Maybe it’s a burst of classic Pennsylvania summer heat that’s got me thinking this way … but over the past 48 hours, my playlist has leaned heavily toward ’70s Philly soul. Not quick doses of it, but long thirsty gasping gulps of it.
A while ago, I bought a four-CD set of Philadelphia International songs reworked by Tom Moulton, the father of the disco remix.
When the mood is right, there are few better ways to spend 10 minutes than in the company of Moulton, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and their cohorts.
The grooves are still, after all these years, tight enough to hook you in. And the remixes show off the musicianship of the classic Philly records. Listen to the instruments take a verse of “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and you’ll hear an interplay you might not have noticed when you were basking in Lou Rawls’ voice.
I was driving home the other day on a beautiful sunny afternoon when I connected with a tune previously unknown to me, Archie Bell and the Drells’ two-chord workout “Let’s Groove.”
I could hear about three-quarters of the sound at any one time — the windows were open, and the outside world was an instrument. It all seemed to fit.
Sometimes all I could hear were the drums and the repeated plucking of a string instrument. (Is it a bass guitar up high, or a guitar down low?) That was all I needed to tune in, trance out and go with it.
The song kept going and going in the same pocket, and there was absolutely no need for it to go anywhere else, and I could easily have driven to Quebec City as long as the groove went on.
It was probably the most pleasure anyone’s ever gotten from that song while strapped down into a seat.
I almost decided not to post the remix here, because I don’t expect anyone sitting at a computer to get the same ambient high. Most likely you’ll listen to two minutes of it and wonder what I was thinking.
I can’t explain it either. Just another example of the life-giving qualities of Philly soul, I guess:
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I shouldn’t even mention this other record in the same week as Gamble and Huff.
But it also appears to be from Philadelphia, and I came across it in the past few days, so I guess it ties in firmly enough to be included.
The subject of Ray J. Johnson came up at work yesterday. Don’t bother asking me how or why. (You can’t ask me why, and you can’t ask me how … oh, dammit.)
This prompted a visit to RJJ Jr.’s Wiki page. It informed me that the cigar-chewing “comedian” jumped on the disco bandwagon in 1979, recording a dance single called “Dancin’ Johnson.”
As rancid as that sounds in concept, you can’t really hold it against Johnson’s creator, Bill Saluga.
The sheer putridity — and massive popularity — of Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” pretty much opened the floodgates to every half-assed novelty disco concept.
Nothing anyone could come up with could be much worse musically; and there was always the potential for a monster hit. So, why not hire an intelligent arranger and give it a shot?
Saluga/Johnson had the good sense, or maybe just the cash, to hire a Philly musical veteran as his accomplice.
You might recognize Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s name from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. He co-wrote and produced the Trammps’ monstrous “Disco Inferno,” and apparently shared an Album of the Year Grammy Award with a bunch of other producers.
Fresh from that triumph, Kersey co-wrote, arranged and produced “Dancin’ Johnson.”
And, as befitting the work of a pro, it ain’t half-bad.
Sure, to some extent, most anybody could make a decent disco record once apprised of the basic ingredients — pounding congas, flashing strings, octave-thumping bass guitar.
But I think this swings along pretty nicely. I’ve heard boring, business-as-usual disco, and in my humble opinion, this ain’t it.
Saluga/Johnson, to his credit, lays out for most of the second half and lets the band percolate. (Wonder if that’s Kersey himself playing the funky Fender Rhodes mini-solo at 6:45 in?)
I can actually picture people tuning out the words to this and getting lost in the groove … sorta like I did to Archie Bell’s “Let’s Groove” the other day, come to think of it.
The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows no evidence that “Dancin’ Johnson” got significant play anywhere.
I never, ever, ever in my life thought I would say this … but y’know, that might be a shame.