Philadelphia International Records, home of The Sound of Philadelphia, wasn't always the most hospitable label for bands. After all, the label's "house band" MFSB featured some of the finest musicians anywhere, so self-contained units such as Instant Funk, Force of Nature, or even the venerable Soul Survivors inevitably played second fiddle to the vocal groups supported so deftly by MFSB. But of all the Philly International bands, one rose above the rest. People's Choice scored an R&B chart-topper with the Tom Moulton-mixed "Do It Any Way You Wanna" and crossed over to a not-unimpressive No. 11 Pop berth, as well. That party anthem wasn't the group's only success, though. Now, the band's biggest hits and rare favorites alike have been compiled on a new 2-CD, 33-song collection from Cherry Red's Big Break Records imprint. Any Way You Wanna: The People's Choice Anthology raises the curtain on some of the Philly scene's funkiest and finest dance music.
Though names like Dexter Wansel, Roland Chambers, Bobby Martin, and of course, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff grace the tracks presented here, the People's Choice sound is a much leaner one than the traditionally lustrous Philly style. Strings and brass are underplayed in favor of a tight, raw funk sound. People's Choice got their start before Gamble and Huff entered the picture, forming out of the ashes of the group The Fashions. Early success came for Frankie Brunson (vocals/organ), David Thompson (drums/percussion), Darnell Jordan and Johnnie Hightower (guitars), Clifton Gamble and Bill Rogers (keyboards), Stanley Thomas (bass/vocals), and Valerie Brown and Marc Reed (vocals) at the Phil-L.A. of Soul label. That was, of course, the imprint that released Cliff Nobles & Co.'s "The Horse," one of the earliest songs on which the future MFSB rhythm section truly coalesced.
BBR's anthology details the People's Choice story from their earliest recordings for Phil-L.A. of Soul up through their eighties work for Casablanca and West End, including their three TSOP albums. Of the choice Phil-L.A. material, the set highlights a versatile selection including the mid-tempo soul ballad "Big Ladies Man," aggressive "Grunt," romantic, string-swathed "Magic," and groove-based "I Likes to Do It." The latter, from 1971, rewarded the band with a Top 40 Pop/Top 10 R&B hit and paved the way for their move in 1974 to Philadelphia International's TSOP imprint.
Though the larger operation granted People's Choice the opportunity to work with staff writers, producers, and musicians, the band largely remained true to its roots. Leon Huff in particular took an interest in People's Choice, frequently writing for them without his usual partner Gamble. Huff co-wrote the band's very first TSOP single, the swaggering "Love Shop" with John Whitehead and Gene McFadden, and penned the bluesy B-side, "The Big Hurt," himself. (Gamble and Huff co-produced the recordings.) The band's next two A-sides would be among their most felicitous. Frankie Brunson's raucous "Party is a Groovy Thing" returned People's Choice to the R&B chart, and set the stage for their biggest hit, "Do It Any Way You Wanna." The heavily funky tune penned by Huff brought them to the top of the R&B and Dance surveys, and crossed over to Pop; both it and "Party is a Groovy Thing" would appear on the band's first TSOP album, Boogie Down U.S.A., in 1975.
Among the other tracks from that LP reprised here are Huff's thumping title track; Huff and Cary Gilbert's "Nursery Rhymes," which put a rhythmic, bass-heavy spin on Humpty Dumpty, Jack Be Nimble and company; Huff's torrid soul shouter "Don't Send Me Away" (with a classy arrangement from the reliable Bobby Martin) and the slow-burning, dramatic "I'm Leaving You"; and Huff and Brunson's sinewy, keyboard-driven, instrumental ode to "Mickey D's." (Fast food never sounded so appealing!) McFadden and Whitehead also penned the frenetic "The Sooner You Get Here," co-writing with Huff; Bobby Martin arranged the horn charts with a bit of Latin flair. MFSB stalwarts like Norman Harris and Bobby Eli contributed additional luster to the Sigma Sound sessions.
The People's Choice line-up was shifting; by 1976, just Brunson, Thompson, and Jordan remained at the core of the band. That year's sophomore album release, We Got the Rhythm, would live up to its title by emphasizing the dancefloor. The LP's "Here We Go Again" danced its way to the Disco top fifteen, favoring the beat over the lyrics. "Cold Blooded & Down-Right-Funky" was spot-on, all growled vocals (chanting the title lyric and little else) over a tight and crunchy instrumental track with searing guitar and throbbing percussion in the gritty mix. "Jam, Jam, Jam" lived up to its title, with Huff's co-writer Brunson rasping over the pulsating beat. Diversifying the sound of the album, Dexter Wansel brought the Philly soul magic to "Movin' in All Directions" with his lush strings, and Huff brought a couple of strong instrumentals. "A Mellow Mood" was pure jazz, Leon Huff-style, a smooth, cool-down oasis amidst all the funk with cocktail piano, a languid saxophone, and taut guitar among the key ingredients (the influence and presence of MFSB is most evident here). Despite its title, the companion instrumental "Opus-de-Funk" was anything but, keeping in the same late-night, mellow mood.
