BACKBEATS: PHILLY GEMS-MORE PHILLY DISCO FLOOR-FILLERS.

BACKBEATS: PHILLY GEMS-MORE PHILLY DISCO FLOOR-FILLERS

One of the music industry’s big success stories of recent years has been Harmless Records’ Backbeats compilation series. In the last three years, the Backbeats’ compilation series has grown to become the world’s most popular compilation series. That is a remarkable achievement. We shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, for the last three years, Backbeats has consistently delivered quality compilations at budget prices. For soul, jazz and funk fans on a limited budget, the Backbeats compilations aren’t going to break the band. Not at all. Indeed, the next six installments of the Backbeat series are available for just £3, $4.50 or €4 each when they’re released on 20th May 2013. Of the next six installments in the Backbeats series, one I’ve been looking forward to is Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers.

Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers compiled by Ralph Tee, features sixteen tracks from labels like Philadelphia International Records, Buddah Records, Epic and Columbia. Featuring tracks from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, M.F.S.B, The Trammps, The O’Jays, Philly Devotions and The Futures, it’s like a who’s who of Philly Soul. This all-star lineup continues with the songwriters, arrangers and producers. Among them are Gamble and Huff, McFadden, Whitehead and Carstarphen, John Davis, Jefferson, Simmons and Hakwes and Norman Harris to name but a few. Whether you’re a veteran of Philly Soul compilations like myself, or a relative newcomer, then there’s plenty to interest you on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

What better way is there to open Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers than with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost. This was a track from their sophomore album Black and Blue, which was released in 1973, on Philadelphia International Records. It reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. When The Love I Lost was released as single, it reached number seven in the US Billboard 100 charts and number one in the R&B Charts. That’s no surprise though, as Teddy’s heartbroken, emotive vamp was a career defining vocal, resulting in the track becoming a Philly Soul classic.

Gamble and Huff had guided The Intruders career since their 1967 debut album The Intruders Are Together. This included signing them to Gamble Records, then Philadelphia International and  producing their 1968 number one single Cowboys To Girls. With McFadden and Whitehead, Gamble and Huff cowrote Save The Children, the title-track to their 1973 album. Released in 1973, Save The Children was their fourth album. It reached number 133 in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. When Save The Children, which was produced by Gamble and Huff, was released as a single, it fared better reaching number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Beautiful, soulful and heartfelt, it’s a potent reminder of one of Philly Soul’s most underrated groups.

What many people forget, is that there’s much more to Philly Soul than the music released on Philadelphia International Records. Proof of this is the Philly Devotions’ I Just Can’t Say Goodbye. Originally released on Don Re in 1974, it was rereleased in 1975 on Columbia. Sadly, its release on Columbia didn’t achieve the hit the record label had hoped for. Written and produced by John Davis, this single epitomizes Philly Soul. Matthew Covington’s lead vocal is not unlike Russell Tompkins of The Stylistics, as he lays bare his soul with swathes of strings and cascading harmonies for company.

During his eight-year spell at Philadelphia International Records, Billy Paul released nine albums, and in the process, become the label’s first male superstar. People Power was from his 1975 album When Love Is New. It reached number 139 in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts. People Power reached number eighty-two in the US R&B Charts and number fourteen in the US Disco Charts. When Love Is New was a combination of beautiful love songs and songs filled with social and political comment. The album opener People Power, was written by McFadden and Whitehead with Victor Castarphen. Thirty-eight years later, this soulful call for unity and action is just as relevant.

The Futures’ Party Time Man is a tale of escapism from the 9-5, Monday to Friday drudgery. Party Time Man was a track from The Futures’ sophomore album Past, Present and Futures. Released in 1978, on Philadelphia International Records, it stalled at number ninety-four in the US R&B Charts. Written Ted Marchall and Sherman Marshall, who produced the track, this hook-laden, dance-track benefits from The Sweethearts of Sigma’s joyous harmonies. They’re the perfect foil to The Futures on a track that’s became synonymous with them.

Love Epidemic was originally released by The Trammps in 1973, on Golden Fleece Records. This was a label owned by the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, who produced the track. It was written by Leroy Green and Norman Harris and reached number seventy-five in the US R&B Charts. Two years later, Love Epidemic featured on The Trammps debut album Trammps, released on Golden Fleece. Trammps was an early disco album, and reached number 159 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Along with Where Do We Go From Here, Love Epidemic is one of the highlights of Trammps and features the vocal prowess of the late Jimmy Ellis, disco preacher par excellence.

