Once again this week my writing head has been in neutral. I have a fair stack of vinyl lined up for possible future posts but I’m having trouble shifting the brain into gear to write anything around them, and I’m also feeling particularly lazy on the research front.
Part of the problem maybe that nothing in that stack of vinyl, as well loved and great as it all is, is jumping out and demanding to be played. That can bump me into writing action. In the end the motivation for this post came, in a round about sort of way, from listening to Mister C’s fill in show for Mr. Fine Wine over at Downtown Soulville. “Fill in” it maybe – Mister C plays a show a month in the Downtown Soulville slot – but in no way is the show a mere substitute, or a cheap bottle of plonk to Fine Wine’s rare vintage. Mister C plays some fantastic stuff. His latest show featured an hour of flat out brilliant soul music from his home town of Philadelphia. (One track in particular caused me to fire up an Internet search pretty sharpish, and lo and behold I found a minty sounding copy almost straightaway. I’ve paid my money and look forward to it dropping through the letterbox sometime soon. It will then join my blogworthy stack and you can expect to see it featured here sometime in the future).
I grew up hearing the Philly Sound of Gamble-Huff on the radio – the likes of the O’Jays, Harold Melvin, Billy Paul, and Teddy Pendergrass on the PIR imprint - but this show made me realise just how much great music had been coming out of Philadelphia before the Philly Sound, as I understood it, had become established. For example it hadn’t registered with me that Arctic was a Philly label.
I should of course have known this already from reading Larry’s occasional posts on all things Philly over at Funky 16 Corners, he’s a fan for sure.
So here is an example of the weird and wonderful(?) way my mind works: I had just been thinking my general laziness and lack of inspiration on the writing front could be in danger of reaching a critical situation – then listening to Mister C put me in mind of Philadelphia – hey presto the synapses sparked and from nowhere Billy Paul’s “It’s Critical” appeared on the top of my tracks to blog. The Philly Sound of Gamble and Huff was getting pretty long in the tooth by the time this was released, this was 1979 after all. “It’s Critical” appeared on Billy Paul’s last album for PIR “First Class”, which turned out to be something of a hiatus for him. I haven’t heard the album version. I have it as a “Special Disco Version” (again, this was 1979) on the b-side of the 12” “Bring The Family Back”. But don’t be put off by those dread words “Special Disco Version”, there are no cow bells or syndrums or extended pointlessness. In this case I suspect it just means a longer version. Just listen to those Philly session men cook, the track simmers beautifully throughout.
I played this record a lot back in the day. At the time of it’s release I was doing a bit of DJing and I seem to remember thinking I thought it was too sophisticated to fit into the sets I was playing so it didn’t get too many airings. At the same time I wanted to tell the world how great this track was, now finally all these years later, due to a random synaptic event, I am.
Billy’s “First Class” album is available together with “Let ‘em in” and “Only The Strong Survive” on a 2 CD set from Edsel.