Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Throughout 2021 Philadelphia International Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1971 by songwriters and producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, the record label became the birthplace, incubator and launching pad for the Philly Soul sound that came to be known as “The Sound of Philadelphia.”
And what is that sound?
Philly soul added sweeping strings, seductive horns, and lush arrangements to the deep rhythms of soul music. And there so many stars. We look back and remember a few this week.
Let’s get started.
Frank Sinatra once said of Lou Rawls that he had the “silkiest chops in the singing game.”
His biggest recording came during the spring of 1976 in a #1 song written by the legendary songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. At the time, Gamble was going through a divorce from the singer Dee Dee Sharp.
This was the first big hit featuring the reformulated Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB, after many of the original members left for better opportunities. It was recorded live with the singer and the band with no piecemeal overdubbing as Rawls preferred to record live.
Rawls sang it live at the 1977 American Music Awards. If you were watching you may remember what happened. What a pro.
Rawls sold more than 40 million records.
He was hospitalized for treatment of lung and brain cancer before he died in early 2006 at the age of 72.
Next up, the O’Jays.
Their first hit was all about two-timing and lies.
The group’s following smash was a complete opposite, a party, a worldwide party of near perfection.
Eddie Levert was one of the vocalists.
“Everything changed in 1972, when we met Gamble and Huff,” said Levert. “They recognized our gospel roots and ability to switch between lead vocals. Kenny Gamble was a prolific songwriter, and Leon Huff could make a piano sound like a whole band. We just clicked. They had dozens of songs and we were able to pick the ones we liked. When we started recording, Love Train didn’t even have lyrics, so Kenny came up with them in five minutes, on the spot.
“At that stage, I don’t think any of us had any idea how big that song would become, but by the time we started laying down the vocals, we knew we had a hit. Love Train felt like destiny. It had such perfect, timeless lyrics that it was almost as if they’d come from God, and we had to deliver them to the people.
“To this day, people hear it and want to start a train. At one gig, we played it for 30 minutes, while the audience formed a dancing train that went all the way outside the building.”
The O’Jays had 10 #1 hits and 24 Top Ten hits, are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and are still touring.
Sheila Ferguson, Fayette Pinkney, Valerie Holiday. The Three Degrees.
Lead singer Ferguson recalls the group’s smash written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
“The song was played to me by Kenny Gamble at the piano in 1973 and I threw a tantrum. I screamed and yelled and said I would never sing it. I thought it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song and that it took no talent to sing it. We did do it and several million copies later, I realized that he knew more than me.”
Billboard named the song #67 on their list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.
Listen carefully. Unique lyrics. Every line is a question.
Their first recording with the label was the US #1 hit “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” which was the theme song for the TV show Soul Train.
As for “When Will I See You Again?” the song got as high as #2, but couldn’t beat out “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas.
One last bit of trivia: Other than Nancy Reagan, The Three Degrees were the only American guests at Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featured lead vocalist and drummer Teddy Pendergrass. The group released a message song in 1975 that was #1 on the R & B chart.
Pendergrass got lots of attention and soon wanted to go solo. He left the group in 1976 and was very successful, selling tons of records and winning Billboard’s 1977 Pop Album New Artist Award and the American Music Award for best R&B performer of 1978.
A 1982 car accident left Pendergrass paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound. Not deterred Pendergrass kept recording. He had difficulty recovering from colon cancer surgery and passed away on January 13, 2010.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend, and get on down with the Philly Sound.