Billy Preston, circa 1972
By now, most of you know that Billy Preston recently passed away. You all know of his work with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and others and you may have heard of his forays into gospel music. (See "The B-Side" blog for more details. You may have also heard of his records on the Vee Jay and Capitol label. For this little tribute, I'm going to talk about one of his A&M recordings, which also happens to be one of his biggest hits ever reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1972. I'm referring to "Outa-Space."
"Outa-Space" holds a special piece of nostalgia for me as I remember it blasting out of AM radios all over the place when I was a young'n. I even had a copy of the record, which somehow got broken, thanks to some horsing around. Hearing it today, I'm struck by how propulsive a track it is and how Billy was able to make give it such a space age sound without the use of a synthesizer. Of course, he would use synthesizers on later records like "Space Race" and "Struttin'," but here, he does fine without them. (Not that those weren't good records. In fact, Billy was one of the few artists of the 1970s to score big with instrumentals. "Space Race" made it to #4 in the fall of 1973, while "Struttin'" made it to #22 in the winter of 1975.)
Over the course of 4.08 minutes, Billy, over a propulsive, funky beat, works his musical magic on electric piano, organ and clavinet. The man could hit those keys! His rapid-fire keyboard work, combined with the funky drums and some slight guitar midway through, no doubt assured that dance floors would be filled in 1972 and is still dazzling to the ears even now.
Others have waxed more poetically about Billy Preston's music career more eloquently than I, but I wanted, in some small way, to pay respects of my own. "Outa-Space" is a longtime fave with me and it is still a classic instrumental dancer.
Every time a legend leaves us, the world gets a little darker. RIP, Billy and thanks.