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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Billy Preston: On The Air


1) And Dance; 2) Kick-It; 3) Come To Me Little Darlin'; 4) Beatle Tribute; 5) If You Let Me Love You; 6) You Can't Hide From Love; 7) Oh Jamaica; 8) Here, There And Everywhere.

Speak o' the goddamn wolf. You might think, perhaps, that if an artist who has stood on the thre­shold of compromising his humble identity for years now has finally been dropped by his major label (Motown) and picked up by a small independent label (Megatone Records) — you'd think that, perhaps, this could be a good chance to focus on that goddamn identity, maybe even release that one particularly special record which, decades later, unearthed, cleaned up, and re-mastered, could be called the «lost gem» of his career, the «pleasant surprise» for fans and bypassers alike. You could think that, and you'd be damn wrong, because...

...On The Air is not just the worst ever Billy Preston album in existence — it is one of the worst albums I've ever heard, period, and I've heard some pretty bad ones from the mid-Eighties. The only excuse I can think of is that Billy went really, really heavy on the substances (according to some sources, this was somewhere around the peak of his cocaine addiction), and had no genuine control whatsoever over the compositions and arrangements, most of which fall in the range of utterly routine dance pop, heavy on primitive electronics and with occasional echoes of pop metal (whenever the synths are joined in with electric guitar — not that often, and never to any mutual benefit). The new style is best illustrated on the album opener ʽAnd Danceʼ, which is as far re­moved from anything Prestonian in nature as a Bach suite, only in the opposite direction.

On the other hand, presumably it is Billy and Billy alone who has to be held responsible for ʽBeatle Tributeʼ — I do not like abusing the word «moronic» these days, since its vibe should be reserved for really special cases, but I do feel this here is just the occasion. Not only does the «song» have no melody whatsoever to speak of (and whoever writes Beatle tributes without any melody?), but the lyrics, for the most part consisting of crudely intertwined titles of Beatle songs, are priceless: "John, Paul, George and Ringo too / They wrote some beautiful music for me and you". I especially like that «...and Ringo too» bit — such a friendly gesture, and generous, too; betcha thought the original line should have gone «...and Billy too», fifth Beatle and all, but the nice guy must have reconsidered at the last minute. Anyway, it must be so refreshing from time to time to put oneself into the shoes of a second-grader. And kudos to the passionate, high-pitched guitar lick after each of the Beatles' names — so INFLAMING!

Next to that, Billy's simply-boring cover of ʽHere, There And Everywhereʼ does not even look that bad — simply boring: unless you change a real Beatles song to unrecognizable levels, it can­not suck that seriously if you just play the main melody on synthesizers. But the rest of the origi­nal «compositions», be it the rotten electrofunk instrumental ʽKick-Itʼ (where there are more drum machine overdubs than actual musical phrases), or the dance-ballad ʽIf You Let Me Love Youʼ, or the electronic reggae «experiment» ʽOh Jamaicaʼ, are all parts of the same pseudo-mu­sical disgrace, and represent the absolute nadir of Billy's career. Essentially, a mediocre ar­tist is at an advantage — his stuff will almost always be judged by the same consistently mediocre stan­dard — but when a mediocre artist stoops to being bad, he is really, really bad.

But do not try to search these tunes out — they are not even «hilariously» bad, just «mind-numbingly» bad. Do not even go looking for ʽBeat­les Tributeʼ, or, God forbid, «The Beatles + Billy Preston» may become unintentionally associated with this crap rather than the Rooftop Con­cert or, at least, The Concert for Bangla Desh or some other classic moment like that. It is preferable to simply erase this memory with a collective thumbs down, and forget about this unhappy moment in the unhappiest decade for this man who generally preferred to be happy and spread that happiness around. You just can't always get what you want — apparently, not on Megatone Records anyway. How nice it is that this album was never released on CD, and hope­fully, it will forever stay that way.


  1. Judging from this here review, I suppose you'd get MAJOR kicks out of James Taylor's disco version of "Day Tripper".

  2. Ross, I actually have heard that's as if JT consciously tried to ruin it in as many ways as possible. I don't even wanna get started...