Philadelphia Soul: The Sound That Defined a Generation

Philadelphia soul, also known as Philly soul, Phillysound, or The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), is a genre of soul music that emerged in the late 1960s and gained popularity throughout the 1970s. It is characterised by its lush instrumental arrangements, funk influences, and unique sound that fused R&B rhythm sections with pop vocals and jazz-inspired melodies. In this article, we’ll explore the history and legacy of Philadelphia soul and its impact on the music industry.

The Origins of Philadelphia Soul

Philadelphia soul was developed by a group of songwriters, producers, and studio musicians in Philadelphia during the late 1960s. Bunny Sigler, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff are credited with pioneering the genre, which was heavily influenced by the Motown sound, Stax Records, and the emerging funk music of the time.

The Sound of Philadelphia

The signature sound of Philadelphia soul was characterised by its deep, orchestrated sound that was often described as “putting the bow tie on funk.” This was achieved through the use of sweeping strings, piercing horns, and funk-influenced rhythms. Many of the style’s players were relatively anonymous, with the emphasis placed on sound and arrangement, leading to Philadelphia soul being considered a producer’s genre.

Notable Songwriters and Producers

Philadelphia soul songwriters and producers were key to the development of the genre. Bobby Martin, Thom Bell, Linda Creed, Norman Harris, and Dexter Wansel were all instrumental in creating the unique sound of Philadelphia soul. The production teams of McFadden & Whitehead and Gamble & Huff of Philadelphia International Records also played a vital role in developing the sound, working with a stable of studio musicians to create backing tracks for many different singing acts.

MFSB: The Sound of Philadelphia’s House Band

Many of these musicians would record as the instrumental group MFSB, which had a hit with the seminal Philadelphia soul song “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” in 1974. The base rhythm section for MFSB was made up of bassist Ronald Baker, guitarist Norman Harris, and drummer/Trammps baritone Earl Young (B-H-Y). These three musicians also recorded as the Trammps and produced records themselves. They branched off into a sub-label of Philadelphia International Records called Golden Fleece, distributed by CBS Records (now Sony Music). Norman Harris later created the Gold Mind label in conjunction with Salsoul Records, which included First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, and Love Committee on its roster.

Legacy of Philadelphia Soul

Philadelphia soul was hugely popular throughout the 1970s and set the stage for the studio constructions of disco and urban contemporary music that emerged later in the decade. The genre’s style had a strong influence on later Philadelphia acts, most notably Daryl Hall and John Oates, The Roots, Vivian Green, Jill Scott, and Musiq Soulchild. David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans was partially recorded in Philadelphia and influenced by the Philadelphia soul sound.

In Conclusion

Philadelphia soul is a genre of soul music that emerged in the late 1960s and gained popularity throughout the 1970s. It is characterised by its lush instrumental arrangements, funk influences, and unique sound that fused R&B rhythm sections with pop vocals and jazz-inspired melodies. Philadelphia soul was developed by a group of songwriters, producers, and studio musicians in Philadelphia and was heavily influenced by Motown, Stax Records, and funk music. Its signature sound, characterised by sweeping strings, piercing horns, and funk-influenced rhythms, set the stage for the studio constructions of disco and urban contemporary music that emerged later in the decade.