July 29, 2020
Philadelphia soul, sometimes called Philly soul, the Philadelphia sound, Phillysound, or TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), is a genre of late 1960s–1970s soul music characterized by funk influences and lush instrumental arrangements, often featuring sweeping strings and piercing horns. The genre laid the groundwork for disco by fusing the R&B rhythm sections of the 1960s with the pop vocal tradition, and featuring a slightly more pronounced jazz influence in its melodic structures and arrangements. Fred Wesley, the trombonist of the James Brown band and Parliament-Funkadelic, described the signature deep but orchestrated sound as "putting the bow tie on funk."
Due to the emphasis on sound and arrangement and the relative anonymity of many of the style's players, Philadelphia soul is often considered a producers' genre. Bunny Sigler, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were credited with developing the genre.
Philadelphia soul songwriters and producers included Bobby Martin; Thom Bell; Linda Creed; Norman Harris; Dexter Wansel and the production teams of McFadden & Whitehead; and Gamble & Huff of Philadelphia International Records, who worked with a stable of studio musicians to develop the unique Philadelphia sound used as backing for many different singing acts. Many of these musicians would record as the instrumental group MFSB, which had a hit with the seminal Philadelphia soul song "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" in 1974.
Notable extensions of the Philadelphia sound were bassist Ronald Baker; guitarist Norman Harris and drummer/Trammps baritone Earl Young (B-H-Y), who also recorded as the Trammps and would produce records themselves. These three were the base rhythm section for MFSB, and branched off into a sub-label of Philadelphia International Records called Golden Fleece, distributed by CBS Records (now Sony Music). Soon after, Harris created the Gold Mind label in conjunction with Salsoul Records. Gold Mind's roster included First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, and Love Committee, all of whom would feature Baker/Harris/Young productions of their material. Their 1976 hit by Double Exposure, "Ten Percent", was the first commercial 12-inch single.
Shut the door!
Philadelphia soul was popular throughout the 1970s, and it set the stage for the studio constructions of disco and urban contemporary music that emerged later in the decade. Its style had a strong influence on later Philadelphia acts, most notably The Roots, Vivian Green, Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild.
Ecstasy, Passion & Pain
The Jones Girls
McFadden & Whitehead
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
New York City
Cliff Nobles & Co
The People's Choice
The Ritchie Family
Dee Dee Sharp
The Soul Survivors
The Spinners (mid-to-late 70s)
Bobby Starr(The Intruders)
The Three Degrees
Producers and songwriters
Gamble and Huff
McFadden & Whitehead
Vincent Montana, Jr.
The 10 Biggest Philly Soul Hits
Though it was considered by purists to be Soul music's first sellout move, the rise of Philly Soul actually resulted in more R&B airplay than pop smashes, proving that R&B had grown up and become sophisticated while keeping its doo-wop heart. Vocal groups from Philly (and Detroit, and occasionally elsewhere) found in the genre a perfect outlet for black music's romanticism, its love of the beat, and its social consciousness, all at once. Here are Philly Soul's 10 biggest chart triumphs. (Apparently "The Love I Lost" was such a good tune it was ranked 0 - above 01, the best ever. 😀)
"Me and Mrs. Jones," Billy Paul
Written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, arguably Philly Soul's greatest songwriters, this gently tortured ballad talks about two forbidden lovers "meet(ing) every day at the same cafe," which is exactly what Gamble and Huff based it on: they observed a man meeting a woman at their favorite eatery, even playing the same songs on the jukebox, a quirk which also made it into the lyrics. Was that what these two were up to? Something illicit? The songwriting team never found out. But it gave them a theme so controversial and yet universal it became a worldwide smash; at home, it also got them a #1 pop and R&B hit, two million records sold, and a Grammy to boot.
"Love Train," The O'Jays
Philly Soul's greatest anthem, and one of its eternally danceable songs, "Love Train" was actually a plea for world brotherhood, name-checking countries and inviting them aboard in much the same manner as the Impressions' "People Get Ready." Unlike that spiritual, however, the O'Jays express was purely secular, which may explain why it was also a double #1 hit, topping both the pop and R&B charts and also making the top 10 in the UK. Another Gamble-Huff classic, it proved their domination of the pop charts, hitting the top just three months after "Mrs. Jones."
"TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)," MFSB (w/the Three Degrees)
MFSB were the house band that played on almost all of Philadelphia International's big hits: their name ostensibly stood for "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother," but it's since been revealed as a naughty acronym describing just how very, very hot they were as a unit. It's fitting, then, that this commercial of sorts for the label (and the sound) was their showcase, and one of the genre's biggest smashes. Assisted by the label's perennial backup singers, the Three Degrees, it captured the R&B moment so perfectly that it became the de facto theme song of TV dance show Soul Train. And in its longest form, it was one of the first extended disco dance singles.
