While reviewing the forthcoming Philadelphia International Records-The 40th Anniversary Box Set and the recently released Philadelphia International Records-The Tom Moulton Remixes, I came across tracks by The Futures, a group who were one of Philadelphia International Records’ nearly men. They released two albums for Philadelphia International, 1978s Past, Present and The Futures and 1980s The Greetings of Peace. Sadly, neither album gave The Futures the success their talent warranted. If lady luck had been on their side, many people believe they could’ve joined the long list of Philly groups that found fame and fortune. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Regardless of that, many people, myself included, are fans of their music and have a soft spot for The Futures music. So, finding a nine minute remix of The Futures’ best known track Party Time Man was a very welcome surprise. Hopefully, it’s addition will mean more people will investigate their two Philadelphia International albums. Of the two albums, Past, Present and The Futures is the better known of the two. Hwever, before I tell you about Past, Present and The Futures, I’ll tell you about their career.

By the time The Futures signed to Philadelphia International Records, the group had been together since the late sixties. They released their debut single Our Thing in 1970, for the Amjo Record Company. Then, two years later, in 1972, they were about release a single for what had been Kenneth Gamble’s Gamble Records. However, it became Philadelphia International Records and was backed by Columbia Records.  

Then, the success of another Philadelphia International group meant their future was on hold. The O’Jays’ Love Train had just been released, becoming a huge hit and taking up everyone at the label’s time and efforts. Then in January 1973, Love Is Here was eventually released, reaching number forty-seven in the US R&B Charts. There was to be no follow-up of Love Is Here on Philadelphia International Records and the group were left to their own devices. Returning to their day jobs, nothing would be heard of The Futures as recording artists until 1975.

In 1975 The Futures were signed to New York based Buddah Records, who by then, had a number of successful artists, including The Trammps, Barbara Mason and Gladys Knight and The Pips. It was for Buddah records that The Futures would release three singles and their 1975 debut album Castles In the Sky. The Futures had some success on Buddah, with We Got Each Other, one of two singles recorded with Barbara Mason, reaching number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. However, their success on Buddah was short lived, and again, they were without a recording contract. It would be three and a half years before they signed their next contract, with two men who they crossed paths with earlier in their career, Gamble and Huff.

Signing with Philadelphia International Records in late 1978, The Futures would hit the ground running. They started recording their second album and debut for Philadelphia International Past, Present and The Futures. Eight tracks were chosen for the album, with Gamble and Huff not writing any of the tracks. Instead, songwriters like Sherman Marshall, Charles Simmons, Joseph Jefferson and Douglas Brown wrote the eight tracks. Many of the same people that wrote the songs produced the tracks. Kenneth Gamble only co-produced one track, while Leon Huff doesn’t feature on the album. With the eight tracks recorded at Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios, Past, Present and The Futures was ready for release. Would The Futures find the success that had eluded them for so long?

Before the release of Past, Present and The Futures, The Futures released a track that’s became synonymous with them, Party Time Man. Sadly, it only reached number ninety-four in the US R&B Charts. On the release of the second single was Ain’t No Time Fa Nothing, it failed to trouble the charts. When the album Past, Present and The Futures was released, it too never charted. It seemed that for The Futures, success was still determined to elude them. This was strange, given the music on Past, Present and The Futures, which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening Past, Present and The Futures is Party Time Man, the song The Futures are best known for. Co-written by Sherman Marchall and Ted Wortham, straight away, you realize why the track was chosen as the lead single. From the opening bars when a punchy rhythm section, cascading strings and blazing horns enter, you realize something very special is about to unfold. Then, when the tender, beautiful lead vocal enters you realize that this is a hidden Philly gem. Accompanied by tight harmonies, the lead vocal changes hand. Together, Frank Washington, Kenny Crew, Henry McGilberry and brothers James and John King vocals compliment each other. Meanwhile, M.F.S.B. Mk. II help The Futures produce a joyous uplifting backdrop, one that fuses the best of Philly soul with elements of funk and disco. Why this track never fared better as a single than number ninety-four in the US R&B Charts is astounding.

After the uptempo opening track, The Futures drop the tempo on the beautiful Ain’t No Time Fa Nothing, which was the second single released from Past, Present and The Futures. It’s penned by the successful songwriting team of Charles Simmons and Joseph Jefferson who both produced the tracks. It’s a laid-back, mid-tempo track, where sultry horns, lush strings and keyboards accompany The Futures. Their vocals are reminiscent of what you’d expect on an Earth, Wind and Fire album. This is the case with the arrangement where the rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while the strings, horns and keyboards are key to the arrangement’s success. Along with some beautiful vocals and close, tight harmonies from The Futures, this is beautiful, laid-back slice of soulful music that’s totally irresistible.

Deep Inside of Me is one of the most thoughtful, beautiful ballads you’ll hear in a long time, reminding me of The Stylistics at their best. It’s the only track that Kenneth Gamble co-produced. He does so with Cynthia Biggs, while Jack Faith arranges the track. The lead vocal is full of emotive and heartfelt, while the harmonies are tight and tender, complimenting the lead vocal perfectly. Jack Faith’s arrangement has a subtlety, meandering along with lush strings at its heart, while stabs of rasping horns and drums punctuate the arrangement, as if pointing out the track tenderness and beauty. Written by Cary Gilbert, Ted Wotham and Cynthia Biggs, The Futures surpass themselves, delivering a track that’s not only heartfelt, tender and beautiful, but one of the highlights of Past, Present and The Futures.

