Road Trips with Jason Crane: Philly Soul

(PHILADELPHIA, PA) — I’ve been in the Philly area for the past couple days. I haven’t been here in years and it’s been nice to see the city again. I was talking with Philadelphia-based drummer Dan Monaghan about regional music and how a lot of it has disappeared. By “regional music” I mean the way there used to be a Laurel Canyon sound or a Detroit sound, for example. Those regional differences extended to various genres, from pop to soul to jazz and beyond.

Given where I am, let’s talk about Philadelphia soul. The Philly soul sound was super funky, but it was also full of string sections and really elaborate arrangements. Here are a few classics:

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB

If you’re a regular Drive listener you know this tune. The band MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother) featured a rotating cast of the heavy hitters of the Philadelphia studio scene. Think of them like the Philly version of the Wrecking Crew.

“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John

When tennis star Billy Jean King and her Philadelphia Freedoms were big news, Elton John decided to write a song in tribute to her. He and Bernie Taupin came up with this classic, which is not only an homage to King, but also a clear nod to the Philly soul sound.

“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” by The Delfonics

The Philly soul sound wasn’t just about uptempo funk, it also had a softer side, as heard in this ballad. This was one of the earliest songs to put the Philly sound on the map, hitting the top 10 on the pop charts and going on to win a Grammy.

“I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners

Let’s wrap up this list with another stone classic. The Spinners were one of the major exponents of the Philly sound, and this massive hit has it all: funky work by the rhythm section, a great arrangement, strings, soulful lead vocals. It’s the whole package.

Got a Philly soul fave? Let me know: jason@thedrivetucson.com.