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QUIT PLAYIN: Will it Go Round in Circles?

Biliy Preston

The online magazine “Stereogum” posted a June 2019 article about one of my favorite musicians. Reading it led to me going back to do a review of the late Billy Preston and his moving musical catalog. His 1973 #1 hit is still in my groove cycle.

“Will it Go Round in Circles” is almost 50 years old, but its pressing question for African-Americans is unanswered. In the article, writer Tom Breihan parallels Preston and Stevie Wonder, who were contemporaries in more ways than one. Both were “child prodigies” with solid bonafides. Before he was 26, Billy Preston performed with Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, and Sly & The Family Stone.

The self-taught keyboardist idolized The Beatles and eventually co-produced with George Harrison. Preston, like Stevie, mastered the early stages of musical technology by playing the “clavinet.” This instrument mimicked the sound of the guitar. Stevie made the clavinet prominent in his hits Superstition and Higher Ground.

Both musicians are considered keyboard pioneers of sorts. However, the reason for my fascination with “Will it Go Round in Circles” hovers around the lyrics.

“I’ve got a song, I ain’t got no melody
I’ma gonna sing it to my friends
I’ve got a dance, I ain’t got no steps, no
I’m gonna let the music move me around
I’ve got a story, ain’t got no moral
Let the bad guy win every once in a while!”

Breihan gave us the backstory.

“Preston co-wrote “Will It Go Round in Circles” with his friend and regular collaborator Bruce Fisher, who got to quit his job in the NBC mailroom when the song blew up. Preston had told Fisher that he had a song but didn’t have a melody. They made a joke out of that, and the joke became a song.

The “Will It Go Round in Circles” lyrics are all silly paradoxical lines about a story with no moral (“let the bad guy win once in a while”) or a dance with no steps (“let the music move me around”).

If you wanted, you could read this as Preston making a gnomic point about the eternal clash between expectations and reality. But when you listen to the song, it’s pretty clear he’s just having fun. It’s the sound of a bunch of killer musicians doing whatever they want with a nasty groove and refusing to let the whole thing mean anything more than that.”

Billy Preston and his band were having fun, no doubt, but it was one of those hits you could listen to once and fall in love. Most chart-toppers became standard because they dom nated the radio airwaves. That was the purpose and strategy of “Payola.”

For those in the audience who are too young to understand, payola is the practice of bribing someone to use their influence or position to promote a particular product or interest. For example, record agents bribed disc jockeys knowing that if they spent enough money, any record could become a hit!”

So now you’re asking what the moral to this story is? Wanna hear it? Here it go! (In the spirit of In Living Color’s Calhoun Tubbs)

Will it Go Round in Circles was a lot of fun, but today it feels like a Black socio-political prophecy.

Fifty years later, in our existence as African-Americans, we still go around in circles. We merged our pre-Civil Rights wisdom with the oppressor, so nowadays, the bad guy seems to win much more than once in a while.

This latest election cycle proves that we have forgotten the wisdom of our fore parents. We can’t get away with what White folks get away with. We have to live lawfully. We have to respect the God of our ancestors. And without fail…We have to vote!

Billy Preston asks two central questions in the chorus of this now “Golden Oldie. Will it go around in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky? Stay tuned. That’s all I can tell you!

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.
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Written By

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.


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