Playlist: The Philadelphia Sound

Philadelphia Soul is not so much a genre as it is a sound. The “Philly Sound” is described pretty well by its Wikipedia entry, Producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (pictured) are the pioneers behind much of the music with this moniker but it is not restricted to Gamble & Huff or the Philadelphia International Records label.

Since I wanted to learn more about the sound, its history, and the producers and musicians who made it come to life, I thought a playlist was just what I needed to traverse its soundscape.

  1. Mister Magic – Grover Washington Jr., Mister Magic, (UMG Recordings, 1974)
  2. K-Jee MFSB, Universal Love (Philadelphia International Records, 1975)
  3. I Love Music – The O’JaysFamily Reunion (Philadelphia International Records, 1975)
  4. People Make the World Go Round – The StylisticsThe Stylistics (Avco, 1971)
  5. Lady Love – Lou RawlsWhen You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard it All (Philadelphia International Records, 1977)
  6. One on One – Hall & OatesH2O (RCA, 1982)
  7. Me and Mrs. JonesBilly Paul, 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (Philadelphia International Records, 1972)
  8. Work it Out  (single) – Breakwater,(Arista, 1979)
  9. Minute by Minute – The Doobie BrothersMinute by Minute (Warner Bros., 1978)
  10. Nights Over Egypt  (single) – The Jones Girls, (Philadelphia International Records, 1981)
  11. Funkfoot – Grover Washington Jr.Live at the Bijou (Kudu Records, 1977)

I’ve bookended the playlist with Grover Washington Jr. The closing selection is from his brilliant live album, Live at the Bijou. You can read my review of that here. Although his breakthrough was 1980’s Winelight (Elektra Entertainment), Grover Washington Jr.’s rise arguably began 13 years earlier when he landed in Philadelphia as a sideman. I wonder if the warm bass and keyboard textures on Mister Magic were the product of or inspiration to recordings in the Gamble & Huff songbook?

MFSB and the O’Jays are two acts that were firmly in the Philadelphia International Records stable. MFSB (or Mother, Father, Brother, Sister) featured prominent string arrangements and squelchy guitars that would win them a place on the now classic Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (RSO, 1977), released two years after K-Jee was recorded.

The Stylistics showcase a falsetto vocal, prominent in many classic Philly Soul recordings. This tune was used beautifully in the opening montage of Spike Lee’s film, Crooklyn. Vocals are also featured on the next three tracks, beginning with the relaxed smoothness of Lou Rawls. Philadelphia natives Daryl Hall and John Oates, were undoubtedly influenced by their surroundings and carried the torch admirably well into the late Eighties. The next track, Me  & Mrs. Jones, was covered by Hall & Oates but I’ve selected Billy Paul’s original here, written by Gamble & Huff themselves.

The next two tracks by Breakwater and The Doobie Brothers are not officially associated with the Philly scene. But this is proof the “sound” escaped the confines of Gamble & Huff’s realm and influenced so many artists past and present. Minute by Minute was an uncharacteristic album for a “country rock” band like the Doobies but it was their greatest success. I posted a short review of that album here.

The Jones Girls were another staple with Philadelphia International Records. Nights Over Egypt was not their biggest hit but has weathered the years better than most other songs in their catalogue. Nights was written by Dexter Wansel, a close collaborator with Gamble & Huff.

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