Philadelphia soul will always be remembered for the hits of the 1970’s; a lush, string-driven, hit-making sound that was probably more responsible for the birth of disco than any other style of music. However, in the 1960’s, Philadelphia began carving out its own sound on stacks of soul 45’s that took the vibe of this gritty east coast city and began adding the type of trademark arrangements into the mix that birthed the patented Philly sound. These records, presented today, are a handful of my all-time favorite soul releases from ANY city; the level of quality from the songwriting, arranging, producing, musicianship and (most of all) the vocals simply don’t get any better.
While it’s fun to own and collect “rare” records, I am always the first one to say that I love hit records of the sixties just as much as deep rarities. Just because a record is rare and sells for lots of money certainly doesn’t make it great! Many super expensive 45′s make me scratch my head at WHY they are so valuable. But, of course, there’s also a few really expensive ones that more than likely I’ll never be able to afford. When I’m DJ’ing, I NEVER leave home without this record.
That said, I am proud to say that this (from 1966) is one of the rarest 45′s in my collection, but, rare or not, it’s SO GOOD. This was released right around the time that tiny little Swan Records went belly up, so more than likely very few got pressed. This song is yet another example of a song that with the right exposure probably could have been a massive hit. The tune was penned by the late great General Johnson, he of The Showmen and Chairmen Of The Board.
Recorded 5 years before Teddy Pendergrass took over lead vocal duties from John Atkins (who is heard here on one of his first lead vocals after Bernard Williams left to form The Original Blue Notes. Huh? One of the rare cases when the named person in the band (Harold Melvin) was hardly ever a lead singer.
This Philadelphia group lasted from the early ’50s until Melvin’s death in the late ’90s, but this 1965 release is the best thing they ever did. Incredibly passionate lead vocals and wonderful group backing with an arrangement to die for. I have learned that just about any record that has Richard Barrett’s name on the label as writer producer or arranger is gonna be a winner (for instance, “Are You Satis-fied”, by the 3 Degrees).
After a few hits and lineup changes, this group took on a surprising, harder edged sound for this single that wasn’t a hit but should have been. What an incredible song. The Orlons story is a bit too complex to get into here (their wikipedia entry is well written and comprehensive) but they hit big with “South Street” and “The Wah Wahtusi” in the pre-British Invasion days; kept making records, such as this one, but never had another hit).
The highly charged ‘You Better Stop It’ (1968) was Barbara Mason’s final single for the brilliant Arctic label (essentially the birthplace for Philly soul), and possibly the most raw and soulful performance of her career. Of course this is purely subjective, as her vocal performances are typically oozing with palpable emotion. As is true with many of her other greatest sides (including the unbelievably amazing hit single “Yes, I’m Ready”) Barbara wrote the track as well.
Hard to believe that, at the time of this records’ release, Barbara Mason was only 20 years old and already had three years of recordings under her belt.
(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)