio album, 1973s War of The Gods, which reached number 110 in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. It only featured one hit sings, Thanks For Saving My Life which gave Biily a top ten US R&B hit single. The following year, 1974, Billy released Live In Europe, which reached number 187 in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. By 1975, it was two years since Billy’s last album. So he headed to Sigma Sound Studios with Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. to record the followup to War of The Gods. This would be Got My Head On Straight, which I’ll now tell you about.

For Got My Head On Straight, Philadelphia International Records’ best songwriters got to work. Gamble and Huff wrote five of the tracks and with other songwriting partners, cowrote two other tracks. This included penning Be Truthful To Me with McFadden and Whitehead. Together, Gamble and Huff wrote five of the tracks and with other songwriting partners, cowrote two other tracks. This included penning Be Truthful To Me with McFadden and Whitehead. The Gamble and Huff and McFadden and Whitehead partnership joined Billy Paul to cowrite Black Wonders of the World. Dexter Wansel wrote Billy’s Back Home and Bernard Ighner wrote Everything Must Change. These nine tracks were recorded where all of Philadelphia International Records’ recordings were recorded, Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios.

For the recording of Got My Head On Straight, M.F.S.B. would accompany Billy Paul. This would prove to the last time Billy would be accompanied by the classic lineup of M.F.S.B. They were locked in a financial dispute with Gamble and Huff, which when it couldn’t be resolved, saw many of M.F.S.B. leave the label and become The Salsoul Orchestra. Among those that headed to New York, becoming The Salsoul Orchestra were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr, guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, percussionist Larry Washington and keyboardist Bunny Sigler. Even the legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma decided Salsoul Records was the place to go. They all played on Got My Head On Straight, and were some of architects of the Philly Sound. Arranging the nine tracks were Bobby Martin and Lenny Pakula. Gamble and Huff produced Got My Head On Straight, which was released in 1975.

Before the release of Got My Head On Straight in 1975, Be Truthful To Me was released in 1974. It reached number thirty-seven in the US R&B Charts. When Got My Head On Straight was released, it reached number 140 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Billy’s Back Home was then released as a single, but stalled at number fifty-two. While War of The Gods hadn’t matched the success of 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, neither did Got My Head On Straight. However, did Got My Head On Straight deserve to fare better?

Opening Got My Head On Straight is July, July, July, July, penned by Gamble and Huff. Stabs of piano create a wistful backdrop before M.F.S.B. kick loose. Horns blaze, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section inject power and drama. Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums provide the heartbeat, as Billy’s hopeful, joyous vocal enters. Vince Montana Jr, sprinkles vibes, as percussion, punchy horns and cascading strings enter. Billy’s vocal grows in power and emotion with the Sweethearts of Sigma adding heartfelt, soulful harmonies. They prove the perfect accompaniment for Billy. So do M.F.S.B, who demonstrate just why they were such an important part of the Philadelphia International Records’ success story. A mass of blazing horns, frantic strings and thunderous rhythm section accompany Billy as he delivers vocal that like the arrangement, is passion and power personified. Billy’s back, and back with a bang.

Billy’s Back Home was the second single released from Got My Head On Straight, and deserved to fare much better. Just keyboards and synths combine to create a melancholy backdrop for Billy’s tender vocal. The arrangement has an understated sound, with a synth proving a contrast for the keyboards and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes. Soon, shimmering lush strings and the Baker, Harris, Young enter, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add the tenderest of harmonies. Billy’s vocal grows in power and emotion, becoming melancholy. It’s as if “Billy’s Back Home” but has anyone noticed? This must have rung true for many American veterans returning home from fighting in another pointless war. There’s emotion, melancholia and even a touch or irony in his vocal, as he breathes life and meaning into some pensive, but beautiful lyrics.

I’ve Got So Much To Live For has Caribbean sound, as the arrangement explodes joyously into life. Percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, swirling strings, growling horns and a dramatic Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine. Tender, gentle and punchy harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma provide a contrast to the power and drama supplied by the horns and the rhythm section. Billy matches the power and drama, add joyfulness as he gives thanks. Similarly, Vince’s vibes provide a contrast and give the track an authentic Caribbean sound and feel, as Billy proves how versatile a singer he truly is.

Black Wonders of the World closes Side One of Got My Head On Straight. From the get-go, you realize something special is unfolding. Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar joins Ron Baker’s moody bass and percussion from Larry Washington. Slowly, the arrangement begins as this Gamble and Huff, McFadden and Whitehead Magnus Opus reveal its secrets. Strings add to broody backdrop as Billy delivers the lyrics with feeling and sincerity. Earl Young’s drums and Ron Baker’s bass provide a pulsating heartbeat, before waves of Hammond organ, wash-wah guitars and urgent harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma add to the drama and emotion. Meanwhile, Billy pays homage to some of the legends of the civil rights’ movement. As Billy mentions their name, it’s with a reverence and respect that’s fitting, given the sacrifices they made for equality and justice. Of all the songs on Got My Head On Straight, this is without doubt the most moving and touching.

