Although Joe Simon had been around since the 1959, releasing his debut album Joe Simon in 1963, for the next ten years, he struggled to make a commercial breakthrough. Granted Joe enjoyed a string on minor hit singles on Vee Jay Records and the Sound Stage label. Unfortunately, he wasn’t making the breakthrough people expected. Then in 1969, Joe’s lucked started to change. 

The Chokin’ Kind, released in 1969 on Sound Stage, climbed all the way to number one in the US R&B Charts. Ten years after his career had started, he’d at last made a commercial breakthrough. Then things got better. As a new decade dawned, Joe Simon signed to Spring Records, a subsidiary of Polydor. He was encouraged to sign to Spring, by Paul Richbourg, the Tennessee DJ who’d managed and produced Joe. It was Paul who produced Joe’s seventh album and Spring debut The Sounds of Simon. For the followup to The Sounds of Simon, Spring decided a new producer was needed. Enter Gamble and Huff. They’d produce Joe’s eighth album, Drowning In the Sea of Love, which was a game-changer for Joe Simon’s career.

During the past few years, Gamble and Huff had been establishing a reputation as one of the hottest songwriting and production teams. They’d met at Cameo Parkway and eventually formed their own label Gamble Records. That would provide the basis for a new label they’d formed in 1972, Philadelphia International Records. This was still to come. Little did they realize in 1971, when they started working with Joe Simon what was about to come their way. Helped no end by some of the most talented songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians, Philadelphia International Records became one of the biggest and most important labels of not just the seventies, but in musical history. For the recording of what became Joe Simon’s Drowning In the Sea of Love, these songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians would play a crucial part in the album’s sound and success.

For Joe Simon’s eighth album, Drowning In the Sea of Love, Gamble and Huff cowrote five tracks, the title-track Drowning In the Sea of Love, Something You Can Do Today, The Mirror Don’t Lie, Ole Night Owl and Let Me Be the One Who Loves You. Bunny Sigler and Phil Hurtt also cowrote four tracks, Glad To Be Your Lover, I Found My Dad, The Mirror Don’t Lie and If. The other track on Drowning In the Sea of Love was the Thom Bell and Linda Creed penned You Are Everything. These ten tracks were recorded at what would be come a familiar place for Gamble and Huff, Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios.

Joining Joe Simon at Sigma Sound Studios for the Drowning In the Sea of Love session, were some of the most important musicians in what became the legendary Philadelphia International Records’ house-band M.F.S.B. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and guitarists T.J. Tindall and Roland Chambers. Larry Washington played congas and bongos, Vince Montana Jr vibes, Lenny Pakula organ and Leon Huff piano and electric piano. Adding backing vocals and harmonies, were the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Arranging the ten tracks were Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Ron Baker, Thom Bell and Lenny Pakula. Gamble and Huff produced Drowning In the Sea of Love, which was released in 1972. Drowning In the Sea of Love would prove a game-changer for Joe Simon’s career.

Drowning In the Sea of Love was chosen as the lead single in 1971. It reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts, selling over one-million copies. This gave Joe Simon a gold disc. It wouldn’t be the last gold disc of 1972 coming Joe’s way. On the release of Drowning In the Sea of Love reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Then, Pool of Bad Luck reached number forty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. When Power of Love was released as a single, it gave Joe his most successful single, reaching number eleven in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Strike two. Here was gold disc number two for Joe Simon. I Found My Dad the reached number seventy-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. With Gamble and Huff and Philly’s finest arrangers, producers, songwriters and musicians’ help, Drowning In A Sea of Love had transformed Joe Simon’s career. You’ll realize that when I tell you about Drowning In A Sea of Love.

Opening Drowning In A Sea of Love, is the Gamble and Huff penned title-track Drowning In A Sea of Love, arranged by Thom Bell. Just plucked strings, quivering, quizzical strings, grizzled horns and wah-wah guitars combine, before a dramatic burst of Earl Young’s drums, signals the arrival of Joe’s pleading, questioning vocal. Washes of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ, combine with Baker, Harris, Young to drive the arrangement along. Thunderous bursts of Earl’s drums, growling horns and  lush strings accompany Joe. Cooing, probing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma are the perfect foil for Joe’s soul-baring, hurt filled vocal. He unleashes a vocal Magnus Opus, as if he’s lived, breathed and survived the pain and heartache he’s singing about. With Gamble and Huff’s production skills and M.F.S.B’s musical backdrop, you realize this album is a game-changer, and hungrily await the rest of the songs.

In some ways, Glad To Be Your Lover is quite different from what Gamble and Huff produced at Philadelphia International Records. That’s no surprise, given Joe’s country background. Granted, the same instruments are used, with braying horns, guitars reverberating and  Larry Washington adding congas. When Joe’s thankful vocal enters, Baker, Harris, Young, blazing horns and Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ provide a sultry backdrop. Harmonies and horns respond to the power and joy in Joe’s vocal, as he gives thanks, Glad To Be Your Lover.

Something You Can Do Today is the first of the tracks Bobby Martin arranged on Drowning In A Sea of Love. Again, Joe’s vocal breathes life, meaning and emotion to the lyrics. This he does against an urgent, dramatic backdrop. Horns rasp and blaze, strings sweep and swirl with purpose and Baker, Harris, Young provide a sense of urgency. Providing a contrast are Norman Harris’ sparse, jazzy guitar, a myriad of percussion and backing vocals. Each play their part in providing a dramatic, powerful and emotive backdrop for Joe’s heartfelt and emotive reading of Gamble and Huff’s lyrics.