Producer/arranger/musician Roland Chambers was assigned to helm People's Choice's third and final TSOP long-player. He brought a slicker sound to 1978's Turn Me Loose on such tracks as "Rough-Ride" (arranged with majestic strings by Philly veteran John L. Usry, Jr.) and "Changin' My Life." The pleading "Soft and Tender" is a lost vocal gem, with liquid bass, sweet background vocals, and gentle strings that might pass on some yacht-rock playlists. It further distinguishes itself with a lengthy violin solo, Stephane Grappelli-style! (The whole album is available in expanded form from Big Break.)
People's Choice's tough yet lithe sound didn't change much when they switched labels to Casablanca, with "My Feet Won't Move, But My Shoes Did the Boogie" evincing the same approach as their earlier tracks. The top ten Disco success "You Ought to Be Dancin'" can't help but slightly recall the Bee Gees' superior "You Should Be Dancing," but Tom Moulton's mix accentuates the best the song has to offer. Following their time on Casablanca, the band resurfaced on the West End label, again working with Moulton on the feel-good, bass-propelled "Hey Everybody (Party Hearty)."
Among the rarities here are a handful of non-LP singles. "Asking for Trouble," the B-side of "Party is a Groovy Thing," shares its sinewy DNA with co-writers McFadden and Whitehead's "Back Stabbers." Tom Moulton (associated with the group since its Phil-L.A. of Soul days) brought his mixing mastery to the 1977 one-off, disco-flavored single, "If You Gonna Do It (Put Your Mind to It)." Moulton's 21st century remixes of "Do It Any Way You Wanna" and "Jam, Jam, Jam (All Night Long)" are likewise fine additions to this comprehensive package.
Any Way You Wanna has been sequenced with a DJ's ear by producer Wayne A. Dickson. It is housed in a double Super Jewel Case, and boasts a 16-page booklet with compilation co-producer Malcolm McKenzie's fine liner notes. Nick Robbins has vividly remastered all tracks. This high-octane collection from the underrated soul/dance group just might leave you ready to Jam, Jam, Jam (All Night Long).
People's Choice, Any Way You Wanna: The People's Choice Anthology 1971-1981 (Big Break Records CDBBRD 0353, 2017) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Do It Any Way You Wanna
- I Likes to Do It
- Cold Blooded and Down Right Funky
- Nursey Rhymes
- My Feet Won't Move, But My Shoes Did the Boogie
- Turn Me Loose
- Movin' in All Directions
- Mickey D's
- Party is a Groovy Thing
- Asking for Trouble
- The Sooner You Get Here
- Love Shop
- Big Ladies Man
- The Big Hurt
- Don't Send Me Away
- I'm Leaving You
- A Mellow Mood
- You Ought to Be Dancin'
- If You Gonna Do It (Put Your Mind to It) (Parts 1 & 2)
- Jam, Jam, Jam (All Night Long)
- Hey Everybody (Party Hearty)
- Here We Go Again
- Boogie Down U.S.A.
- If I Knew Then What I Knew Now
- Changin' My Life
- Soft and Tender
- A Greater Truth
- Do It Any Way You Wanna (A Tom Moulton Mix)
- Jam, Jam, Jam (All Night Long) (A Tom Moulton Mix)
CD 1, Tracks 1, 4, 8, 9, 12, 17-18 and CD 2, Track 6 from Boogie Down U.S.A., TSOP LP KZ 33154, 1975
CD 1, Tracks 2, 11, 14-15 rec. 1971-1972, collected on I Likes to Do It, Jamie CD-4012, 2000
CD 1, Tracks 3, 7, 19 and CD 2, Tracks 3, 5 & 11 from We Got the Rhythm, TSOP LP 35363, 1978
CD 1, Track 5 and CD 2, Tracks 1 & 8 from People's Choice, Casablanca NBLP-7246, 1980
CD 1, Track 6 and CD 2, Tracks 7, 9-10 & 12 from Turn Me Loose, TSOP PZ 35363, 1978
CD 1, Track 10 from TSOP single ZS8-4759, 1974
CD 1, Tracks 13 & 16 from TSOP single ZS7-4751, 1974
CD 2, Track 2 from TSOP single ZS8-4786, 1977
CD 2, Track 4 from West End 12-inch single WES-22133, 1981
CD 2, Track 13 previously released in 2002
CD 2, Track 14 from Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes, Harmless, 2012
Nice review and very insightful. A group that deserves the kind words you have expressed. The Philly Sound always and 5