On this day in music history: December 9, 1972 – “Me And Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 3 weeks on December 16, 1972. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, it is the biggest hit for the Philadelphia, PA born R&B/Jazz singer. Gamble and Huff meet Paul at a local Philadelphia club in 1967 and begin working together shortly afterward. After several attempts to write a hit for the singer fail, they finally come up with a song that perfectly balances R&B and pop with Billy’s jazz vocal style. Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with members of MFSB and arranged by Bobby Martin, it is the first single from Paul’s album “360 Degrees Of Billy Paul” on September 13, 1972. The song about an extramarital affair is the third R&B chart topper, and first number pop single for the fledgling Philadelphia International label. The single wins Paul a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male in 1973. Songwriters Gamble, Huff and Gilbert also later collaborate on “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, originally writing it for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes in 1975. A cover version by Thelma Houston becomes a worldwide hit, topping the pop and R&B singles charts in 1977. It is also covered by The Dramatics and by Michael Buble. In 2000, Billy Paul’s original recording is used in a television commercial for Nike sportswear featuring track star Marion Jones. At the time, Paul had not received any royalty payments on the song in twenty seven years. He files a lawsuit against Gamble & Huff, their publishing company Assorted Music, Inc. and Sony Music Entertainment for back royalties. He wins the lawsuit and receives a sizable settlement and future royalties generated by his version of the song. Regarded as not only one of the greatest “Philly Soul” records of all time, but one of the best singles of the 70’s, “Me And Mrs. Jones” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2018. “Me And Mrs. Jones” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 6, 1975 – “I Love Music (Part 1)” by The O’Jays hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100 on January 24, 1976, also topping the Dance/Disco chart for 8 weeks on November 22, 1975. Written and produced by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, it is the fourth chart topper for the R&B vocal trio from Canton, OH. Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia with members of the studio band MFSB, the basic track to the song is cut live with minimal overdubbing. The song is also significant as being on the first major hit records to be mixed using console automation on the studios’ mixing board (by engineer Joe Tarsia). Released as the first single from the group’s ninth studio album “Family Reunion”, the single quickly becomes a big hit not only on pop and R&B radio, but also becomes a mainstay of the disco era. “I Love Music” is covered by several different artists over the years including versions by house music artists Rozalla and Darryl Pandy. “I Love Music (Part 1)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 27, 1976 – “The Jacksons”, the tenth album by The Jacksons is released. Produced by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Victor Carstarphen, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, Dexter Wansel and The Jacksons, it is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA and Paragon Studios in Chicago, IL from June – October 1976. The album is the groups’ first release on Epic Records after leaving their longtime label Motown Records, and also is the first to feature youngest Jackson brother Randy (replacing Jermaine who remains with Motown) on percussion and vocals. Executives at CBS pair the group with songwriter and producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (and their team of staff songwriters and producers) of Philadelphia International Records for their first album. It spins off two hit singles including “Enjoy Yourself” (#2 R&B, #6 Pop) and “Show You The Way To Go” (#6 R&B, #28 Pop, #1 UK). It also features the first two songs written by the group including “Blues Away” (written by Michael) and “Style Of Life” (written by Tito and Michael). Out of print on vinyl for nearly thirty years, it is remastered and reissued in 2018. The reissue replicates the gatefold sleeve found on the original release. “The Jacksons” peaks at number six on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirty six on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 24, 1973 – “The Love I Lost (Part 1)” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #7 on the Hot 100 on December 8, 1973. Written and produced by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, it is the second R&B chart topper for the Philadelphia, PA vocal group fronted by singer Teddy Pendergrass. Coming off of the huge success of their breakthrough hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and the singles “I Miss You” (#7 R&B, #58 Pop) and “Yesterday I Had The Blues” (#12 R&B, #63 Pop), producer and songwriters Gamble and Huff begins writing new material for R&B vocal quintets’ follow up release. “The Love I Lost” is originally composed as a ballad, but is transformed into an uptempo dance record during the recording sessions for it. Drummer Earl Young (of MFSB) is instrumental in this change, with his commanding cymbal work and solid kick drum tempo setting the pace, along with Pendergrass’ spirited vocals. Released as the first single from the groups’ second album “Black & Blue” in September of 1973, it quickly becomes the Philly Soul groups’ second million seller. “The Love I Lost” is later regarded as a landmark record in what is credited as one that helps usher in the “Disco Era” in pop music. “The Love I Lost (Part 1)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1972 – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on December 9, 1972. Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is the first major hit for the Philadelphia, PA vocal quintet. Lead singer Teddy Pendergrass initially joins The Blue Notes as their drummer, but is moved to the front and center of the group when Harold Melvin discovers that he can sing. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes is among the first acts signed to Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records in 1971. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is originally written for the Chicago based R&B group The Dells, but does not end up recording it when a deal with their record label cannot be reached. Instead, it is given to The Blue Notes and is released as their second single, becoming an immediate smash on both pop and R&B radio. The success of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” marks the beginning of a hit streak Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes have, turning Teddy Pendergrass into a star prior to launching his own solo career in 1977. British band Simply Red covers the song in 1989, taking it to number one, belatedly winning Gamble and Huff a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1990. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1971 – “Gonna Take A Miracle”, the fifth album by Laura Nyro is released. Produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA from May – June 1971. Following the holiday themed “Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat”, singer and songwriter Laura Nyro again follows her muse and changes musical direction yet again. For the first time in her career, Nyro decides to record an album of all cover material, rather than another featuring original material penned by her. Having recorded a cover of The Drifters classic “Up On The Roof” on her previous release, which becomes her only single to crack the Hot 100 in the US, Laura records a full album of favorite R&B songs during her years growing up in The Bronx. Prior to recording the album, Nyro meets singer Patti LaBelle, when she is being interviewed by LaBelle’s manager Vicki Wickham. Laura and Patti become close friends and tour together. When it comes time to work on the project, Nyro is paired with Philadelphia International Records co-founders and producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Backed by the core rhythm section of PIR’s house band MFSB, Nyro invites LaBelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash) to perform backing vocals throughout. Recording a well selected group of songs that include Motown classics (“You Really Got A Hold On Me”, “The Bells”, “Nowhere To Run”, “Jimmy Mack”), girl group standards (“I Met Him On A Sunday”, “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”), Brill Building pop (“Spanish Harlem”) and doo wop (“The Wind”), the recordings are spirited and inspired. The title track is released as a single not long after the album, and though it does not chart, the album itself receives favorable reviews and performs well. In time, “Miracle” is regarded as a favorite among Laura Nyro’s loyal fan base and today is revered as a classic “blue eyed soul” album. It is also the last album Nyro records for nearly five years. By the end of 1971, the already media shy musician turns away from the spotlight to get married and live in rural Massachusetts. Out of print in the US for many years, the album is reissued on CD in 1991, then is remastered and reissued again in 2002 with four bonus tracks, recorded live at The Fillmore East in May of 1971. “Gonna Take A Miracle” peaks at number forty six on the Billboard Hot 100, and number forty one on the R&B album chart.
On this day in music history: November 16, 1968 – “Hey, Western Union Man” by Jerry Butler hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #16 on the Hot 100 on the same date. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Jerry Butler, it is the second solo number one single for the legendary R&B vocalist nicknamed “The Iceman”. Butler meets the fledgling songwriter/producers in 1966 while performing at Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. Admirers of Butler from his years as lead singer of The Impressions and his early solo work, they suggest working together. The singer takes them up on their offer, and the trio begin writing songs together. The collaboration pays off immediately when the singles “Never Give You Up” and “Lost” reach the Top 10 on the R&B singles chart. Released as the third single from the landmark album “The Iceman Cometh”, the track is cut at Cameo-Parkway Studios (later known as Sigma Sound Studios) in Philadelphia on July 9, 1968, and features members of the studio band who become known as MFSB providing the musical backing. Released as a single in August of 1968, prior to the full album, it quickly becomes a smash. The success of “Hey Western Union Man” drives sales of “The Iceman Cometh” album past the million mark.
