1973 was a magical year for music from Philadelphia. Two young songwriters, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, had formed a record company, P.I.R. (Philadelphia International Records), a division of CBS Records. They created a lasting legacy of great music, pairing talented entertainers with their own great songs and those by others to infuse a whole new and delightful energy into soul and R&B.
One night in summer 1973, P.I.R. showcased the Philadelphia sound for 1,500 of music’s movers and shakers at a CBS Records convention. That night became legendary and luckily for us it was recorded, although somehow it took decades before the recording was made public.
Golden Gate Groove: The Sound Of Philadelphia in San Francisco 1973 gives us the best of that night, nearly 40 years after the event. The tapes sat on a shelf for all that time before being restored, mastered and released for our enjoyment. And what a treasure this recording is!
The musicians featured include Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring the “golden voice” of Theodore Pendergrass, Jr. (later known to the world as Teddy Pendergrass), The Three Degrees, Billy Paul, the R&B orchestra MFSB, and The O’Jays. Many of the songs performed that night would become classics of R&B history, and these artists delivered them flawlessly. Emceeing the event was Soul Train‘s Don Cornelius, who died just this past week.
The weak link here is The Three Degrees, who have pretty much been forgotten, not because they weren’t good performers, but because (unlike the other artists included here) they weren’t great. Their performances don’t hold up particularly well, and the song “Dirty Old Man” is today so politically incorrect as to be creepy. It does show how times have changed since the early ’70s, though.
Another politically incorrect but very funny note is Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ rendition of “I Miss You,” featuring a silky spoken piece in the middle in which the lovelorn singer expresses his profound desire to not have his lady back, but just “to hit that thing one more time.” Even if he has to disguise himself as the milkman, he says, he’d “leave four quarts instead of two.”
From the sublimely silly to the simply sublime, the Blue Notes also deliver one of the finest soul songs ever written, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” The 35-piece MFSB perform fantastic versions of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead,” and “T.S.O.P”, AKA the Soul Train theme (twice, actually, since they close out the recording with an encore performance).
Billy Paul provides a slightly psychedelic and, by today’s standards, quite dated performance of a understandably forgotten song called “East,” but he follows it up with the brilliant and unforgettable “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a riveting performance. The O’Jays then close out the show with a stellar set of amazing songs, including “Backstabbers,” “When the World Is At Peace,” “Sunshine,” and “Love Train.”
“It was a historical night in music, the beginning of a major change for rhythm and blues music in America,” says Kenny Gamble in the CD’s liner notes. “It opened doors for rhythm ‘n blues at CBS records and that opened the door to rhythm ‘n blues everywhere.”
The notes also describe 1,000 CBS artists, executives, and others creating a love train during The O’Jays’ performance that stretched through the ballroom and out into the hotel. It was a night that those who attended would never forget and now, thanks to this recording, we can be part of it as well.
A reminder of just how great The Philadelphia Sound really was in its heyday, this CD captures the absolute best of the soul sound along with the energy and excitement that continues to brighten up the lives of of music lovers everywhere.