THE DELFONICS-LA LA MEANS I LOVE YOU.
THE DELFONICS-LA LA MEANS I LOVE YOU.
When Stan Watson, manager of The Delfonics, and owner of Philly Groove Records, met novice producer Thom Bell in 1967, this would be the start of a relationship that saw The Delfonics not only pioneer the Philly Sound, but become one of the most successful soul groups of that era. Between 1968 and 1974, The Delfonics would release five albums, with The Delfonics first three albums produced by Thom Bell. Their first album was La La Means I Love You, released on Philly Groove Records in 1968. On La La Means I Love You, was one of their most memorable and successful singles, the title-track La La Means I Love You. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. This single was just the start of this successful partnership between The Delfonics and Thom Bell. Together, Thom Bell and The Delfonics pioneered what would become known as the Philly Sound. For their debut album, La La Means I Love You, The Delfonics would record eleven songs. These were a mixture of cover versions and new material written by lead singer William Hart and producer Thom Bell. Since the release of La La Means I Love You, the album is perceived as a classic album, influential, innovative and important in the development of the nascent Philly Sound. Before I tell you about the music on La La Means I Love You, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.
Before The Delfonics had signed to Philly Groove Records, they’d released two previous singles. He Don’t Really Love You had been released on Moon Shot in 1966, while You’ve Been True had been released on Cameo Parkway in 1967. Neither single had charted, but their third single, which Thom Bell and Delfonics lead singer William Hart cowrote would change all this and The Delfonics lives. However, that was still to come, before that, The Delfonics had an album to write and record.
Now signed to Philly Groove Records, with Thom Bell ready to produce their debut album, Thom Bell and William Hart had to cowrite songs for the album. Together, they cowrote six tracks including I’m Sorry, Break Your Promise, Losing You, You’re Gone, Can You Remember and one other track, La La Means I Love You. Joining these six tracks, were five cover versions, including two Bacharach and David songs The Look of Love and Alfie. Other tracks included Shadow of Your Smile, co-written by Bobby Hart and Bobby Weinstein. These tracks, plus three other cover versions, would be recorded at what would become a legendary studio, Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studio.
Accompanying The Delfonics were some of the musicians that would play a huge part in the future Philly Sound and would become part of M.F.S.B. This included guitarist Norman Harris and bassist Ronnie Baker of the legendary Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. Joining Norman and Ronnie, were Vince Montana and Don Renaldo, whose strings and horns would grace so many Philadelphia International Records’ albums. With Thom Bell producing and Stan Watson assisting him, the eleven tracks on what would become La La Means I Love You was laid down at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. All that was left was for La La Means I Love You to be released.
La La Means I Love You was released in May 1968, reaching number 100 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. The first single released from the album was La La Means I Love You, which reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Following this, was I’m Sorry, which reached number forty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Break Your Promise was the third and final single released from La La Means I Love You, reaching number thirty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. Overall, the partnership of Thom Bell and The Delfonics had proved hugely successful, due to the music on La La Means I Love You, which I’ll now tell you about.
Opening La La Means I Love You is I’m Sorry, the first of six tracks which Thom Bell and William Hart cowrote. Drums play slowly, punctuating the arrangement, before quivering strings and a trademark Thom Bell lone horn enters. Quickly, this gives way to William’s lilting, tender vocal, while Randy Cain and Wilbert Hart add subtle, beautiful backing vocals. Thom Bell uses lush strings to add to the beauty and emotion of the track, while Vince Montana sprinkles percussion. Together, Thom Bell’s thoughful, understated arrangement and William’s heartfelt vocal, combine seamlessly, resulting in an emotive, but quite beautiful track.
Break Your Promise sees swathes of lush, shimmering strings, guitars and the rhythm section combining before William’s vocal enters. It’s full of emotion, tinged with sadness and regret, while Wilbert and Randy’s harmonies compliment William’s vocal. They soar high, as layers of strings sweep slowly, adding to this sadness and emotion. This is hugely effective, when combined with the peerless vocals and harmonies of The Delfonics.
The first of five cover versions on La La Means I Love You is The Shadow Of Your Smile. Here, Thom Bell transforms the track, giving it an understated arrangement, complete with occasional jazzy guitars. William’s vocal is tenderness personified and laden with emotion. Lush strings sweep slowly, while a lone horn drifts above the arrangement. In keeping with subtle sound, the drums are played with brushes, while Norman Baker sprinkles jazz guitar. All this, plus one of William’s tenderest vocals, makes this a subtle, but bewitching version of a classic song.
Hurt So Bad is a track that’s quite different from previous tracks, it’s a much more uptempo track, quicker, with a much fuller arrangement. The song literally bursts into life, with swathes of strings cascading, almost dancing, while the rhythm section drive the track along. William’s vocal is thoughtful and deliberate, full of hurt and regret. Wilbert and Randy, add punchy harmonies, while the strings sweep and swirl, and bursts of horn punctuate the arrangement. This much more uptempo track, is catchy and certainly, isn’t short of hooks. Hopefully, we’ll hear much more of this side of The Delfonics.
Losing You is another of the Thom Bell and William Hart penned tracks. It has a dramatic opening, just piano, bass and William’s spoken vocal combining. Then quickly, it’s all change. The track is transformed into an uptempo song, with the rhythm section and piano key to the track’s success. A chugging guitar punctuates the arrangement, while William’s quicker, emotive vocal is accompanied by some of the tightest harmonies on the album. Not only does this track demonstrate the vocal talents of The Delfonics, but how talented the Thom Bell and William Hart songwriting team were.
