BILLY PRESTON: THE MOST EXCITING ORGAN EVER (1965)
1) If I Had A Hammer; 2) Lowdown; 3) Slippin' And Slidin'; 4) Drown In My Own Tears; 5) I Am Coming Through; 6) The Octopus; 7) Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying; 8) Soul Meetin'; 9) Let Me Know; 10) Billy's Bag; 11) The Masquerade Is Over; 12) Steady Gettin' It.
It is quite likely that each of us has an individual opinion on what exactly is the most exciting organ ever and to whom in particular it happens to belong... but hang on there, this is a Billy Preston review and we are actually supposed to talk about his contributions to the world of keyboard-based music, or are we not. The album, with one of the most provocative titles ever, was released a few days prior to Billy's 19th birthday on the VJ Records label (notorious for being the first overseas label to gain rights to Beatles' recordings, before EMI got around to their senses), and is often considered his first «proper» album, even though it really is the second.
And there is relatively little substantial difference between Billy at 16 and Billy at 19, except that now, almost half of the tunes are original instrumental compositions for the organ (ʽI Am Coming Throughʼ gets to have its title chanted in group harmony form, but that's about as far as it goes with vocal presence). None of them are particularly memorable or interesting per se — the themes are fairly basic — but even the most rhythmically and tonally generic, like the basic blues shuffle of ʽLowdownʼ, are all quite pleasant for those who like Preston's style in general.
Of course, his «conversing organ» style is best appreciated where he is emulating classic melodies: my favorite bit is the attempt to emulate Little Richard's singing intonations on ʽSlippin' And Slidin'ʼ — not a lot of rock'n'roll excitement here, but the comic-seductive vibe is carried over very well, by heavily taxing the organ keys instead of the vocal cords. ʽIf I Had A Hammerʼ is somewhat less recognizable, but even more inventive in exploring the organ's capability to beat the human voice as primary message-carrier.
Overall, though, the whole thing is surprisingly less exciting than 16 Yr. Old Soul. Maybe it is because of the backing band, which seems sort of slack and disinterested, acting like a mere dummy (at least on 16 Yr. Old Soul there were actual guitar solos, competing with the organ). Maybe it is because the choice of covers is a bit off (I mean, who the heck is interested in Don Covay's ʽSoul Meetingʼ?), and the originals aren't quite up to par. Or maybe it is because, in the end, the whole thing sort of comes across as just a blunt publicity campaign for the Hammond.
On the other hand, there is no need to be condescending. Billy's level may be incomparable with that of, say, Jimmy Smith (it is always tough to compare the levels of «pop» and «jazz» musicians, even though so few people actually listen to the latter), but this is his vision, and there was nobody else around with a vision like that in 1965. The Hammond, with its thick sound and extra electronic capacities, could do lots of tricks for the rock and pop world that an ordinary piano could never reproduce, and Billy, both here and elsewhere, is quite keen on discovering as many of these as possible — pitch, tone, strength, modulation, whatever. What the hell, in a way, this could be the most exciting organ ever. I mean, I like Rick Wakeman and all, but maybe whatever he brought into this world should be described by some other word than «exciting». A thumbs up here, for reasons that go beyond «historical», even if not too far beyond.
Check "The Most Exciting Organ Ever" (MP3) on Amazon