MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD-MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD.

MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD-MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD.

Anyone familiar with the history of Philly Soul, will realize that some of the best music was written or produced by musical partnerships. Obviously the best known is Gamble and Huff, but there are many more. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section were also a successful production partnership, while Norman Harris forged successful songwriting partnerships with Allan Felder and Bunny Sigler. Guitarist and producer Bobby “Electronic” Eli, enjoyed a successful songwriting partnership with Vinnie Barrett, writing classics like Sideshow, recorded by Blue Magic. Dexter Wansel and Linda Creed proved a potent songwriting partnership, penning a classic tracks aplenty. Another of Philly Soul’s successful partnerships was McFadden and Whitehead. 

Gene McFadden and John Whitehead had formed their partnership in Philly back in the seventies and went on to become one of the most successful songwriting and production partnerships. Apart from writing and producing other artists, McFadden and Whitehead enjoyed a successful recording career. Their 1979 eponymous debut album McFadden and Whitehead featured a stonewall, seminal Philly Soul classic, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. Not only did Ain’t No Stopping Us Now give McFadden and Whitehead a gold disc, but their debut album McFadden and Whitehead proved to be their most successful album. Before I tell you about McFadden and Whitehead, I’ll tell you about McFadden and Whitehead’s career.

When Gene McFadden and John Whitehead were just teenagers, they formed The Epsilons, which also included future member of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Lloyd Parks. Soon, they were discovered by Otis Redding and toured with Otis until his tragic death in 1967. Just five years later, in 1972, McFadden and Whitehead cowrote their first Philly Soul classic.

After Gamble and Huff formed Philadelphia International Records, McFadden and Whitehead joined the nascent label as songwriters. Their first success was Back Stabbers, which they cowrote with Leon Huff. This launched McFadden and Whitehead as songwriters. Soon, they would become one of Philadelphia International Records’ most successful songwriting partnerships. Later, they add production to their talents. At Philadelphia International they worked with artists like The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, M.F.S.B, Archie Bell and The Drells, Patti La Belle and The Jones Girls. Soon, their songwriting and production skills were noticed further afield, and saw McFadden and Whitehead work with some of the biggest names in music.

Given their track record as songwriters and producers, McFadden and Whitehead’s talents were in demand away from Philadelphia International Records. Soon, McFadden and Whitehead were working with some of soul music’s royalty. This included writing and producing for Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, James Brown, Gloria Gaynor, The Jackson 5 and Melba Moore. By 1979, McFadden and Whitehead decided to add another string to their bow, becoming recording artists.

For McFadden and Whitehead’s 1979 debut album for Philadelphia International Records, entitled McFadden and Whitehead, they cowrote eight tracks with Jerry Cohen. This included one track that would become synonymous with McFadden and Whitehead, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. Recording of Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now and the other seven tracks took place at Philly’s legendary studio, Sigma Sound Studios.

Accompanying McFadden and Whitehead on their debut album McFadden and Whitehead a rhythm section of drummer Keith Benson, bassist James Williams and guitarists Dennis Harris and Bobby “Electronic” Eil guitar. They were joined by keyboardist Jerry Cohen, percussionists Don Renaldo, Bobby Cupid and David Cruse. Adding backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton, The Futures and McFadden and Whitehead. McFadden and Whitehead produced McFadden and Whitehead, which was released in 1979. 

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now was the lead single from McFadden and Whitehead, released in 1979. It was a huge success, reaching number thirteen in the US Billboard 100, number one in the US R&B Charts and number ten in the Dance Music/Club Play Charts. This gave McFadden and Whitehead their first gold disc. When McFadden and Whitehead was released, it reached number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. I’ve Been Pushed Aside was released as the followup to Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now in 1980, but stalled at number seventy-three in the US R&B Charts. McFadden and Whitehead proved that there was no end to McFadden and Whitehead’s talents. Not only were they successful songwriters, arrangers and producers, but after the release of McFadden and Whitehead.

Opening McFadden and Whitehead is the classic single Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now. As the song bursts into life, James Williams’ pounding, meandering bass line plays a vital part in arrangement. It provides the pulsating heartbeat. Drums and guitars join lush sweeping, swirling strings, before the Sweethearts of Sigma’s tight, joyous harmonies sweep in. Burst of rasping horns signal the arrival of John Whitehead’s lead. His delivers is like a paean to positivity. John becomes a preacher, preaching belief and positivity. Nothing is insurmountable. Anything is possible. The Sweethearts of Sigma add soulful, impassioned harmonies, as if convinced by John’s message. By then, swathes of strings, bursts of growling horns, keyboards and the rhythm section provide the perfect, joyful, catchy backdrop. Disco, soul and funk unite. Gene adds backing vocals, joining the Sweethearts of Sigma. Later, as this seven minute Magnus Opus goes through the gears, John and Gene with the Sweethearts of Sigma take the track to its hook laden, uplifting and joyous conclusion. After seven majestic minutes, you realize just why this is a timeless, seminal Philly Soul classic, that sold over eight-million copies.

I’ve Pushed Aside was the followup to Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now. Following such a classic wasn’t easy, but McFadden and Whitehead give it their best. Growling horns, cascading horns and punchy harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma give way to the hearfelt vocal. Drama and emotion unite, both in the arrangement and vocal. Bursts of swirling strings add to the drama, while John and Gene vamp and plea their way through the arrangement, with cascading harmonies from Sweethearts of Sigma for company. Swirling strings, rasping horns, dramatic drums and soaring harmonies provide the perfect backdrop for John’s vocal. He lays bare his soul, while Gene and the Sweethearts of Sigma reflect and highlight his heartache. The result is a deeply soulful, emotive roller coaster of a track, that’s also heartachingly beautiful.

