Sunday, November 8, 2009

Music Review: Love Train: The Philadelphia International Story


It’s a rainy Saturday morning here in Seattle, and I happened upon a review of the new Hall & Oates box set by a favorite Blogcritics writer, Connie Phillips. She mentioned a live cover version they did of the classic Billy Paul song, “Me And Mrs. Jones.” It inspired me to go back and listen to the original, which is on the box set Love Train: The Sound Of Philadelphia.

I wound up listening to all four discs of this incredible set again, and was reminded of just how brilliant the Philadelphia International label was at its height. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff owned soul music in the pre-disco age. Just look at the roster of talent on this box: The O’Jays, The Stylistics, The Delfonics, MFSB, Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), the list goes on and on.

Besides The O’Jays though, most of these acts are remembered as “one-hit wonders.” Name another song by The Three Degrees besides “When Will I See You Again,” and drinks are on me (no Googling allowed).

My point is that the Philadelphia International label was the great successor to Motown, and has never been given the credit it deserves. “Classic” Motown was really an early Sixties phenomenon, outside of notable exceptions like the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye. Likewise, Philadelphia International was an early Seventies thing, besides the later emergence of Teddy Pendergrass in the latter part of the decade.

So why is it that “The Sound Of Philadelphia” is so forgotten today? It defines a particular point in AM radio history with songs such as “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays, “Then Came You,” by The Spinners, and “Kiss And Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans. These tunes are period pieces to be sure, but I never get tired of hearing them.

What happened was disco, and Philadelphia International got caught up in it. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake to take the quick buck with extended mixes of “Bad Luck” or “I Love Music.” Incidentally, these versions are not available on Love Train, but are worth seeking out.

Regardless, the patented groove of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s productions took a backseat to The Bee Gees and their Saturday Night Fever ilk. Don’t get me wrong, Saturday Night Fever is a great record, but there is nothing on it as powerful as “Me And Mrs. Jones.”


And there’s the rub. Love Train: The Philadelphia International Story is a snapshot of a particular moment in time which will never be duplicated.

The only thing missing is the first white performer to appear on Soul Train, Sir Elton John. While the theme to Soul Train, MFSB’s “TSOP,” is included, Elton’s homage to the music with “Philadelphia Freedom” (1975) is not. It’s too bad, because at the time not only Sir Elton, but John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges and David Bowie’ Young Americans were also paying specific tribute to this fantastic branch of the music tree.

Love Train: The Philadelphia International Story is a box set that I cherish.

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