Volcanos – Storm Warning (Arctic)
Agents – You Were Meant For Me (P&L)
Herb Johnson – Two Steps (Ahead of a Woman) (Swan)
Globeliters – The Way You Do (Philtown)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – Get Out (And Let Me Cry) (Landa)
Butlers – Laugh Laugh Laugh (PHILA)
Common Pleas – I Wanted More (Crimson)
Casinos – If I Told You (Del-Val)
Formations – At the Top of the Stairs (MGM)
Eddie Holman – I’ll Cry 1,000 Tears (Bell)
Ambassadors – I Can’t Believe You Love Me (Arctic)
Intruders – All the Time (Excel)
Patti & The Emblems – Please Don’t Leave Me Baby (Kapp)
Cruisers – Take a Chance (Gamble)
Intrigues – In a Moment (Yew)
Ethics – Look at Me Now (Vent)
Gene Faith – My Baby’s Missing (Virtue)
The weekend is upon us, and as promised – as the Funky16Corners fam is about to hit the road for some well deserved R&R – I have concocted a new mix, a la Funky16Corners Radio pour vous, so that while I am away from the interwebs, and consuming lobster at what might be described as an “alarming rate” , you have some sweet sounds to soothe you.
The very first installment of Funky16Corners Radio was a survey of some of the hotter Philly funk 45s in my crates, and ever since that time I have wanted to revisit Philadelphia, in the soul sense. This in and of itself didn’t present much difficulty, in that the sounds of Philadelphia have been a major obsession of mine for some time, and the crates are, as they say chock full’o’Philly. Where the difficulty comes into play, is deciding what segment of that vast sea of great music to address. With the records I finally picked for the first volume (and there will ultimately be several) the connecting threads (other than the geographical) were actually quite vague.
Though there is a kind of “sweet” vibe to be found here, the records in the mix hail from a fairly wide time span (almost ten years) in which the sounds of soul – not just in Philly, but everywhere else too – underwent a considerable evolution. When I selected the sides for inclusion herein, the basic criteria was “do I like the song”, and in each and every case I do. There are lots of tight harmonies, a couple of superior dancers, a few cuts where the producer/arranger is as important as the performer, and as always, a few of my personal favorites.
The mix opens with one of the better known mid-60’s Philly sides (it actually charted), ‘Storm Warning’ by the legendary Volcanos (read the whole story here). Led by vocalist Gene Faith (nee Eugene Jones), the Volcanos are perhaps the best example of a group that created a grip of consistently excellent singles covering the breadth of the classic soul era (in their case 1965 – 1969), in collaboration with some of the finest songwriters and producers working in Philadelphia. ‘Storm Warning’ was written by Carl Fisher of the Vibrations (who also wrote under the pseudonym ‘Del Shahr’). It is a great example of how all of the elements of the early-70’s ‘Philly Sound’ were brewing half a decade earlier. Faith’s gritty lead is wrapped in the sweet harmonies of the group, all served up on a bed of ringing piano and vibes (the tune is a ‘Dynodynamic’ production, signaling the involvement of the Harthon crew, i.e. Weldon McDougall, Luther Randolph and Johnny Stiles). All of those things, in combination with a solid four on the floor beat have long made ‘Storm Warning’ a fave with the Northern Soulies.
I don’t know much about the Agents (Nat Williams, Kenneth Davis, Jimmy Downs, Norman Bowen and Warren Lundy), other than the fact that their sole 45, ‘You Were Meant for Me’ on the P&L label is a very solid slice of laid back soul harmony. I love the way the spare instrumental backing – little more than guitar and tambourine – works under the street corner-cum-sweet soul falsetto harmonies. This cut was comped a few years back by Philly Archives.
If Herb Johnson is known to you at all, it’s probably from the legendary, ultra-rare, ultra-smoking funk monster ‘Damn Ph’aint’ by the Herb Johnson Settlement on the Toxsan label. Johnson recorded for a number of Philly labels through the 60’s (Len, Arctic, Swan, V-Tone et al) in a variety of styles (his ‘I’m So Glad’ on Brunswick is a killer). ‘Two Steps (Ahead of a Woman)’, from 1964 has all the hallmarks of the early soul, sounding as if it were recorded beside some of Arthur Alexander’s best work. The tune was co-written by Wally Osborne, a major mover and shaker of Philly soul in the 60’s. Johnson began to record again late in life, before his untimely passing in 2004.
The Globeliters are another “mystery” group. Though the flip side of ‘The Way You Do’ was arranged by Leroy Lovett (the Lee in Ben-Lee productions), I don’t recognize any of the other names on the label. ‘The Way You Do’ has a great lead vocal, and the tune itself has a memorable melody. The Philtown label is also one of several in the area to feature a picture of the Liberty Bell.
Sure you all know of the classic recordings of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, but how many of you are aware that they were together as a group as early as the mid-50’s, recording with a number of lead vocalists (including the great Bernard Williams who also recorded for Harthon) for several different labels? The singer on ‘Get Out (and Let Me Cry)’, their sole 45 for the Landa label was John Atkins. The tune, which starts out with a deceptively quiet soliloquy by Atkins, soon erupts into a solid dancer, with some of those wonderful Blue Notes harmonies rolling under Atkins lead. Written and produced by Richard Barrett, ‘Get Out…’ is another one of those records you hear and can’t help but wonder how it didn’t become a big hit.
