Fifty years ago, the release of Billy Paul’s Going East on LP and The Ebonys’ “You’re the Reason Why” on a 45 RPM single marked the birth of Philadelphia International Records. By 1971, co-founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had already garnered significant chart success with their songs and productions for such artists as The Soul Survivors (“Expressway to Your Heart”), The Intruders (“Cowboys to Girls”), Archie Bell and the Drells (“(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown”), Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Jerry Butler, and Wilson Pickett. But with the birth of PIR, all of the diverse elements they brought to their music coalesced to create “The Sound of Philadelphia” – an unmistakable brand of sophisticated soul characterized by lush arrangements, irresistible proto-disco rhythms, and a “message in the music.” With Motown having left Detroit for Los Angeles and Stax struggling in Memphis, Philadelphia (already the original home of American Bandstand and PIR breeding ground Cameo-Parkway) became the soul destination to beat in the 1970s. And the music has endured.
Now, Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings division is teaming with a variety of partners to mark the groundbreaking label’s golden anniversary and celebrate the music of Gamble and Huff as well as their musical associates including the third member of “The Mighty Three,” Thom Bell; Sigma Sound Studios engineer Joe Tarsia; the members of house band MFSB (among them Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker, Earl Young, Bobby Eli, Vince Montana, Roland Chambers, T.J. Tindall, and Larry Washington); Don Renaldo and His Horns and Strings; and multi-hyphenate musical talents such as Bobby Martin, Jack Faith, Lenny Pakula, and Dexter Wansel. Together, they launched or burnished the careers of timeless artists including The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, The Three Degrees, McFadden and Whitehead, Phyllis Hyman, Patti LaBelle, Jean Carn, Dee Dee Sharp, The Jones Girls, The Jacksons, and less-heralded (but no less talented) lights like Dick Jensen, Johnny Williams, Bunny Sigler, Anthony White, The Futures, and Edwin Birdsong. Established artists who worked with Gamble, Huff, and/or Bell earlier in their careers came back to join the PIR fold, too: think The Stylistics, Archie Bell and The Drells, or Jerry Butler.
Kenny Gamble comments in the press release for this campaign, “It’s a blessing to celebrate all of the writers, musicians, engineers, disc jockeys, and all the people that were on our team. When I listen to this music now, I can close my eyes and the music brings us all back together again. Hearing this music reminds me of all the hard work and dedication our team went through to make such a long-lasting catalogue, that has been embraced by the world and I’m thankful.” Philadelphia International Records co-founder Leon Huff echoes his longtime friend’s words in succinct fashion: “Long live the music of Gamble and Huff!”
Today, Legacy released McFadden and Whitehead’s 1979 double-platinum disco anthem and R&B chart-topper “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” in new remixes by Eric Kupper (responsible for Diana Ross’ recent Supertonic collection) and executive producer Brad LeBeau. These are currently available for streaming and download. Beginning February 24, listeners to Sonos Radio HD can also enjoy a new channel, The Sound of Philadelphia, featuring a playlist of PIR favorites curated by Kenny Gamble. A new video answering “What Is Philadelphia International Records?” is also available now on YouTube.
Physical releases will arrive on both vinyl and CD. A new box set, The Story of Philadelphia International, will be released by Vinyl Me Please. As with the label’s past “anthology” box sets dedicated to Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock, the women of Motown, and others, this set will feature deluxe vinyl pressings of eight newly-remastered albums from the label’s vast discography plus liner notes and interactive content.
The U.K.-based Snapper Music-United Souls label in conjunction with Legacy Recordings will release a series of 15 limited edition 8-CD sets celebrating PIR’s album catalogue. (That catalogue roughly totals over 140 original albums released between 1971 and 1998. It’s not yet clear whether this campaign will address any of the pre-PIR material from Gamble and Huff which was absorbed into the label’s library; for instance, The Intruders’ first LP on the Gamble label arrived in 1967.) Collectively, these sets are promised to “[bring] together the entire PIR studio album collection for the very first time.” According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the first box is set for release in April: Get on the Soul Train features albums from The O’Jays, Billy Paul, The Intruders, and Dick Jensen. The second set, Satisfaction Guaranteed, follows in June, with Love Is the Message and I Love Music scheduled for later in the year. Other box sets will be released in 2022 and beyond.
Each set is limited to 2,500 units and will contain a unique giant poster, exclusive 12-inch single, endorsed numbered certificate, a 48-page hardcover book with a comprehensive archive of rare photographs compiled and curated in association with artists, engineers, and producers relevant to the label’s story. All discs will be freshly remastered from the original tapes. This series will be the latest in a long line of PIR boxes on CD from Legacy and affiliates including the 1997 3-CD box The Philly Sound: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and the Story of Brotherly Love (1966-1976); 2008’s 4-CD Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia; 2012’s Philadelphia International: 40th Anniversary from Demon’s Harmless imprint; and 2014’s The Collection: 20 Original Albums from Legacy’s U.K. arm.
We’ll be sure to update you on all of the above (and more?) from Legacy Recordings, Vinyl Me Please, Snapper Music, and PIR’s current publishing home of Warner Chappell Music. Watch this space!