Billy Preston

That's the Way God Planned It

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Billy Preston spent most of the 1960s as a working musician, playing important roles in the bands of Little Richard and, later, Ray Charles, and getting some exposure on television shows like Shindig, but he was hardly a household name. Then he crossed paths with the Beatles, whom he'd known from their early days, and one rooftop concert and the "Get Back" single later, he was among the most famous musicians ever to work with them on a recording. Preston was also the first artist that Apple Records pulled away from another label to sign, buying out his existing contract and four finished songs for an upcoming LP from Capitol Records. Preston finished what became That's the Way God Planned It, named for the U.K. hit single issued ahead of it, with George Harrison producing and, among others, Eric Clapton playing guitar, Keith Richards on bass, and Ginger Baker on drums. Apple ended up getting a surging, powerful soul record by a young music veteran who they caught just as he was ready ascend to the top of his game. The record reached into a lot of different directions, encompassing songs by Bob Dylan ("She Belongs to Me") and W.C. Handy ("Morning Star") amid its brace of Preston-authored originals, and delving into gospel ("Let Us All Get Together," co-authored with Doris Troy) as well as some funky soul sounds ("What About You?"), much of it soaring passionately ("This Is It") and all of it pretty striking, coming out of the orbit of the Beatles. Some of it was a little derivative, much of "Hey Brother" (one of the existing Capitol tracks) being a topical rewrite of "Hey Joe," but that was balanced out by the album's title track, one of the best production jobs that Harrison ever delivered; aglow in a swelling gospel-style organ and rippling with bluesy electric guitar, a chorus soaring high over all of that, and Preston's career-defining vocal performance at its center, the song was irresistible. The 1991 CD reissue is augmented by "Through All Times," a very quiet, bluesy leftover from the Capitol sessions, the pounding Ray Charles-produced instrumental B-side "As I Get Older" (co-authored by Preston and Sylvester Stewart), and an earlier, shorter, more traditionally devotional rendition of "That's the Way God Planned It" (which this reviewer prefers) -- they're worth the equivalent of a half-step higher rating. Sadly, the LP never sold the way Apple's management had hoped, although Preston's subsequent appearance at the Concert for Bangladesh and on the resulting album and movie doing "That's the Way God Planned It" reintroduced the song and should have led to resumed promotion and marketing of the original LP; chances are, with any other label, it would have, but by 1971 Apple was turning into a shambles, and so not nearly as many people got to hear this album as might well have cared to. [The 2010 reissue of That’s The Way God Planned It was remastered by the same Abbey Road team who remastered the acclaimed 2009 Beatles reissues and retains the three bonus tracks from the 91 CD and adds the previously unreleased “Something’s Got to Change.”]

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