Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine

I've been reading John A. Jackson's A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul this week. It's mostly the history of the hit machine at Philadelphia International Records, piloted by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but it's also the story of independent producer Thom Bell, a childhood friend of Gamble's, and of the singers, musicians, engineers, and record executives who made music in Philadelphia from the 60s to the 80s.

Gamble and Huff's music combined the slickness of the Motown production line with the down-home grit of Stax; Bell, meanwhile, made the prettiest R&B of all time. I loved it all from the moment I started hearing it in the early 1970s. So here are the Top 10 Philly soul hits, according to Billboard.

10. "I'll Be Around"/Spinners, 1972. A Bell production and the first monster hit for the Spinners, who had hung around Motown in the 60s waiting for the right moment. Turns out they were in the wrong city.

9. "If You Don't Know Me By Now"/Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, 1972. Some of the most beautiful music ever played by Gamble and Huff's house band, MFSB, and great soul shouting by Teddy Pendergrass. In 1989, Simply Red--a group I like a lot--took this song to Number One. As good as he is, singer Mick Hucknall couldn't get within a million miles of Teddy's anguish.

8. "When Will I See You Again"/Three Degrees, 1974.
Actually the third single from an album that was fading, this got a boost from the Three Degrees' appearance on MFSB's "TSOP" earlier in the year. If the close harmonies on this record don't make you shiver, check your pulse.

7. "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"/Lou Rawls, 1976. Rawls isn't usually mentioned in the pantheon of Philly soul artists, but this was a smash. It was the first big hit featuring the reformulated MFSB, after many of the original members left Gamble and Huff for better opportunities. It also marked a brief renaissance for Rawls, who isn't on many lists of great singers, but should be.

6. "The Rubberband Man"/Spinners, 1976. The last Spinners hit to feature vocalist Phillippe Wynne, and the last major Philly hit co-written by Bell and longtime collaborator Linda Creed. Still fun to listen to after all this time.

5. "You Make Me Feel Brand New"/Stylistics, 1974. Another Bell/Creed collaboration, which Bell nearly rejected because of the line "God bless you, you make me feel brand new." Creed talked him into it, and the result was one of the Stylistics' most glorious records.

4. "Love Train"/O'Jays, 1973. This song topped the charts at almost the precise moment when the leftover 60s dream of universal brotherhood began to crumble. The break before the final refrain--"Let's ride, let's ride, get up, get on board"--might be the single most exhilarating moment in Philly soul history.

3. "Then Came You"/Dionne Warwick and the Spinners, 1974. No Philly soul record stayed on the charts longer than this one (25 weeks), or took longer to reach Number One. Warwick gets top billing, but in the last minute or two, Wynne steals the record from her.

2. "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)"/MFSB featuring the Three Degrees, 1974. Before "TSOP" was released as a single, I used to watch Soul Train just to hear it, because it was the show's theme song. The Three Degrees don't add much more than "let's get it on, it's time to get down," but the relative dearth of vocals doesn't keep "TSOP" from being the definitive Philly soul record.

1. "Me and Mrs. Jones"/Billy Paul, 1972. This was Gamble and Huff's first Number One single, and Paul may have become their greatest star--had his career not been derailed when the producers inexplicably decided to release "Am I Black Enough for You" as his second single. Few radio stations with predominantly white audiences would go near it, and it didn't do especially well on the R&B charts, either.

(During the week of December 16, 1972, "Me and Mrs. Jones" topped the Hot 100 while "If You Don't Know Me By Now" was Number Three. That's why I love the 1970s.)

Honorable Mentions: "You Are Everything" by the Stylistics, the first Philly soul record I ever bought; "They Just Can't Stop It (Games People Play)" by the Spinners, which is my favorite song of all time; "For the Love of Money" by the O'Jays, which is the deepest groove Gamble and Huff ever plowed; and "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the long version of which contains one of the greatest examples of soul testifyin' you'll ever hear. And then there's "Rockin' Roll Baby," "One of a Kind (Love Affair)," "Break Up to Make Up," "Back Stabbers" . . . .


At 4:54 PM, Blogger Glenn Reay said...

Some lovely choices of songs here i loved the Sound of Philadelphia when i was young here in England, some beautiful,beautiful voices and fantastic orchestral Arrangements, what a sad world we became with NEW MODERN music in the 21ST Centuary, thank you for for TSOP


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