[7 December 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
If Motown was the granddaddy of modern Black music, and Stax was its scruffy, shady-yet-magnetic uncle, Philly Soul was the prim-and-proper little sister with a mean streak beneath the makeup. If universality is a sign of great pop, Philadelphia International produced some of the best. Ever. That music is at the center of the long-overdue Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia. A four-disc, 71-track set, it features no fewer that 26 #1 R&B hits and 27 Top Ten pop hits. Though it spans from Gamble, Huff, and Bell’s early careers to Philadelphia International’s distribution deal with EMI in 1984, its main focus is on the halcyon years 1971-1976. And the collection, overseen by Gamble and Huff themselves, does it right. Everything’s chronological, from start to finish. No incongruous, “themed” discs. No superfluous demos and live tracks. Just the hits, and there were plenty of them. Philadelphia International’s two premier acts, the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, are as well-represented as one might expect, with over a quarter of the 71 tracks. With few exceptions, Love Train is a de facto greatest hits for both. If you don’t already have the O’Jays and Blue Notes stuff, you’re already behind the ball. But here’s your chance to make things right, because, aside from the obvious classics, the best thing about Love Train is all the relatively underappreciated, sometimes hidden, gems.