On this day in music history: November 10, 1973 – “Ship Ahoy”, the eighth album by The O’Jays is released. Produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA from August – September 1973. Following the success of “Back Stabbers”, Gamble and Huff continue their prolific creative streak, with The O’Jays becoming their chief messengers. “Ship Ahoy” continues the theme of combining socially conscious songs, with ones that explore relationships and romantic love. The title track “Ship Ahoy” had originally been earmarked for the film “Shaft In Africa”, but the producers end up keeping it. It is initially intended to be part of a theme album about slavery in its various forms, and its affect on Africans brought to the new world. The epic track paints a visceral aural picture, complete with the sounds of crashing ocean waves and cracking bull whips. This imagery also extends to the cover artwork, illustrated by artist James Barkley. The inner gatefold features a now iconic photo of group, taken by CBS staff photographer Don Hunstein. The album is led by the up tempo first single “Put Your Hands Together” (#2 R&B, #10 Pop) whose message of coming together in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, starts the set off with an optimistic tone. However, it is the follow up “For The Love Of Money” (#3 R&B, #9 Pop), that has the longest lasting impact. Written as commentary on the negative affects of materialism and greed, its point is driven home with unerring precision by Walter Williams and Eddie Levert’s twin lead vocals. The instrumental track featuring members of Philly International’s house band MFSB, provides an ultra funky and arresting back drop. Recording engineer Joe Tarsia adds memorable touches to the mix, by adding phasing effects to drummer Earl Young’s cymbals, and echo to Anthony Jackson’s bass during the songs’ intro. Another key track is “Now That We Found Love”, which is later covered by the reggae band Third World, turning the ballad into a simmering dance floor classic. Other stand outs include “You Got Your Hooks In Me” and “Don’t Call Me Brother”. “Ship Ahoy” is another major success, and like its predecessor is regarded as a classic album. It is also remixed and released as a quadraphonic stereo album in 1974. Reissued on CD numerous times, it is released as a hybrid SACD in 2001. It features the original stereo mix, and a new 5.1 surround remix by Al Quagileri. Out of print on vinyl for many years, it is reissued by Sony Music in 2006, and is remastered and reissued again by Music On Vinyl in 2015 as a 180 gram LP. A third LP reissue is released by Sony Legacy in 2018, on standard weight vinyl. “Ship Ahoy” spends three weeks at number one (non-consecutive) on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number eleven on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1971 – “The Stylistics”, the debut album by The Stylistics is released. Produced by Thom Bell, Marty Bryant and Bill Perry, it is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios and Regent Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA from Mid 1970, Early – Mid 1971. After being signed to producer/songwriters Hugo & Luigi’s Avco Records on the strength of their debut single “You’re A Big Girl Now” (#7 R&B, #73 Pop) and release the follow up “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” (#6 R&B, #39 Pop) in May of 1971. The Stylistics go to work with producer, songwriter and arranger Thom Bell on their debut album. Utilizing the great musicianship of Sigma Sound’s crack studio band MFSB and string section led by Don Renaldo, the album is recorded during the Spring, Summer and early Fall of 1971. Led by the instant classic “You Are Everything” (#10 R&B, #9 Pop), the album quickly spins off two more singles including “Betcha By Golly Wow” (#2 R&B, #3 Pop), and “People Make The World Go Round” (#6 R&B, #25 Pop). With lead vocalist Russell Thompkins, Jr.’s distinctive high tenor falsetto voice featured front and center, it is regarded as one of the greatest “Philly Soul” albums ever made, putting The Stylistics firmly on the map as one of the top R&B vocal groups of the 70’s. In Australia, the album is retitled “You Are Everything”, after the hit single of the same name. Strangely, the artwork for that release replaces the original cover photo of Stylistics lying in a field of tall grass, with a young white couple. After going out of print following the demise of Avco Records, the album is finally reissued on CD by Victor Records in Japan in 1991, and is remastered and reissued by Amherst Records in 1994. The 1994 reissue features an extensive essay about the group and the album, written by music historian A. Scott Galloway. “The Stylistics” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number twenty three on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 26, 1974 – “Then Came You” by The Spinners and Dionne Warwick hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on October 19, 1974. Written by Sherman Marshall and Phil Pugh, it is the lone pop chart topper for the Detroit based vocal group and the first for the Pop/R&B vocalist. Producer Thom Bell will suggest the duet after The Spinners and Warwick appear on the same live concert bill in Las Vegas. After they record “Then Came You”, Warwick believing the song won’t be a hit, makes a bet with Bell. They take a dollar bill and tear it in half, each taking half. The loser of the bet has to send their half of the dollar to the winner. Released as a stand alone single on July 13, 1974 (later included on The Spinners’ album “New And Improved” and Warwick’s “Then Came You”), it quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Hot 100 #51 on July 27, 1974, it climbs to the top of the chart thirteen weeks later. The single quickly sells over a million copies and earn them a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group. Warwick sends Bell her half of the dollar back along with an apology for being wrong about the songs’ hit potential. The song also makes Billboard chart history when it takes the biggest fall from top spot, dropping to #15 the week of November 2, 1974, tying with Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing” which it had replaced at number one and took the same downward trajectory. “Then Came You” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.