Enlightenment opens Side Two of Got My Head On Straight and is the first of two Gamble and Huff penned tracks. Just a pensive, meandering arrangement with synths, Ron Baker’s thoughtful bass and strings combine. They’re joined by serene harmonies, before Billy’s tender, questioning vocal enters. The Sweethearts of Sigma accompany him, matching Billy for tenderness and soulfulness. Their contribution proves the perfect accompaniment, adding swirling, punchy harmonies as Billy voice grows in power and feeling. Billy brings meaning and emotion into the lyrics. His power, and the Sweethearts of Sigma’s elegance and serenity, prove a potent, and indeed soulful and emotive meeting of musical minds.

When It’s Your Time To Go is very different from the previous arrangement, and deals with the subject of death, but with an uptempo twist.  A buzzy, bouncy combination of synths, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with Billy’s punchy vocal. Soaring harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma, swathes of lush strings and washes of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ combine with Norman Harris’ jazzy guitar, as Billy’s vocal becomes celebratory and even joyous. Sadness isn’t option. Remember the good times is his message, as  Philly Soul and funk are fused while Billy scats his way to the track’s close reminding you “no tears.” 

Be Truthful To Me is another of the uptempo tracks, where Philly Soul and jazz unite. Growling horns, swirling strings and a swinging Baker, Harris, Young give the arrangement a jazzy twist. Billy joins the fun, delivering his vocal with a similar swing, but with a sting, warning; “Be Truthful To Me.” The Sweethearts of Sigma surpass themselves, adding the sweetest of punchy harmonies. By now M.F.S.B. have been transformed into a big band, and Billy’s becomes an old crooner. It’s a glorious transformation, with M.F.S.B, the Sweethearts of Sigma and Billy, at his best, revisiting, and paying homage to the sounds of the big band era.

Everything Must Change is a song that’s been covered by many people, but Billy’s version is a combination of beauty, emotion and soulfulness. Just an understated combination of piano, percussion and guitar combine as Billy delivers a vocal where he lays bare his soul for all to see. He explores the subtleties and nuances of the lyrics, bringing previously unheard meaning and beauty into an old song. So sincere is Billy’s delivery, you feel he means every word. He leaves space within the lyrics. That’s the signal for the Sweethearts of Sigma to enter, delivering heartfelt harmonies. After that, Billy delivers a heartachingly beautiful vocal, before with the Sweethearts of Sigma’s help, the song reaches a dramatic, moving conclusion.

Closing Got My Head On Straight is My Head’s On Straight, which bursts joyously into life. Instantly, you realize Billy’s determined to close the album on a high. This he does, with M.F.S.B. and the Sweethearts of Sigma. This means swathes of dancing strings, growling horns and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section adding a sometimes, dramatic heartbeat. For his part, Billy’s vocal is power, passion and positivity. He’s “a man with a plan” and his head’s on straight. There’s a joyous, celebratory sound to his vocal and the arrangement, as he ensures Got My Head On Straight ends on an uplifting high.

Two years after the release of his previous album, War of The Gods, Billy’s Back Home at Philadelphia International Records, and back with a bang. From the opening bars of July, July, July, July you realize Got My Head On Straight is going to be a musical journey to savor. After that, the songs vary in style,  but the quality remains never drops. Throughout Got My Head On Straight, there’s a message in the music. The most moving and potent is Black Wonders of the World, where Billy pays homage the courage and bravery of the heroes of the civil rights movement. Another message song is When It’s Your Time To Go, where Billy’s message is “no tears,” celebrate someone’s passing. Everything Must Change is similarly moving, with Billy transforming the track into an emotive, epic. Then there’s the wistful sound of Billy’s Back Home, which must have rung true to many a returning Vietnam veteran. They too must have thought, I’m home but has anyone noticed? Other songs are much more joyous and uplifting. 

This includes the celebration that is I’ve Got So Much To Live For. Be Truthful To Me is a gloriously uplifting and hook laden trip back to the big band era. Two celebratory songs open and close Got My Head On Straight. July, July, July, July, opens My Head’s On Straight and in between, Billy never misses a beat. There’s neither a bad track, nor any filler, just one great track after another. This is no wonder, given the personnel who played on Got My Head’s On Straight,

The classic lineup of M.F.S.B. and the Sweethearts of Sigma joined Billy on Got My Head On Straight. So it’s no surprise that this is such a good album. The only surprise is that Got My Head On Straight wasn’t a much bigger commercial success. It only reached number 140 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Given how good the music on Got My Head On Straight is, it should’ve been a much bigger commercial success. While it was more of a commercial success than 1973s War of The Gods, Got My Head On Straight never matched the success of 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Instead, the powerful, moving music on Got My Head On Straight remains one of the hidden gems of Billy Paul’s illustrious back catalogue, awaiting rediscovery for Philly Soul fans old and new. Standout Tracks: Black Wonders of the World, Enlightenment, When It’s Your Time and Be Truthful To Me. 

BILLY PAUL-GOT MY HEAD ON STRAIGHT.

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