Most Wanted! Billy Paul – Only The Strong Survive (Philadelphia International Records)
By the one – Billy Paul – who scored one of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff‘s label biggest successes ever with ‘Me & Mrs Jones’. A track which ironically pretty much overshadowed the rest of his repertoire at the end… And the fact is, as although havin’ released more than 10 albums, which other song of his do we also really remember of? Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto’, which he recorded with label mates. And also probably ‘Only The Strong Survive’ which Jerry Butler released back in 1968 with label heads Gamble & Huff.
And what a cover version Paul did, turning it into a PIR vault and getting quite a following in the U.K. A gem which started being the object of regular battles between bidders in the early 2000’s on eBay.
Philadelphia, PA native Billy Paul‘s inclination for music began at an early age. On the heels of formal Jazz training, he would eventually perform with Roberta Flack, Dinah Washington, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. He recorded a couple of singles before becoming one of Gamble & Huff‘s first signatures on their Gamble label. Then on their newly formed PIR imprint in 1971.
He made his first noticable impression with the classic ‘Me & Mrs Jones’ the year after. A cut which most likely remains as his most famous song ever, even though his repertoire included other worth the mention gems. Destined to reach higher grounds, his progression got nevertheless stopped soon after with his label releasing ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’. A song the political message of which proving too much for mainstream radio’s taste.
Controversy kept on following Paul‘s releases along with time. With not only inner city or racism matters of also sex more or less explicit ones at times. This, most likely taking the man from mainstream exposure despite an obvious talent. And, in the meantime, keeping him away from the top positions in the charts.
Billy Paul released ‘Only The Strong Survive’ back in 1977. An album which happened to be his final charting one reaching #152 on the Pop chart and #36 Soul. In other words, nothing that exciting at the end in terms of results. Even though its title track is nowadays considered as a Philly sound vault. One could also hear Paul‘s voice during that same year on ‘Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto. A track which featured Lou Rawls, Archie Bell and Teddy Pendergrass. But also Dee Dee Sharp Gamble and both Eddie Levert and Walter Williams of The O’Jays as the Philadelphia International All-Stars.
Billy Paul released his last album for PIR – ‘First Class’ – back in 1979, without any more great following. He then switched to Total Experience in 1985 and dropped his final album 3 years later on Icihiban.
He sadly died, aged 81, from pancreatic cancer on Apr. 24, 2016, at his home in the Blackwood section of Gloucester Township, NJ.
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