The late Billy Paul was one of the first and brightest stars in the Philadelphia International Records firmament. His very first studio album - 1968's rather misleadingly titled Feelin' Good at the Cadillac Club - was the second ever release on the Gamble label, a precursor to PIR, while Going East was the very first ever LP released on PIR. The husky-voiced baritone remained with the label through the 1970s, and then recorded just a couple of albums for independent labels in the 1980s. Billy Paul died in 2016 at the age of 81, having left behind one of the richest discographies in soul music. Now, Cherry Red's SoulMusic Records imprint has paid tribute to his legacy with Me and Mrs. Jones: The Anthology, due tomorrow, April 12 in the U.K. and one week later in North America.
The 2-CD, 31-track collection draws upon all but two of Paul's studio albums, spanning the period 1969-1985 with his releases on Neptune (another PIR precursor), PIR, and Total Experience Records. Rather than a chronological approach, producer David Nathan has opted for a thematic assembly. Disc One, People Power, brings together some of Paul's most socially-conscious material. The second disc, You're My Sweetness, concentrates on his romantic side. Both discs feature the work of the legendary MFSB, Don Renaldo's Horns and Strings, and remarkable arrangers including Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Jack Faith, and Dexter Wansel, under the sure-handed supervision of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
Much as the Philly Sound blended R&B authenticity with velvety pop smoothness, Paul could blend the socially aware and the amorous; hence, his cover of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Your Song" opens the first disc. But it leads into the all-time protest classic "Am I Black Enough for You" and such other pointed message songs as "People Power," "Bring the Family Back," "False Faces," "America (We Need the Light)," and "We All Got a Mission." Needless to say, these recordings are as relevant today as they were four decades ago. In a move that would have surely earned the approval of Paul McCartney, Paul made references to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John and Bobby Kennedy, and other civil rights leaders in his cover of Wings' 1976 hit "Let 'Em In." Paul even revisited an early Gamble/Huff tune co-written with Jerry Butler, "Only the Strong Survive," and updated it with dance rhythms.
Disc Two, naturally, has Paul's most famous hit, the 1972 chart-topper "Me and Mrs. Jones." Gamble, Huff, and Cary Gilbert's ballad of infidelity remains one of The Sound of Philadelphia's most enduring tracks. You're My Sweetness also casts the spotlight upon Paul's moving rendition of Jimmy Webb's "This Is Your Life," Carole King and Toni Stern's "It's Too Late" (also given the Philly treatment in producer-arranger Thom Bell's very different version for The Stylistics), Bobby Martin's "Let's Fall in Love All Over Again," Morris Bailey's ode to an "Ebony Woman," and Gamble and Huff's then-controversial "Let's Make a Baby." This disc is rounded out with three tracks from Paul's lone Total Experience LP, 1985's Lately, which placed the singer in a Hollywood studio surrounded by burbling synthesizers and electronic beats - quite a departure from his lush, orchestral, and yes, funky PIR recordings.
Me and Mrs. Jones: The Anthology is a welcome tribute to the robustly-voiced artist who could be alternately sweet and gritty - sometimes within the same track, as well as to the ongoing power of the lush Philly Sound. Kevin Goins has annotated this package within the 20-page booklet, and Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks. You'll find the order links and full track listing below!
- Your Song
- Am I Black Enough for You
- Brown Baby
- The Whole Town's Talking
- Thanks for Saving My Life
- Only the Strong Survive
- How Good Is Your Game
- Be Truthful to Me
- False Faces
- People Power
- Let the Dollar Circulate
- Bring the Family Back
- Let 'Em In
- America (We Need the Light)
- We All Got a Mission
- New Day, New World Comin'
- This Is Your Life
- Ebony Woman
- Let's Fall in Love All Over Again
- Me and Mrs. Jones
- It's Too Late
- I Was Married
- When Love Is New
- You're My Sweetness
- Let's Make a Baby
- Billy's Back Home
- I Think I'll Stay Home Today
- I Trust You
- Let Me In
- Sexual Therapy
CD 1, Tracks 1-3 and CD 2, Tracks 4-5 from 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, Philadelphia International KZ 31793, 1972
CD 1, Tracks 4-5 and CD 2, Track 6 from War of the Gods, Philadelphia International KZ 32409, 1973
CD 1, Track 6 from Only the Strong Survive, Philadelphia International PZ 34923, 1977
CD 1, Tracks 7, 13 & 15 and CD 2, Tracks 11-12 from Let 'Em In, Philadelphia International PZ 34389, 1976
CD 1, Track 8 and CD 2, Track 10 from Got My Head on Straight, Philadelphia International KZ 33157, 1975
CD 1, Tracks 9 & 12 from First Class, Philadelphia International JZ 35756, 1979
CD 1, Tracks 10-11 & 14 and CD 2, Tracks 7 & 9 from When Love Is New, Philadelphia International PZ 33843, 1975
CD 1, Track 16 from The Philadelphia International All-Stars, Let's Clean Up the Ghetto, Philadelphia International JZ 34659, 1977
CD 2, Track 1 from Going East, Philadelphia International KZ 30580, 1971
CD 2, Tracks 2-3 from Ebony Woman, Neptune NLPS 201, 1969
CD 2, Track 8 from The Best of Billy Paul, Philadelphia International Z2 36314, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 13-15 from Lately, Total Experience TEL8-5711, 1985