“I’m not telling you who Mrs Jones is,” winks ‘70s soul star Billy Paul. “’Cos she ain’t my wife.” Perched in the back of his limo, the bespectacled, baseball cap-wearing pensioner is referring to ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, the adultery-themed debut single that rocketed him to stardom in 1972. But when Philadelphia International Records insisted on ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’ as a follow-up, the backlash was immediate.
Why? Well, Swedish director Göran Olsson never really explains. Chasing after Paul as he tours Brazil and Paris with his manager/wife Blanche, there are discussions of racism, and we’re repeatedly told what a ‘career-killing’ mistake the single was. Except it wasn’t. Sure, he’s no household name, but Paul still accrued a vast collection of hits, while his continued performances to this day prove that he remains very much in demand. Even a chat with Kenny Gamble, the author of many of Paul’s top tracks, fails to enlighten.
Based on a muddy argument it may be, but Olsson’s documentary manages some rock-out moments anyway. Paul is a sprightly, cheeky charmer, shamelessly stripping off layers in the heat of a musical moment, while wife Blanche is a hoot, testing hip-hop hats on her grizzled hubby like a fussy mother hen. Visually it’s top dollar, too – Olsson matching Paul’s husky crooning to moody urban landscapes.
But the director can’t resist jamming the breaks whenever Paul takes up a mic, turning his opus into a live greatest hits recording that totally sacrifices pacing. Shame, because Paul is worth more – his past encounters with drugs and the KKK are grazed in song-supporting montages, but Olsson is reticent about grilling for the goods. So, black enough? Mm-hmm. Brave enough? Not quite.
Anticipation: A documentary about the dude who sang ‘Me and Mrs Jones’? Could be good. 3
Enjoyment: That’s a pretty natty set of pipes. 3
In Retrospect: The old fella’s still got it, but you’ll wish you knew more about him. 2