ven after he had reached the number one position twice -- once backing the Beatles on "Get Back" and once as a solo artist with "Will It Go Round in Circles" -- Billy Preston had time to be a "studio musician" again. His credits could be found on albums by Barbra Streisand, Sly and the Family Stone, Carole King and former Apple labelmates George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In Jamaica, Billy met up with Mick Jagger, who invited him to tour with the Rolling Stones.
Preston's association with the Beatles was not over. He was appearing at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles when a friend of Robert Stigwood's talked to him about a new film. Billy was cast as Sgt. Pepper in the ill-fated motion picture Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which starred Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. Despite the presence of talent like Steve Martin, George Burns, Donald Pleasence and Frankie Howard, the film earned a deserved shellacking from the critics. The record album fared no better, and some wags said it shipped gold and returned platinum.
In the middle of this critical holocaust, Preston was a shining beacon. His brief performance in the film was so electrifying, it seemed like it belonged in some other movie. "I was the last to shoot. They'd done the whole thing by the time I came in and I didn't know what the film was like at all."
Billy's song was one he should have known well -- "Get Back," which he recorded with the Beatles in 1969. "I got a chance to fly, in a harness, and the cranes lifted me up and brought me down. It was scary at first, then I got into it."
In 1978, Billy left A&M and signed with Motown Records. Songwriter Carol Connors ("To Know Him Is to Love Him") wanted a duo to record a song she had written for the film Fast Break, so Motown executive Suzanne de Passe, who managed Billy as well as Syreeta Wright (formerly married to Stevie Wonder), put her two clients together. The result was "With You I'm Born Again," which went to number two in Britain and four in America.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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