A Beginners' Guide to Philadelphia Soul

philadelphia-soulPhiladelphia Soul is a more slickly produced offshoot of modern soul music. It is characterised by lush production values featuring brass and string instruments and its relaxed tempo. This makes for a sub-genre of soul music which feels at home on Hi-Fi systems as well as dance floors. Though radio-friendly due to production quality, the traditional themes of soul music is covered in its lyrical content.

Philadelphia Soul first hit the dance floors in the late 1960s and rose in popularity during the early to mid 1970s. In some quarters, it arguably inspired disco music. Key to its success was Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. As songwriters for the Philadelphia International label, they would pen a number of classic tunes like If You Don't Know Me By Now for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. For The O'Jays, Love Train and Back Stabbers charted on both sides of the Atlantic.

As well as Gamble and Huff's song writing talents, MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother, to use the family-friendly version of their acronym) – their house band – was the special sauce in the burger bun. The O'Jays' Love Train saw their thirty strong musicians used for the first time. They would also have chart singles of their own, with TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) a big hit in the UK and the USA.

In the UK, Philadelphia Soul music fared well in the singles charts and in the cabaret scene. The Three Degrees for a time was Prince Charles' favourite group; Laurie Cunningham, Brendan Batson and Cyrille Regis were bestowed that name whilst playing for West Bromwich Albion in 1977. In 1974, a Manchester group with Philly style leanings, Sweet Sensation, won a heat in ATV's New Faces (which for our younger readers was a 1970s version of Britain's Got Talent), and hit the top spot with Sad Sweet Dreamer.

Even today, Philadelphia Soul music continues to fill many dance floors. It is also the music of choice for smooching along, as epitomised by Barry White's back catalogue. It owes a debt to modern day acts like Boyz II Men and Jill Scott.

Philadelphia Soul

  • Also Known As: Philly Soul, The Sound of Philadelphia, T.S.O.P;

  • Associated Acts: Barry White, The Three Degrees, The Stylistics, The Love Unlimited Orchestra;

  • Notable chart singles: Love'sTheme, The Love Unlimited Orchestra; When Will I See You Again?, The Three Degrees; Hold Back the Night, The Trammps; Sad Sweet Dreamer, Sweet Sensation.

  • Popular in: the mid 1970s.

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