The Butlers – led by Frankie Beverly – came together in the early 60’s, and recorded some excellent 45s for a number of Philly labels (PHILA, Sassy, Eldorado, Quakertown, CRS) before morphing into Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul, and finally into the group Maze in the early 70’s. ‘Laugh Laugh Laugh’ features great harmonies (I love those WOOO WOOOs in the chorus) and a solid dancers beat.
Despite having had the record for years, and searching high and low I have been able to track down nothing on the Common Pleas. My assumption has always been that they were renamed to go along with the title of the a-side of their sole 45 ‘ The Funky Judge’. The cut featured here is a major fave of mine, ‘I Wanted More’. The tune sports sophisticated melody and lyrics, suggesting to me that the writers had more of the same up their sleeves. Had either side of this 45 hit the charts, there’s no telling what they might have done. I don’t think either side of this 45 has been comped, so I’ll have to include the flip in a future mix.
The Casinos recorded for the storied Del-Val label, along with Gene Woodbury, and Bernie Williams, he of ‘Ever Again’ fame. ‘If I Told You’, a smooth, stylish dancer appeared on the flip of ‘Everybody Can’t Be Pretty’, a Kenny Gamble composition. The record was produced by another local legend, Joe Stevenson, who also worked with funkers The Interpretations.
‘At the Top of the Stairs’ by the Formations (more here) is another longtime fave of mine. The tune has enough forward motion to get the kids out onto the dancefloor, and manages to do so with a memorable melody. The arrangement is one of the finest to come out of Philadelphia during the 60’s – dig those French horns. The rest of their 45s (harder to find, of course) are also excellent.
Eddie Holman, known to most as the singer of ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’ recorded a number of absolutely amazing 45s for Cameo/Parkway and Bell during the mid-60’s. Holman was not only a brilliant singer, but also an accomplished songwriter. ‘I’ll Cry 1000 Tears’ (penned by Holman) features a stunning vocal, Motown-esque arrangement and once again production from the Harthon team. All of Holman’s early 45s (which I consider to be his finest work) are worth picking up, though some might set you back a couple of bucks (like this one for instance…). They’re all worth it.
Following a few excellent 45s for Atlantic, the Ambassadors recorded several more (and an LP) for Jimmy Bishop’s Arctic imprint. They’re funky cover of Tammi Terrell’s ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ should have been a huge hit. The arrangement takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns (including a couple of interesting key and tempo changes), and the group vocals are terrific. Though clean copies of the Ambassadors 45s are hard to come by, their LP has been reissued on CD.
If you aren’t already hip to the Intruders, I suggest you back away from the computer and head to the record store, because they not only had several outstanding sweet soul hits (‘Cowboys to Girls’ anyone? How about ‘A Love That’s Real’?), but the rest of their catalog is well worth searching for. ‘All the Time’, a Gamble-Huff composition was one of their very first 45s, recorded for the Excel label before they went on to great success with Gamble. ‘All the Time’ is a stomper with a memorable hook in the chorus.
Patti and the Emblems recorded a bunch of great 45s during the 60’s, including the hit ‘Mixed Up Shook Up Girl’ on Herald. Their later 45s, on Kapp are uniformly excellent, especially their last 45, the rare ‘I’m Gonna Love You a Long Long Time’. ‘Please Don’t Ever Leave Me’ is a great Northern style dancer, written and produced by the Ben-Lee crew. Though this tune is not included, try to pick up the Kent CD ‘Ben-Lee’s Philadelphia Story’, which included a number of outstanding Philly area sides, including stuff by the Persionettes, Kenny Gamble and the certifiably epic (and ironically unreleased) ‘Got No Time’ by Timmy and the Empires.
The Cruisers (Gene Williams, Randy Hamilton, Paul Long, and McKinley Anthony) recorded two 45s for V-Tone records in the very early 60’s, and didn’t enter the studio again until 1967, this time for Gamble. ‘Take a Chance’, written by the group and produced by Gamble-Huff is a lost gem, with sweeping strings juxtaposed against chunky lead guitar, as the Cruisers harmonize on top of it all. Despite the high quality of this release, the record doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent outside of Philly, and precious little inside the city. The Cruisers had one more 45 on Gamble in 1969, before fading into the ether.
The Intrigues ‘In a Moment’ was a Top 40 hit (Top 10 in some markets) in the fall of 1969. The tune had originally been released on the local Bullet label before the group moved to a slightly larger local label, Yew records (also home to the Radars/Radors of ‘Finger Lickin’ Chicken’ fame). They went on to record six 45s for Yew (between 1969 and 1971), and two for Janus (‘71/’72) before disbanding.
The second to last number in the mix is ‘Look at Me Now’ by the Ethics. Released prior to their big local hit ‘Sad Sad Story’, ‘Look at Me Now’ is something of a lost treasure. Sitting right on the cusp of the early-70’s Philly Sound (it was released in early 1969) the tune – produced by Vince Montana, who can be heard adding the vibes in the hook – mixes danceable pop-soul with tight, sweet harmonies, and never gets old no matter how many times I spin it (go ahead, try to listen to it just once…). I’ve seen this described on a UK message board as “cheap as chips”, but if you don’t feel like digging, there is a budget CD release of the Ethics best stuff.
The mix closes with the same voice that opened it, Gene Faith. Following his departure from the Volcanos, Faith recorded a number of excellent 45s for the Virtue label (one of them was even under the Volcanos name). ‘My Baby’s Missing’ is a great showcase for his raspy tenor. Turn it up at the beginning to catch the telephone sound effects.
So…this is pretty much it for the next week (though if I do get some decent wi-fi access on the road I’ll probably try to get a post up late in the week).
See you soon.