Philadelphia International Records turns 40 this year, and Big Break Records keeps adding more candles to the birthday cake! The label’s latest release from the PIR catalogue is one of the mightiest albums ever produced by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff: 1972’s 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, the long-player which introduced the world to the steamy soul epic “Me and Mrs. Jones.” This expanded and remastered edition follows BBR’s reissue earlier this year of Paul’s more jazz-oriented Ebony Woman, from 1970 (recorded by Gamble and Huff for pre-PIR label Neptune), and it’s available now!
By the time of 360 Degrees, Paul was no stranger to the record business. A recording artist since 1959, he had opened for artists including Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Dinah Washington, and even won an amateur night at the Apollo. Paul was performing at Philadelphia’s Cadillac Club in 1967 when Kenny Gamble spotted him. He ushered him into the studio for Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club, his long-playing album debut for Gamble Records, which hopefully will see the light of day on a future BBR reissue. Feelin’ Good was primarily composed of theatrical standards (“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Just in Time,” “Feelin’ Good,” “Somewhere”) with some more recent pop songs also in the mix (“That’s Life,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”) and for Ebony Woman, the emphasis was also squarely on pop material, albeit interpreted in an adult, jazz-oriented style by Paul and musical director Stanley Johnson.
Ebony Woman scored a none-too-shabby No. 12 on the R&B chart upon its initial release, but Gamble and Huff sensed that Paul could be at the vanguard of the smooth, orchestral R&B style that would come to be known forevermore as “Philadelphia soul.” Paul made his Philadelphia International debut with 1971’s Going East, a true transitional album (and yet another candidate for reissue). Gamble and Huff only supplied one original (“Love Buddies”) on the LP, populating it with songs by Gene McDaniels, Jimmy Webb, Rodgers and Hart, and Bobby Martin, one of its arrangers. The other arrangers were no slouches, either: Thom Bell and Lenny Pakula. Though Going East barely cracked the Billboard 200, Gamble and Huff didn’t give up. The following year, they crafted 360 Degrees, penning four originals out of eight tracks.
We’ve got the scoop after the jump, plus pre-order link and track listing with discography!
The centerpiece, of course, was the smoldering “Me and Mrs. Jones,” a No. 1 Pop/No. 1 R&B phenomenon written by Gamble, Huff and Cary Gilbert, and arranged by Bobby Martin. Less commercially successful was the driving “Am I Black Enough for You?” also from Gamble and Huff. Today, the singer regrets the decision to have the funky track follow “Mrs. Jones,” despite its potent message and smoking production. More in the vein of “Mrs. Jones” was a dramatic reworking, Philly-style, of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” with string and horn charts from Norman Harris. Another familiar song was tackled via Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s then-recent “Your Song,” given a distinct treatment from Paul and Lenny Pakula. As the B-side of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” the song earned quite a bit of lucre for its songwriters, as Paul happily recounts in Andy Kellman’s new liner notes. Carole King and Toni Stern’s chart-topping “It’s Too Late,” from King’s breakthrough Tapestry, lent itself to many R&B reworkings by artists such as The Isley Brothers. It’s fascinating to compare Paul’s version, arranged by Pakula, with Thom Bell’s Philadelphia-style treatment for The Stylistics.
360 Degrees of Billy Paul topped the R&B album chart, and went Top 20 Pop. In addition to Kellman’s liner notes with new quotes from Paul, the deluxe package includes three bonus tracks: single versions of “Me and Mrs. Jones” and “Am I Black Enough for You?,” and a live version of “Me and Mrs. Jones.” (The source of this live track isn’t indicated, but to my knowledge, it’s from Paul’s 1974 Live in Europe. It’s the same bonus track included on U.S. reissues of 360 Degrees from Sony’s Legacy Recordings.) Nick Robbins has remastered the LP.
360 Degrees of Billy Paul is in stores now from Big Break Records; it can be ordered at the link below!
Billy Paul, 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (Philadelphia International Records KZ 31793, 1972 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0175, 2012)
- Brown Baby
- I’m Just a Prisoner
- It’s Too Late
- Me and Mrs. Jones
- Am I Black Enough for You?
- Let’s Stay Together
- Your Song
- I’m Gonna Make It This Time
- Me and Mrs. Jones (Single Version – from PIR single ZS7-3521, 1972)
- Am I Black Enough for You? (Single Version – from PIR single ZS7-3526, 1973)
- Me and Mrs. Jones (Live Version – from Live in Europe, PIR 32952, 1974)