"Ain't it a groove!" Teddy Pendergrass exclaims on ""Tell the World How I Feel About 'Cha Baby," one of many classics tracks on the new compilation Get Down with the Philly Sound. One of the most enduring musical genres to emerge from the '70s is Philadelphia Soul, typified by lush strings, blaring horns, and complex arrangements. Responsible for such pioneering acts as The O'Jays, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Pendergrass, the music helped spawn the disco sound and launched the careers of legendary songwriters/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Songs such as "Backstabbers" and "If You Don't Know Me by Now" still permeate the airwaves. To celebrate the Philadelphia Sound's vast influence on modern R&B, DJ Dimitri from Paris has released Get Down with the Philly Sound, an essential collection packed with extended versions of well-known (and more obscure) cuts that focus on the genre's contribution to dance.
Get Down with the Philly Sound consists of two CDs; the first contains a collection of outstanding dance tracks by such artists as Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Trammps, and Eddie Kendricks. CD two features remixes of select tracks by Dimitri from Paris. A deluxe booklet chronicles the history of Philly Soul, complete with new interviews with original session musicians and color photos.
Three aspects of the album stand out; first, each of these songs was exquisitely arranged and produced. Try to resist those majestic horns on "You Can't Hide from Yourself" while the strings surround Pendergrass's voice, which warns listeners that "You can't hide/Look in the mirror/There you are." Second, the percussion on these tracks are second to none. Legendary DJ Tom Moulton's mix of the Philly Devotion's version of "Hurts So Bad" highlights the irresistible Latin percussion that entices people to dance. Similarly, TJM's "I Don't Need No Music" combines complex percussion with a rich string arrangement to create a fuller sound, one tailor-made for a large speaker system.
Finally, Pendergrass's soaring vocals transform many cuts from typical disco to incredibly soulful, sincere tracks addressing love, loss, and frustration with life. Just listen to his performance on "Bad Luck," particularly his extended rap toward the end of the song. His laments on not having enough money, losing a job, and disenchantment with the president sound as angry and poignant today as they did in 1975. The extended version of "The More I Get, the More I Want" spotlights Pendergrass's gravely, expressive voice that just oozes funk and soul.
Other interesting tracks include the long version of the Jacksons's 1976 cut "Living Together," which combined the Jacksons's signature harmonies and Michael's lilting vocals within the trappings of the Philadelphia Sound. Indeed, Gamble and Huff helped revive their career, and the 1976 album The Jacksons helped the group transform from the boy band of the Jackson 5 into mature performers. Charles Mann puts a decidedly funky spin on Steely Dan's "Do It Again," with a beat and horns straight out of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Music purists may wince at John Davis's disco reworking of "Night and Day," but the song does represent a time when virtually any song could be remade for the dance floor.
One curiosity is the Trammps track "The Night the Lights Went Out," which commemorates the 1977 blackout in New York City. Better known for their classic "Disco Inferno," the group puts a humorous and sexy spin on the event, stating that during the blackout the lead singer "took his lady by the hand/And led her to loveland." Other rarer tracks include "He's a Friend," in which Temptations member Kendricks combines dance with gospel, and the gay anthem "I Was Born This Way," which features beautiful strings and a funky bass line.
Disc two includes Dimitri from Paris's remixes of several tracks; in the booklet, he emphasizes that he used the original multitrack parts to create the extended versions. The DJ clearly respects the original sound, as he adds very subtle touches, lengthening the percussion or further extracting the passionate vocals.
Listening to this compilation provides a new perspective on an outstanding era in soul. More than simply disco, these songs represent a time when R&B blended with Latin percussion and some classical elements to create a unique sound. Pick up Get Down with the Philly Sound and appreciate the craftsmanship of these classic tracks.
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