Of all the artists on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, David Morris Jr. might not have had the longest or most successful career, but he’s responsible for one of the most soulful offerings. Midnight Lady was released on Buddah Records in 1976. Produced by Ed Biggins, Bud Ross and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, who arranged the track, this is a real hidden gem that even many Philly Soul fans won’t be aware of. Incidentally, the B-side of Midnight Lady, Jack In The Box, features on Tom Moulton’s forthcoming compilation Philly Re-Grooved Volume 3.

By 1975, Anacostia had been signed to Columbia Records for three years. During that period, success had eluded them. They’d released four singles, to little or no success. Something had to give. So in 1975, Columbia hooked them up with one of the hottest production teams of the time..Baker, Harris, Young. The legendary rhythm section and production team transformed the Tom Boyd penned All I Need into a delicious slice of Philly Soul. Soulful, dance-floor friendly and thirty-eight years later, is a truly timeless track, one that deserves a wider audience.

One of the most recognizable songs on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is The O’Jays’ Love Train. It reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts in 1973. Love Train was a track from Backstabbers, The O’Jays first album for Philadelphia International Records. Backstabbers reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. This started a run where The O’Jays next eight albums were certified either gold or platinum. Crucial to The O’Jays success were M.F.S.B. Here, the original lineup of M.F.SB. featuring the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, vibes virtuosos Vince Montana Jr, percussionist Larry and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli kick loose. Not only did M.F.S.B. help transform The O’Jays into Philly Soul’s most successful group, but provide the backdrop for one of their most joyous and uplifting songs, Love Train, a musical slice of sunshine.

My final choice from Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is M.F.S.B’s Love Is The Message. This was the title-track to their 1973 album. It reached number four in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. When Love Is The Message was released as a single, it only reached number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. What Love Is The Message demonstrates, is how important a role M.F.S.B. played in the Philadelphia International Records’ success story. Often their role is overlooked or underestimated. That should never be allowed to happen. Listen to Love Is The Message and you’ll hear some of the greatest musicians of the seventies in full flight. Quite simply, it’s a joy to behold.

Having looked forward to the hearing Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, I wasn’t disappointed. Compiler Ralph Tee has dug deep, and come up with a combination of familiar tracks and hidden gems. This mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar means Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers will appeal to different types of buyers. Familiar tracks from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Biilly Paul, The Futures, The Trammps, The O’Jays and M.F.S.B. will appeal to either to newcomers to Philly Soul or occasional compilation buyers. What I refer to as hidden gems, including Gateway, David Morris Jr, City Limits and Anacostia will appeal to veterans of Philly Soul compilations. So, compiler Ralph Tee has managed to find a happy medium between Philly Soul classics and hidden gems. What he’s also done, is proved that there’s more to Philly Soul than Philadelphia International Records.

For many people, Philly Soul starts and ends with Philadelphia International Records. How wrong could they be? There’s much, much more to Philly Soul than one label, albeit Philly Soul’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful labels. Many labels, both big and small, released Philly Soul. Philly Groove Records, Don Re, SAM Records, Atlantic, Atco, Epic and Columbia are just a few of the labels who released Philly Soul. Overlook these labels at your peril. If you do, you’ll miss out on some of the greatest Philly Soul ever released. This would included The Spinners, The Stylistics and The Delfonics, all produced by Thom Bell. You’d also overlook many of the artists Richard Rome, John Davis and Norman Harris produced. So you’d never hear the delights of Blue Magic, First Choice, Major Harris and The Ritchie Family. That would be a great shame, these artists and producers were responsible for some of Philly Soul’s finest moments.

Not only does Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers feature some of Philly Soul’s finest moments, but features forgotten and hidden gems. They’re given new life and introduced to a new, and wider audience by compiler Ralph Tee on Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers, which will be released by Harmless Records on 20th May 2013. So whether you’re a veteran of Philly Soul or relative newcomer to Philly Soul, then Backbeats: Philly Gems-More Philly Disco Floor-Fillers is essential listening. Standout Tracks: Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost, Billy Paul People Power, David Morris Jr. Midnight Lady and M.F.S.B. Love Is The Message.

BACKBEATS: PHILLY GEMS-MORE PHILLY DISCO FLOOR-FILLERS.

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