From 1971 onwards, “The Sound Of Philadelphia” dominated black American popular music in much the same way as Motown had done for most of the previous decade, until it moved out of Detroit at the end of the 1960s. Created by a select group of hightly gifted musicians, producers and arrangers, it seemed to arrive from out of nowhere to stamp its influence on all that succeeded it, right up to the end of the 1970s when real musicians suddenly began to find themselves playing second banana to drum machines and/or string and horn sections that could be played on synthesiser keyboards.
Of course, nothing arrives completely out of nowhere, and the Philly Sound was actually a slow builder that had its genesis in the mid 60s with the early success of the Intruders. But it was the early records of the Delfonics, arranged and orchestrated by musical genius, Thom Bell, which really began to push the envelope and expand the boundaries of musical creativity in the City Of Brotherly Love.
Led by the unique, soaring tenor of William Hart, the Delfonics looked back simultaneously to Philly’s rich doo wop history, and forward to the ‘symphonic soul’ that Thom Bell would continue to create in the next decade, with the Stylistics and the Spinners. The Delfonics’ first Philly Groove hit, La La Means I Love You was the first really big hit to embrace the new sound – and the first of its kind to reach the top three of the US Hot 100. Follow-ups, such as the wonderful Break Your Promise and the still-ahead-of-its-time Ready Or Not Here I Come, saw them and their arranger-producer Bell reach hitherto undreamed of heights of soulful creativity. It was a sad day for soul lovers everywhere when that creative partnership ceased in 1971, not long after they made the record by which all future examples of group soul would be judged – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).
The two albums on this new Kent CD are the first two of the three that the Bell-Delfonics partnership forged in nearly four years of working together – the third, plus their first (excellent) post-Thom Bell set, will be released on Kent in 2008. Their generous blend of hits, should-have-been-hits and expertly chosen revivals is forever enthralling, and will help those who only caught on to the Philly Sound in later years to understand why the Delfonics will always be among the two or three most important acts to ever represent it.
Remastered from the original Philly Groove production tapes, and with the bonus of a non-album single, You Got Yours And I’ll Get Mine, which became one of their biggest ever Pop and R&B hits, it’s a set that no true soul harmony fan should ever be without.
By Tony Rounce