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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Billy Preston: A Whole New Thing


1) Whole New Thing; 2) Disco Dancin'; 3) Complicated Sayings; 4) Attitudes; 5) I'm Really Gonna Miss You; 6) Wide Stride; 7) You Got Me Buzzin'; 8) Sweet Marie; 9) Happy; 10) Touch Me Love; 11) You Don't Have To Go.

When Sly Stone, Billy's good friend and old-time mentor, titled his debut album A Whole New Thing back in 1967, this was sort of understandable — it might not have been the most innova­tive album of the year, given all the fierce competition, but at least it was a new thing, whole or partial. When, ten years later, Billy himself named his far-from-first album A Whole New Thing, it only served to exacerbate the differences between a rough, but active genius like Sly and a pleasant, but mediocre chap like Billy. Most likely, the title simply refers to the disco wave — even though this was already Billy's second album in that stylistics, and the disco movement it­self was far from a «whole new thing» in mid-1977 (although, granted, the album was released about half a year prior to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack).

Anyway, this is an even less impressive / memorable affair than Billy Preston, even though it is almost equally likeable while it's on, and for the same reason: no slick, stiffening overproduction. Even the cheesiest entry, conveniently named ʽDisco Dancin'ʼ, features perfectly normal organ backing, perfectly lively string countermelodies, and a perfectly hearty Latin percussion break — so the tune could only be «condemned» from a purely ethical point of view (as in, "it is morally pernicious to sing songs about the joys of disco dancin'... try to be properly spiritual and choose ʽBlitz­krieg Bopʼ instead"). And songs that are not at all «lyrically defiant» — title track; ʽYou Got Me Buzzin'ʼ, etc. — are unimpeachable whatsoever. Which is not to say that there is any­thing particularly insightful to be remarked about them.

There are two instrumentals, of which the briefer ʽAttitudesʼ features some nice two-piano spar­ring between Billy and another keyboard player, while the lengthier ʽWide Strideʼ indulges in lite fusion with some free-flowing synth improv. There are a couple of obligatory ballads, too, of which ʽI'm Really Gonna Miss Youʼ is the more soulful, but less engaging one, and ʽSweet Ma­rieʼ is the lushier-sexier one, and probably, by a tiny margin, the best song on the album.

The credit list, this time around, features next to no celebrities, unless one counts Marc Bolan's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Gloria Jones on backing vocals, and... uh... percussionist Ollie Brown who appears on the Stones' Love You Live album as Charlie's aide-de-camp. Not surprisingly, not a single instrumental part ever stands out bar Billy's own — not that anything needs to stand out, because almost everything on here was designed as entertaining dance fodder, with no seri­ous ambitions whatsoever. (Actually, at the time Billy was saving his serious ambitions for a sepa­rate line of pure-gospel albums — the first one, Behold, would come out only a year later. However, the fact that this line is frequently omitted from published discographies is quite telling; supposedly, if you want late 1970s Billy, you will do better with Billy the disco dancer than Billy the Lord's man).


  1. How did this guy ever manage to release this many albums? For my money he did his best stuff as part of the Shindig house band. I guess being friends with The Beatles didn't hurt.

    1. I agree that Billy's best moments were as a sideman to the Beatles and Stones. I'll give him a couple of choice solo cuts ("Nothing From Nothing", a few others), but there's no denying he's just not that compelling on his own.

      However, if I had to choose between 15 Billy Preston solo albums and 1 Britney Spears album, it's pretty clear that I'm going with Billy. You can put the (used to have a huge)Afro Man on in the background without vomiting every so often at a terrible pun or an auto-tuned chorus.