“Motown Philly” by Butch Ford
The 1960s introduced us to a brand new sound. It originated in a tiny little home on the westside of Detroit called “Hitsville” The founder and visionary Berry Gordy recruited every talented musician, singer, and songwriter in the area to put his dream in motion. He wanted to make “music for the people.”
The result was a musical revolution dubbed “The Motown Sound.” Happy music with the ability to bring people together peacefully and harmoniously. We fell in love with The Temptations, The Tops, Marvin, Stevie, The Supremes, Smokey, Gladys, The Jackson 5 and so many others. The backbone was a group of relatively unknown musicians named The Funk Brothers (google them) who brought Gordy’s vision to life. Songwriters such as William Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, and countless others combined to form this dream team that changed American History forever.
In 1971, Philadelphia International Records was launched. It was the brainchild of the legendary songwriting/production team of Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff with their long-time friend and collaborator Thom Bell. The goal was to tap into the endless supply of talent in and around the city of Philadelphia. Hence…”Philly Soul” was born.
The sound was built upon beautifully orchestrated string arrangements combined with driving bass and percussion. Not to mention strong soulful vocals and intricate harmonies. From this…Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, and The Jacksons (who defected from Motown) made their mark in Soul/R&B History.
There’s still a friendly debate that exists today. You might hear some old cats arguing about which Record Company or era produced the greatest music. It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose.
New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe member and co-founder Michael Bivins were onto something when he coined the phrase “Motown Philly” back in the early ’90s while developing Boyz II Men. He understood the influence of both companies and the impact they had on the history of Black Music. Personally…you can’t go wrong with either.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the contributions of Staxx and Chess Records. They both played a huge part in the fabric of soul music as we know it today, as well.