Sony Music’s celebration of Philadelphia International Records’ 50th anniversary has so far encompassed a new, vinyl-only series of hits collections as well as the first two releases in the ongoing complete albums series of CD box sets from the U.K.’s Snapper/United Souls label. Now, a major component of the golden anniversary celebration for the house that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff built has been announced by the Vinyl Me, Please record club.
VMP Anthology: The Story of Philadelphia International Records is the latest in VMP’s deluxe series of box sets celebrating artists and labels. In the latter category, PIR follows Motown, Blue Note, Stax, Ghostly International, Metal Blade, and most recently, Vanguard. This eight-album box features the following LPs, all lacquered and AAA-mastered directly from the original tapes and cut, plated, and pressed on 180-gram color vinyl at RTI:
- The O’Jays – Back Stabbers (Philadelphia International KZ 31712, 1972)
- Billy Paul – 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (Philadelphia International KZ 31793, 1972)
- MFSB – Love is the Message (Philadelphia International KZ 32707, 1973)
- The Three Degrees – The Three Degrees (Philadelphia International KZ 32406, 1973)
- Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Wake Up Everybody (Philadelphia International PZ 33808, 1975)
- Dexter Wansel – Life on Mars (Philadelphia International PZ 34079, 1976)
- The Philadelphia International All Stars – Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto (Philadelphia International JZ 34659, 1977)
- Leon Huff – Here to Create Music (Philadelphia International NJZ 36758, 1980)
This survey of the first decade of Philadelphia International includes some of the label’s most seminal releases from its most significant artists. The first four titles, all from 1972-1973, are among the crucial building blocks of the Philadelphia Sound, recorded at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios with productions and songs by Gamble and Huff; arrangements by the esteemed likes of Thom Bell, Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Lenny Pakula, and Vince Montana; and accompaniment from the original line-up of MFSB (with all of the above-named gentlemen as well as Bobby Eli, Ronnie Baker, T.J. Tindall, Roland Chambers, Karl Chambers, Earl Young, Larry Washington, Zach Zachary, and others) and Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings.
The poignant and powerful Wake Up Everybody was Philly soul at its zenith, introducing Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and Victor Carstarphen’s stunning title track as well as the future disco hit for Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Harris, Martin, and Ronnie Baker provided the sizzling, sweeping charts. The album was Teddy Pendergrass’ swansong with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes before he embarked on his own solo career. It was also one of the final triumphs of MFSB Mk. I before many of the members joined Vince Montana to create The Salsoul Orchestra.
Equally deserving of attention are the final three records in the box. Dexter Wansel was one of the brightest lights of PIR’s Mk. II period, releasing four criminally underrated LPs on the label. His work as an artist, songwriter, arranger and producer as epitomized on his 1975 debut Life on Mars pushed the envelope of Philly soul, bringing in elements of jazz fusion and even progressive rock. Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto welcomed most of the label’s bright lights – including Lou Rawls, Pendergrass, The Intruders, Dee Dee Sharp Gamble, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, Archie Bell and The Drells, The Three Degrees, and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes – for a compilation of socially-conscious anthems. 1980’s Here to Create Music, the final album in the box, was the first solo album by the label co-founder. It was produced, arranged, and composed by Huff who was joined on arrangements by John Usry and Jack Faith. Stevie Wonder even dropped by for a guest appearance on this very personal statement from piano man Huff.
The first edition of VMP’s Anthology is limited to 1,000 pressings and is joined by a 26-page Listening Notes and photo booklet written by Niela Orr. The Anthology’s release is accompanied by a four-episode podcast guide to each album featuring interviews with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, The Three Degrees’ Valerie Holiday, and others.
VMP has also announced that Teddy Pendergrass’ 1977 album Life Is a Song Worth Singing, featuring Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s epic title track, will be the Classics Record of the Month for October. Sign-ups for this Record of the Month open on September 23.
“It’s a true honor to be able to champion Philadelphia International, and to give their music the VMP Anthology treatment,” states VMP’s Head of Editorial Amileah Sutliff. “PIR is a groundbreaking powerhouse of a label whose impact — both directly and indirectly — can be seen and heard prominently in music and culture to this day, 50 years later. With eight incredible albums that illustrate the label’s vast contributions to soul throughout the ’70s, listeners get to go deep on a catalogue that single-handedly established the Sounds of Philadelphia.”
VMP Anthology: The Story of Philadelphia International Records is available for pre-order now directly from Vinyl Me, Please. Orders are expected to ship in late November.