Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia (Sony Legacy)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 12, 2008
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia(Sony/Legacy)
When Barack Obama's victory broke last month, McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" cued up coast to coast. The 1979 anthem acts as logical culmination of the aspirational sound developed at Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios by songwriter/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. This 4-CD retrospective begins with Gamble & Huff's first big hit, "Expressway (to Your Heart)," but the 1967 Soul Survivors indelible offers little hint of things to come. The pattern starts emerging on the Delfonics' "La-La – Means I Love You." Combining vestiges of doo-wop with a slightly more mature take on Motown's ornate production, early entries in the Gamble & Huff playbook foreshadowed the quiet storm perfected in 1972 through the fiery growl of Teddy Pendergrass on Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me by Now." Then the duo borrowed a page from Curtis Mayfield by introducing social justice motifs on the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and "Love Train." Girded by a deep-seated groove and infused with gravitas by elaborate string and horn arrangements, the messages couldn't miss. William DeVaughn's 1974 one-off, "Be Thankful for What You've Got," typified the ice-cold gangsta aesthetic that hip-hop promulgated, while the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" boasted one of the all-time great opening bass riffs, courtesy of 19-year-old Anthony Jackson. Philadelphia also birthed classic disco beat via drummer Earl Young's metronomic hi-hat on tracks such as MFSB's wickedly gorgeous "T.S.O.P. (the Sound of Philadelphia)." The 1980s-era songs that close Love Train suffer from smooth R&B turgidity, but the set's most egregious misstep is the omission of key Spinners tracks meticulously produced and arranged by fellow Gamble & Huff traveler Thom Bell. "I'll Be Around," "Mighty Love," and "The Rubberband Man" are a solid start, but skipping "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love" stops Love Train just shy of definitive.