Music

Various Artists: Total Soul Classics

Six of the finest albums from the legendary Gamble and Huff production team, remastered and reissued on CD.


The O'Jays

Back Stabbers

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1972
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Billy Paul

360 Degrees of Billy Paul

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1972
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

Wake Up Everybody

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1975
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1977
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Teddy Pendergrass

Life is a Song Worth Singing

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1978
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Leon Huff

Here To Create Music

Subtitle: Total Soul Classics
Label: Legacy
First date: 1980
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Back in the day when I first started listening to music, there was something about the labels on vinyl singles and albums that intrigued me. As I began to obtain more knowledge about music, I was able to associate a specific geographic area and sound with those labels. Philadelphia International, with their familiar yellowish green label and red logo, was one of the companies with the most distinctive sounds: heavily orchestrated, yet danceable songs, many with a socially conscious message. Songwriter/producers (and now Rock & Roll Hall of Famers) Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff created a sound that stood as the bridge between Motown (the label they challenged for R&B supremacy in the Seventies) and disco. Black music in the '70s (and by extension, music in general) would have been a lot different without Gamble and Huff around. To this day, Philly's vibrant soul music scene, which includes current favorites like Jill Scott and the Roots, owes much to this legendary musical duo.

More than 30 years after first seeing the light of day, several Philadelphia International classics are being released as part of Legacy Music’s “Total Soul Classics” series. These six albums -- The O’Jays’ Back Stabbers, Billy Paul’s 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ Wake Up Everybody, Teddy Pendergrass’ self-titled solo debut, its follow-up Life Is a Song Worth Singing, and Huff’s own all-star-featuring album Here to Create Music have been remastered and repackaged, with new liner notes and bonus tracks. With this deluxe treatment, it’s the perfect opportunity for the folks who were there originally to revisit some great music. It's also an opportunity for their kids and grandkids to listen to a musical revolution as it was taking place.

While there’s much to be said for the instrumental prowess of Philadelphia International’s house band, MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother), the real stars of this show were the songwriters and the singers. Gamble & Huff went from explicitly political songs -- check out the O’Jays’ James Brown-esque "When the World’s at Peace" or Paul's militant "Am I Black Enough for You" and chilling incarceration tale "I’m Just a Prisoner" -- to sumptuous bedroom ballads like Pendergrass’s #1 smash "Close the Door" in a heartbeat. At the same time they'd throw in the occasional up-with-people sentiment, like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ "Wake Up Everybody", which features Pendergrass making use of his upbringing as a child preacher with some fiery testifyin‘ near the song‘s close. Not one song here is sung with anything less than complete passion. Gamble & Huff certainly knew how to pick their singers. The vocal style of Paul, best known for the classic cheating ballad "Me & Mrs. Jones", was a little more on the quirky side, as evidenced by his covers of songs like Carole King’s "It’s Too Late". Pendergrass, who also did most of the vocal heavy lifting for the Blue Notes, and the O’Jays’ Eddie LeVert's voices were filled with gospel fervor, a quality that drove their points home, whether they were talking about back stabbers or making sweet love.

It’s interesting to hear the evolution of their sound over the course of the decade-long period that these albums come from. While the oldest of the albums, Back Stabbers, is a more hard-edged funk album, the orchestration got more prominent over time and the music got less explicitly political, leading up to the Pendergrass solo albums, which still had an edge, thanks to his voice, but were more mellow and romantic. Not only did Philly International help lead the way for explicitly socially conscious R&B music, they were also one of the prime architects of the “quiet storm” movement.

Perhaps the most interesting of the six albums is Leon Huff’s one and only solo effort, Here to Create Music, released in 1980. It‘s also the album that has been out-of-print the longest. In similar fashion to Quincy Jones’ albums of the period, Huff doesn’t get behind the mic, instead sticking behind the piano. However, he does enlist a who’s who of Philly International superstars for a couple of songs, including the aptly titled "Your Body Won’t Move, If You Can’t Feel the Groove". And Stevie Wonder contributes his signature harmonica to the instrumentally dense (and quite beautiful) "No Greater Love". Huff really lets his diversity shine on this album, with songs that touch on just about every genre in existence, including classical, jazz and Latin.

These albums are just a sample of the groundbreaking music that came from the Philadelphia International studios in the Seventies. Of course, these were not the only vocalists with whom Gamble & Huff worked. The duo sat behind the boards for classic albums by Patti LaBelle, Phyllis Hyman and the Jacksons, among others. However, these six albums represent some of the best of '70s soul, a turning point in the evolution of black music. It’s a pleasure to welcome these albums in deluxe fashion -- any fan of great soul music will certainly echo my sentiments.

9

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.