Mr. Music sees McFadden and Whitehead change style, taking the album in the direction of funk. Gone is the Philly Soul of I’ve Pushed Aside and the fusion of disco, Philly Soul and funk of the classic Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now. Replacing this is a slice of funk that reveals its secrets at breakneck speed. John’s sassy vocal is accompanied by the funkiest of bass lines from James Williams, handclaps and growling horns. Gene adds vampy backing vocals, as John’s vocal becomes a feisty, sassy snarl. Like Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now, there’s no short of hooks and James Williams’ funky bass plays a starring role.

I Just Wanna Love You Baby sees the funk and sass of the previous track continue. Chiming guitars, punchy tender harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma give way to John’s powerful, sassy and confident vocal. He’s accompanied by growling horns and an uber funky rhythm section. They sound like they belong on a P-funk album. The Sweethearts of Sigma’s soaring, soulful harmonies remind you this is an album released on Philadelphia International Records. Having said that, John’s vocal is power and passion personified, as he vamps his way through the track, complete with a gloriously funky arrangement, that brings Side One of McFadden and Whitehead to a close.

Got To Change opens Side Two of McFadden and Whitehead. Again, James Williams bass plays an important part, as do the soaring, swooping and soulful harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. John’s vocal soars, filling the space between the harmonies. The layers of the lushest string sweep and swirl as the drama builds and builds. Only then does John’s pleading vocal enter, as he sings how things have “Got To Change.” It’s a song with a message, just like their first hit single Back Stabbers. He delivers a truly heartfelt vocal against the pounding, pulsating bass, lush, sweeping strings and soaring harmonies. Drama and anger join sadness and emotion as guitars chime, strings swirl and horns growl as John, with Gene adding backing vocals delivers one of his most impassioned, heartfelt vocal. He pleads and begs for things to change as one of the highlights of McFadden and Whitehead reveals its secrets.

You’re My Someone To Love sees the tempo slow, with the arrangement revealing a sound that has made in Philly written all over it. The arrangement, with the lush strings, guitars drenched in reverb and slow rhythm section remind me of Thom Bell’s work with The Delfonics and The Stylistics. James Williams’ meandering bass proves the only difference. When John’s vocal enters, it’s one of his emotive, impassioned deliveries. His vocal grows in power and soulfulness, as the Sweethearts of Sigma’s harmonies sweep in. They add to the song’s emotion and beauty as John delivers what’s one of his best vocals. It’s a vocal Magnus Opus from John Whitehead on what is a hidden gem of a bedroom ballad.

Like other songs on McFadden and Whitehead, James Williams’ powerful, funky bass opens I Got the Love. It doesn’t take long to realize this songs roots are in Memphis circa 1966. A driving, funky rhythm section, piano, growling horns and gospel tinged harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma join John’s vocal. His delivery reminds me of Otis Redding, as he vamps his way through the song, feeding off the Sweethearts of Sigma’s tight, soaring harmonies. Blazing horns, a bluesy piano and the driving rhythm section combine soul and gospel. Again, John is like a preacher, testifying, as he makes you a believer in McFadden and Whitehead’s vintage sounding fusion of sixties soul and gospel.

Closing McFadden and Whitehead is Do You Want To Dance? Lush strings, sweep and swirl while a thunderous, funky rhythm section and John’s vocal teases you. The arrangement slowly unfolds, revealing the lushest of strings, tough keyboards and a funky rhythm section, lead by James Williams’ bass. They’re joined by cascading harmonies courtesy of the Sweethearts of Sigma. Then at last, John’s whispery, breathy vocal enters. Soon it grows in power, with the Sweethearts of Sigma adding joyful harmonies, horns rasping and strings sweeping and swirling. John’s vocal become a foxy, sassy drawl as he teases, before unleashing a powerful vamp, matched all the way by the Sweethearts of Sigma. They match him for soulfulness and joyousness as this anthemic, hook-laden dance-floor friendly closes McFadden and Whitehead on a high.

By the time McFadden and Whitehead released their debut album McFadden and Whitehead in 1979, they were ready to make their return as recording artists. For too long, they written, arranged and produced other artists. In their hearts, they knew that they could match or surpass the success these artists enjoyed. So they set about writing eight tracks with bassist Jerry Cohen. These songs became McFadden and Whitehead, which gave them the most successful album of their career. McFadden and Whitehead was helped no end by the success of the seminal classic Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now, which sold eight million copies worldwide. Since then, it’s become a Philly Soul classic, as popular now, as it was in 1979. However, there was much more to McFadden and Whitehead than just one song. 

Heartfelt, soul-baring ballads like Got To Change and You’re My Someone To Love are among the album’s highlights, joining the two singles Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now and I’ve Been Pushed Aside. Do You Want To Dance brings McFadden and Whitehead to a hook-laded, dance-floor friendly close. The success of McFadden and Whitehead couldn’t have come at a better time for Philadelphia International Records. No longer were Philadelphia International Records enjoying hit after hit like the label’s early years. Teddy Pendergrass and The O’Jays were Philadelphia International Records’ biggest stars. So the success of McFadden and Whitehead helped prove that Philadelphia International Records was still a major force in soul music.

Following McFadden and Whitehead, McFadden and Whitehead only released one further album for Philadelphia International Records, I Heard It In A Love Song in 1980. Three years later, in 1983 their third and final album, the aptly titled Movin’ On was released on Capitol Records. However, neither of these albums matched the success and quality of McFadden and Whitehead, who proved that they were much more than songwriters, arrangers and producers, but also successful artists in their own right. McFadden and Whitehead, featuring the eight-million selling Philly Soul classic  Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now is proof of this. Standout Tracks: Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now, I’ve Been Pushed Aside, Got To Change and You’re My Someone To Love. 

MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD-MCFADDEN AND WHITEHEAD.

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