Song of the Week: Nothing from Nothing, Billy Preston

Click Here to Listen to “Nothing from Nothing,” by Billy Preston

You know the famous 1969 Beatles concert on the roof of Apple records? The last time the Beatles played publicly before they broke up? It wasn’t just the Beatles up there playing. The piano you here on “Get Back” and a few other songs from that concert was courtesy not of the Beatles, but of a man named Billy Preston. Good luck trying to find him in the pictures from the concert, though. Preston couldn’t dodge out from underneath the Fab Four’s shadow, particularly during their final gig.

And it’s a pity, because Preston was, in my opinion, one of the funkiest humans to walk the earth—a million times more soulful than any of the Beatles.

He was one of those artists that seemed to be everywhere in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, playing with the Stones, Sam Cooke, Joe Cocker, etc. But he was more than just a sideman—Preston had a few massive hits in his own right as a solo artist, including “Nothing From Nothing,” which reached number 1 on the US charts in 1974.

It’s not hard to see why. The whimsical horn intro immediately gives way to a blistering boogie-woogie piano pattern, with Preston’s stomping foot clearly audible. The bass builds in, like an engine turning over, and rumbles throughout the rest of the piece.

The instrumentation, particularly the great-sounding horn section and the relative lack of guitar, calls to mind Ray Charles, as does some of Preston’s vocal delivery (the percussive “uhh” at 1:08 is delivered just like Ray). But the song’s spit and polish, and its buoyancy, reveal the tug that Motown also had on Preston, making it a slicker package than Ray’s earthy R & B. With that kind of pedigree, it was probably inevitable that Preston had a winner on his hands—and he didn’t need the Beatles to help.