Covering a song that’s been covered as often as Bacharach and David’s Alfie isn’t easy, because you’ve got to bring something new to the song. Here, Thom Bell’s arrangement and William’s vocal does this. William’s vocal is deliberate, ironic even, while Thom’s arrangement fuses drama and beauty. To do this, he deploys layers of slow strings, his trademark horn sound and a piano. Together with tight, soaring harmonies and William’s vocal, they bring something new and different to an old song.
Easily the best known track on La La Means I Love You is the title-track, La La Means I Love You. This is the best track on the album, with this a seminal Delfonics’ track. Straight away, from the opening bars, you realize that this is a very special song. The rhythm section, quivering strings and piano combine, giving way to William’s gentle, heartfelt vocal. He’s accompanied by peerless harmonies, some of the best on the album. Meanwhile, lush strings sweep slowly, as William’s emotive vocal soars, bring to life the lyrics and their beauty, accompanied by Wilbert and Randy. Together with a peerless Thom Bell arrangement, The Delfonics produce one of the greatest songs of their career, a song that is a true Philly Soul classic.
When You’re Gone opens, the sound is dramatic and bold, with Thom Bell’s arrangement having a slight Motown influence. Strings, rhythm section and guitars combine, before William’s vocal enters, accompanied by soaring harmonies. Drums that dominate and help drive the arrangement along are key to sound, while strings add to the drama and boldness of the track. This track is quite unlike other tracks on the La La Means I Love You, with the sound more Detroit than Philly. That however, is an observation, not a criticism of a track that’s both bold and dramatic.
The Look of Love is the second Bacharach and David song on La La Means I Love You. Like The Delfonics version of Alfie, this is quite different from other versions. Compared to Dusty Springfield’s version this version is faster, with the arrangement fuller. William’s vocal is accompanied by layers of strings, percussion and Thom Bell’s trademark horn sound that punctuates the arrangement. Randy and Wilbert’s harmonies are subtle, in contrast to the rest of the arrangement. Later, a lone horn solo drifts across the arrangement, replaced by the lushest of strings. This is just the finishing touch to what’s a intriguing and soulful version of Bacharach and David’s classic track.
Can You Remember is the final track Thom Bell and William Hart cowrote on La La Means I Love You. It’s a slow song, that could only have been recorded by The Delfonics, given its sound. Not only that, but the track could’ve only been produced by Thom Bell. Percussion, layers of lush strings and the rhythm section combine. Drums are loud, prominent in the mix, while William delivers one his vocal gently and tenderly. Similarly, Randy and Wilbert’s harmonies are soft, subtle and hugely soulful. Together, with one of William’s best vocals on the album, this makes this one of the highlights of La La Means I Love You.
Closing La La Means I Love You is A Lover’s Concerto, which Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell cowrote. It’s a mid-tempo track, with an uplifting, joyous sound, perfect to close the album. The interplay between William’s lead vocal and Wilbert and Randy’s harmonies is seamless. They feed off each other, while strings cascade, rasping horns drift in and out, as the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. However, it’s William’s impassioned, joyous vocal and Wilbert and Randy’s harmonies that are key to the track, and make this such an uplifting and blissful track to close the album.
Although La La Means I Love You was only The Delfonics debut album and Thom Bell’s first album as producer, this is a mature, polished and highly accomplished album. Six of the songs were co-written by Thom Bell and William Hart, demonstrating their talents as songwriters. To write such a classic track as La La Means I Love You was quite a remarkable achievement. Not only was it a huge hit, selling over a million copies, but since then, has become a classic Delfonics track and one that represents the nascent and developing Philly Sound. On La La Means I Love You, William Hart’s vocals brought each song to life, delivering his vocal with the requisite emotion. Whether it was joy, sadness or passion, William got that across, while Randy and Wilbert added harmonies that complimented his vocal. Thom Bell played an important part in The Delfonics success story. Even on La La Means I Love You, you can hear his trademark sound developing. Key to this was his use of his trademark lone horn, strings and prominent placement of the drums in the mix. He was key to the development of the Philly Sound, before Gamble and Huff along with Thom, would make it famous worldwide and make it the soundtrack to much of the seventies. Similarly, the genesis of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and M.F.S.B. Bassist Ronnie Baker and guitarist Norman Harris played on La La Means I Love You, and would then be joined by Earl Young, completing the legendary rhythm section and heartbeat of M.F.S.B. Joining Ronnie Baker and Norman Harris in M.F.S.B. would be Vince Montana and Don Renaldo, who both played this album. Obviously, La La Means I Love You was hugely important for The Delfonics. Not only was it their debut album, but La La Means I Love You is perceived as a classic album, influential, innovative and important in the development of the nascent Philly Sound. After this, both The Delfonics would become one of the most popular purveyors of the Philly Sound. The Philly Sound would go on to dominate seventies soul, and over forty years later, we’re celebrating the sound made famous first by Thom Bell, then perfected by Gamble and Huff. It’s smooth, polished and and lush sound is still loved and admired. However, without Thom Bell and The Delfonics, the story might be very different. So, Thom Bell and The Delfonics, we thank you, for the part you played in developing what became known as the Philly Sound. Standout Tracks: I’m Sorry, Break Your Promise, La La Means I Love You and Can You Remember.
THE DELFONICS-LA LA MEANS I LOVE YOU.