As I Found My Dad begins to reveal its secrets, it’s just a pensive, chiming guitar, cascading strings and growling horns. They provide a wistful, questioning backdrop for Joe’s vocal. It’s filled with heartache, before Joe finds hope and happiness. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section play a starring role. Ron Baker’s bass drives along, Norman Harris’ guitar is subtle and melancholy while Earl Young’s drums inject bursts of drama. There’s a Spanish influence to the horns, while parts of the arrangement take on a Latin sound. Sometimes, Joe’s vocal is reminiscent of James Carr. With bursts of horns, percussion, swirling strings and harmonies accompanying Joe, heartache and hurt becomes hope and joy as Joe emOtively sings “I Found My Dad.”

Side One of Drowning In A Sea of Love closes with The Mirror Don’t Lie. Although the tempo drops, there’s not let up in the drama and emotion. Here, Joe’s country background shines through, allowing him to deliver one of his most powerful, potent vocals. Norman Harris takes charge of arranging the track. Wah-wah guitars and Ron Baker’s moody bass combine with swathes of strings, as Joe scats. A burst of Earl Young drums reflects the emotion in Joe’s vocal. He digs deep, resulting in one of his most fervent, inspired vocals. You feel he’s lived the lyrics. His delivery is from his heart. Searing guitar licks, bursts of thunderous drums and strings that match Joe’s vocal for sheer emotion all play their part in making this one of the most moving and deeply soulful tracks on Drowning In A Sea of Love.

Earl Young’s pounding drums and Ron Baker’s bass provide the heartbeat for Ole Night Owl. Not to be outdone, Norman Harris adds some beautiful, melancholy guitar licks while Vince Montana Jr sprinkles his inimitable vibes across the arrangement. As if taking his lead from Baker, Harris, Young Joe delivers a wistful, tender and beautiful vocal. Add cooing, punchy harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma and the lushest of strings and the result is a quite beautiful tracks that’ll strike a chord with Ole Night Owl’s everywhere.

Linda Creed and Thom Bell, another of the great songwriting partnerships of the Philly Sound penned You Are Everything. Here, a familiar song is slowed down, but bathed in strings and drama. Swathes of the lushest strings join sultry horns and stabs of keyboards. With Ron Baker’s broody bass accompanying Joe, he goes on to deliver a truly stunning vocal. His vocal is raw emotion, Memories come flooding back, with Joe almost filling up, with emotion. The Sweethearts of Sigma add harmonies and with the lushest strings for company prove a potent combination. They reinforce and reflect the emotion in Joe’s vocal as he totally reinvents a classic track.

Joe’s voice is filled with pain and hurt from the opening bars of If, the biggest word in the dictionary. Searing guitars, grizzled horns and a dramatic backdrop for Joe’s vocal. He seems troubled, worried and filled with despair as he sings of the the worlds ills and problems. WIth the Sweethearts of Sigma add impassioned harmonies, Joe sings what If, there’d be no war, poverty or social problems. “If we learn to love one another..the world would be a better place.” M.F.S.B, and the Sweethearts of Sigma play their part  in making this Bunny Sigler and Phil Hurtt penned track one of the most moving, powerful and socially relevant songs on Drowning In The Sea of Love.

Let Me Be the One Who Loves You sees the tempo drop again, briefly. Just Larry Washington’s congas, stabs of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ and searing guitars combine. When Baker, Harris, Young and Joe take charge, they soon kick loose. Baker, Harris, Young and a piano drive the arrangement along, with Ron Baker’s bass providing the heartbeat. Strings dance, while Joe’s hopeful, joyous vocal is accompanied by the Sweethearts of Sigma. They ensure the song swings along, playing their part in this memorable slice of uptempo, poppy soul.

Not many albums are bookended by million selling singles. Drowning In The Sea of Love is. Pool of Bad Luck closes the album. It has a moody, atmospheric opening. Guitars reverberate, strings swirl urgently and horns growl. Baker, Harris, Young provide a dramatic heartbeat, while Joe delivers one of his impassioned vocals. Urgent, punchy harmonies answer his call, while flourishes of strings and bursts of blazing horns and drums provide a dramatic, urgent backdrop for Joe’s heartbroken vocal. This bookends Drowning In The Sea of Love nicely,  an it heads to an emotive, dramatic and soulful close.

After thirteen years in the music industry, most of which had been spent trying to make a commercial breakthrough, critical acclaim and commercial success came Joe Simon’s way. This was down to his decision to hookup with Gamble and Huff and their multitalented team of Philly-based songwriter, arrangers, producers and musicians. The result was Drowning In The Sea of Love, with Joe Simon breathing life, meaning, emotion and drama into the ten tracks fusing soul and country. Providing the musical backdrop was an early lineup of what became Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. and the Sweethearts of Sigma. Given how many talented people were involved in the making of Drowning In The Sea of Love, it’s no wonder the album proved so successful. Not only was Drowning In The Sea of Love, Joe Simon’s most successful album, but contained two million selling singles. Having rejuvenated Joe Simon’s career, Gamble and Huff  never recorded another full album with Joe Simon. They did produce two tracks on his 1973s The Power of Joe Simon. 

After working with Gamble and Huff, Joe’s career continued. His fortunes were mixed. He enjoyed five top ten US R&B top ten hits,  with his 1975 single Get Down, Get Down (Get On the Floor) giving him the fourth US R&B number one. By the end of the seventies Joe Simon was changing. He’d become a Christian and by the early eighties, decided to record gospel music. That saw the end of a chapter in Joe Simon’s life story. That chapter spanned four decades and over twenty years. During that time, Joe Simon released many albums, but Drowning In The Sea of Love, a deliciously soulful album with a country twist is the best of his career. Two million-selling singles are just one of ten reasons why. Standout Tracks: Drowning In The Sea of Love, The Mirror Don’t Lie, Ole Night Owl and Pool of Bad Luck.


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