"Then Came You," The Spinners with Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick(e) had made her career in the early '60s singing the elegant, sophisticated ballads of a young songwriter named Burt Bacharach, so she was a natural for the silky—but never slick—sound of Philly Soul. Spinners' lead singer Bobby Smith was also a natural fit, although it was the group's secret weapon and one of soul's best-ever ad-libbers, Phillipe Wynne, who actually sang her out at the end of the song. Warwick, who desperately needed a hit, was still unimpressed by the song, which was no Gamble-Huff number. Producer Thom Bell, the other crucial component of the Philly Soul sound, convinced her that she'd just recorded a #1 smash. She had.
"Rich Girl," Hall and Oates
Hall and Oates were two white kids who started out in folk-pop, but they were from Philly, they were wonderfully adept at blue-eyed soul, and one of their songs, "She's Gone," had already been a hit for "authentic" black soul group Tavares (and also recorded by Lou Rawls, whose career was about to be revived by Gamble and Huff). Probably owing to racism at rock radio, H&O eventually had the bigger pop hit with "She's Gone," but this was their only #1 pop hit of the decade. Perhaps because it had a little more of a rock feel to the intro, however, "She's Gone" wasn't an R&B Top Ten hit.
"You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," Lou Rawls
Smooth vocalists just seemed to gravitate to the sound of Philadelphia in the early '70s. So Lou Rawls, who was smooth enough to trade vocals with Sam Cooke on "Bring it on Home to Me," was probably inevitable for the sound's next career save. Gamble and Huff to the rescue again, except that this time, they rode in with an unusual rhumba-like beat that only erupted into a disco gallop in the chorus. The label wanted Rawls bad, not only agreeing to write a song specifically tailored to his basso profundo croon but going along with his suggestion to cut the whole thing live in the studio!
"I'll Be Around," The Spinners
Thom Bell was the other major Philly Soul songwriter of note, usually composing with partner Linda Creed, but Linda was merely backup vocalist on this, the Spinners' first major hit and an important jumping-off point for the genre. Originally relegated to a b-side, it was unearthed by enterprising DJs and made into a million-seller. Not bad when you consider how Motown held onto these guys for years without finding them a hit, only to let them go because they had doubts about lead singer Bobby Smith (it's Philippe Wynne, however, who again pinch hits for him in the outro).
"When Will I See You Again," The Three Degrees
It's perhaps the Philly Soul hit with the widest crossover appeal: this, the biggest hit by Philadelphia International's go-to backups, roosted at or near the top of the pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and Billboard's brand-new disco chart, not to mention shooting to #1 in the UK. And yet lead Degree Sheila Ferguson flat-out refused to sing it at first, thinking it too simplistic and immature for her talents. Gamble and Huff happily convinced her otherwise. The dozens of cover versions from all over the musical spectrum prove that sometimes, simple is universal.
"Hey There Lonely Girl," Eddie Holman
A transplanted Norfolk, VA native covering an old song by Ruby and the Romantics might not seem like the most obvious inclusion on this list, especially said song was written by a commercial jingle writer best known for the famous Almond Joy/Mounds "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut" campaign. But wait—Holman had been on the Philly Soul scene from the beginning, singing with the originators of the genre, the Delfonics, and also its first hit artists the Stylistics. The minds behind this smash were wise enough to replicate his signature sound here. His freakish falsetto did the rest.
"If You Don't Know Me by Now," Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Teddy Pendergrass was the quintessential sexually tortured lover man, not just in this subgenre but arguably in all of soul. Which may explain why the Blue Notes' biggest hit was its most pained, allowing Teddy to grab listeners and shake them into submission. Gamble and Huff wrote it for the Dells, but then the group's drummer—the drummer, of all people—stepped up and became a star. Taking advantage of one of the slowest tempos in American radio history, Teddy bellows and staggers like a mortally wounded man. Which is sort of the point.
In case you need more.....
01 (Win, Place Or Show) She's A Winner - The Intruders02 Back Stabbers - The O'Jays - 2:2703 The Love I Lost - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes - 5:3504 TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) - MFSB - 9:1505 Dirty Ol' Man - The Three Degrees - 15:0306 You Little Trustmaker - The Tymes - 18:1007 Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart - The Trammps - 21:0308 Soul City Walk - Archie Bell & The Drells - 24:2709 Love Train - The O'Jays - 28:3710 The Whole Town's Talking - Billy Paul - 31:3411 Year Of Decision - The Three Degrees - 36:2512 Love Is The Message - MFSB; The Three Degrees - 39:0813 I'll Always Love My Mama (Part 1) - The Intruders - 45:4914 Let's Groove - Archie Bell & The Drells - 48:3515 Is There A Place For Me - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes - 54:3616 The Devil Made Me Do It - Robert Upchurch - 1:01:4017 Even Though You're Gone - The Jacksons - 1:04:2418 Where Do We Go From Here - The Trammps - 1:08:5919 Disco Inferno (Extended Remix) - The Trammps - 1:12:4920 Hold Back The Night - The Trammps - 1:23:4121 Ms Grace - The Tymes - 1:27:00
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