Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Philadelphia Int'l Records churns out '70s soul hits

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Lou Rawls
The O’Jays (from left), Eric Grant, Walter Williams and Eddie Levert.

Philadelphia International Records has gone down in history as one of the largest distributors of popular hit recordings. Boasting an array of top class recording stars, songwriters and producers, matched only by Motown Recording Company, the label turned out a string of worldwide hits by the biggest stars in the entertainment business during the 1970s. While Motown kept the world rocking during the 1960s with acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells and others, Philadelphia International matched them stride for stride during the 1970s with Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Patti Labelle, Mother Father Sister Brother (MFSB), The Three Degrees, The O'Jays, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the label was founded in 1971 by the songwriting/producing duo - Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff - along with the outstanding Jamaica-born songwriter and music arranger, Thom Bell. An arm of a publishing company, The Mighty Three/Assorted music, run by the three gentlemen, the whole idea behind the formation of the label and company was to showcase the Philadelphia soul music genre, which was also referred to as Philly Soul.

Relying heavily on lavish instrumental orchestral backing by the in-house band, MFSB, the Philadelphia International label produced over 170 gold and platinum records and recorded over 30 top class acts during the 1970s and early 1980s. MFSB, which was critical to the success of the label, was a massive aggregation of some 30 studio musicians based at Philadelphia's famed Sigma Sound Studios, and worked closely with the songwriting and production team.

A year after the label was formed, they began to record as a solo act and had their first and biggest hit, - TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), featuring The Three Degrees, which became somewhat of a signature song for the label. Released in March of 1974, it occupied the No. 1 position on both the US, Billboard and R&B charts. Selling over a million copies and awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America, the recording was very instrumental in establishing the disco sound.

Perhaps the biggest of the stars to have recorded for the label was the O'Jays. With a catalogue that includes Darling Darling Baby, I Want You Here with Me, Now That We Found Love, We're All in This Together, Family Reunion, Used to Be My Girl, Forever Mine and I Love Music, they virtually stood alone as far as hit recordings and group harmonising was concerned. The group began as a doo-wop quintet, making their debut as The Mascots in 1961 with Miracles. A Cleveland Disc Jock, Eddie O'Jay, liked them and gave them some good career advice, and in turn, they renamed themselves 'The O'Jays' as a gesture of appreciation. After several line-up and label changes, they enjoyed a remarkable stint with Philadelphia International, which produced their biggest hits.




Teddy Pendergrass is another of the artistes who placed the label on the international music map. Considered a sensuous sex symbol, Pendergrass' popularity soared to stupendous levels in recordings like, Turn off the Lights and Close the Door, which evoked screaming, ecstatic women, some of whom threw lingerie and stuffed teddy bears on stage, when driven to hysteria. Turn off the Lights was particularly seductive:

"Turn off the lights, light a


Tonight I'm in a romantic mood.

Let's take a shower, shower together,

I'll wash your body, you'll wash mine.

Rub me down with some hot oil baby

And I'll do the same thing to you."

Other hits he had with the label included, When Somebody Loves You Back, Now Tell Me That You Love Me, This One's for You, Love T.K.O, and Somebody Told Me.

Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes had a few hits with the Philly label, including, If You Don't Know Me By Now and The Love I Lost, led by Pendergrass.




Adopting a somewhat philosophical approach, Lou Rawls had hits like What's the Matter with the World; Lady Love; One life to Live; If I Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda; It's Spring Again; We Understand Each Other and the ultimate love song for the Philadelphia International label - You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine:

"You'll never find as long as

you live.

someone who loves you tender as I do.

You'll never find, no matter where you search

someone who cares about you the way I do"

Billy Paul was perhaps best associated with Philadelphia International Records through his recording of, Me and Mrs Jones. Infidelity was rife as he sang:

"Me and Mrs Jones, we got a thing going on.

We both know that its wrong

but it's much too strong to let it go now.

We meet everyday at the same Cafe

Six-thirty, I know she'll be there.

Holding hands, making all kind of plans

while the Jukebox plays our favourite song."

Other notable hits for him on the label included, Let 'Em in, Word Sure Gets Around, Don't Give Up on Us, So Much to Live For and Bring the Family Back.

Bunny Sigler, Jean Carn, The Intruders, Patti Labelle, and one of the songwriting-production team with the label, - McFadden and Whitehead, who became famous for the hit single, Ain't No Stopping us Now, also made worthwhile contributions.

Operating as an all-female trio, and following their success with TSOP, the Three Degrees had several big hits with the Philadelphia International label between 1974 and 1975. They included Dirty Ol' Man, Year of Decision, Take good care of Yourself, and the biggest of them all, When Will I See You Again, which topped the UK charts for two weeks in August 1974 (the first time that an all-female group did it since the Supremes in 1964). It also reached No. 2 in the US, and sold over two million copies there.

As a songwriter/record producer/music arranger, Thom Bell has the distinction of being one of the creators of the Philadelphia style of soul music, standing firm behind the careers of Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, The Stylistics, The Delfonics, and The O'Jays.