Flourishes of a harpsichord open Sunshine And You, another ballad before the lead vocal, stabs of Hammond organ and rhythm section combine. Arranger John L. Usry Jr. then introduces lush, sweeping strings, while subtle backing vocals and bursts of rasping horns combine. Here, there’s a change in lead vocal, it’s deep and sultry, filled with emotion and sincerity, reminding me of Jon Lucien. It’s perfect for the lyrics penned by Douglas Brown, Terry Price and William Bloom, who produced the track. For nearly four minutes you’re enthralled and captivated by this track, and again, are left wondering why The Futures weren’t a huge success, given the talent they obviously had.

Come To Me (When Your Lovin’ Is Down is another slow track, with the tempo way down, only 78 beats per minute. This allows The Futures to demonstrate their talents in delivering close harmonies. However, the track has a slightly different sound, with the track reliant more on harmonies than previous tracks. There’s still the same quality, with Jack Faith’s arrangement full of the lushest strings, sultry bursts of horns, piano and harpsichord. Although different from previous tracks, one thing remains the same…the quality of vocals from The Futures and Jack Faith’s thoughtful, subtle and emotive arrangement.

You Got it (The Love That I Need) sees The Futures up the tempo after three slower songs. Strings cascade, while vocals soar elegantly and gracefully, as bursts of punchy horns and the rhythm section combine. Then, comes a joyous falsetto vocal, while the rest of The Futures add harmonies and handclaps. Meanwhile, the arrangement mixes drama with the emotion in the vocal, while the strings, bursts of horns and drums add what’s just the finishing touches to a track that’s drenched in emotion. Not only that, but the lead vocal is one of the best on the album, augmented by some of the tightest, sweetest harmonies.

The thing about The Futures second album Past, Present and The Futures is that you’re always waiting for a poor track, which thankfully, never comes. They never once let their standards drop, with (You’re the One) Someone Special the latest in a line of great songs. Bobby Eli’s guitar, piano and the rest of the rhythm section enter, while bursts of blazing horns and sweeping, swirling strings combine. Together, they provide the type of arrangement that made Philadelphia International famous. With such a quality arrangement revealing its secrets, The Futures produce some stunning harmonies, while the lead vocal changes hands. Regardless of who delivers the vocal, they deliver it with emotion, passion and care. As the arrangement progresses, it grows in drama, as does the vocal.  For four minutes, The Futures have you spellbound, weaving a spell over you with some tantalizing vocals and harmonies.

Closing Past, Present and The Futures I Wanna Know; Is it Over? Co-written by Douglas Brown and Frankie Smith, this is a track full of emotion and heartache, against a slow, dramatic arrangement. Opening with a wandering bass lines, piano and the atmospheric sound of the Hammond organ, Bobby Eli’s guitar adds bursts of its melancholy sound. Meanwhile, The Futures deliver tight, emotive harmonies, while a half-spoken introduction adds to the drama and heartache. Eventually, the vocal enters, accompanied by a Thom Bell influenced lone horn. The wait was worthwhile, as the vocal is drenched in heartache, regret and emotion. Quickly, it changes hands, with The Futures delivering questioning backing vocals. As the vocal drops out, cascading strings and horns replace it, as the track heads to its emotive ending, full of sadness and regret. 

Listening to The Futures’ second album Past, Present and The Futures, it seems quite incredible that the album wasn’t a commercial success. There’s eight great tracks on Past, Present and The Futures, with one great track following the previous one. Throughout the album, you keep thinking surely the quality can’t be as consistent throughout the album, but it is. With a variety of songwriters, arrangers and producers working on Past, Present and The Futures, they contributed and produced music that’s designed to tug at your heartstrings. These songs move you. One minute you’re sad, next track you’re joyful and sometimes thoughtful. That’s the power of the eight tracks on the album. With vocalists as good as Frank Washington, Kenny Crew, Henry McGilberry and brothers James and John King we shouldn’t be surprised at the quality of the music. Together with M.F.S.B. Mk II, they thought that Past, Present and The Futures would give The Futures the success and recognition their music and talent warranted. After several false starts, The Futures thought that at last, their career was heading on an upward trajectory. Sadly that wasn’t to be, with Past, Present and The Futures failing commercially. Two years later, The Greetings of Peace was released in 1980, and sadly, it too failed commercially. As a result, Philadelphia International Records and The Futures parted company, success having eluded them through their fifteen year career. Unfortunately, the Party Time Men became the nearly me of Philadelphia International Records. However, they leave behind a legacy of two quality albums, 1978s Past, Present and The Futures and 1980s The Greetings of Peace. These albums feature some wonderful music, music which you can hear again on Party Time Men The Futures on PIR which was released in 2005 by the Demon Music Group. So why not let Philadelphia International Records’ Party Time Men into your lives, you won’t regret it. Standout Tracks: Party Time Man, Ain’t No Time Fa Nothing, Deep Inside of Me and You Got it (The Love That I Need). 


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