Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records
By David Chiu
Throughout the ‘70s, the Motown hit-making factory was rivaled by the elegant R&B coming out of the City of Brotherly Love. Helmed by impresarios Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Philadelphia International Records built a stable of great and now-legendary artists and established a streak of chart hits. The Sound of Philadelphia is an essential sampler of the classic songs that still get played on radio: “Love Train” by the O’Jays; “When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees; the torchy Me and Mrs. Jones by Billy Paul; “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (Featuring Teddy Pendergrass)” and the all-time dance classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead. Nearly all of the songs were written and produced by Gamble and Huff and were characterized by sleek production values and romantic, soulful lyrics. The music coming out of PIR defined the golden age of R&B and pop in the ‘70s.
The tracks on Conquer the World were PIR singles that, despite carrying the familiar label sound, never made a dent in the charts. It’s a shame because there were genuinely good songs full of warmth, soul and passion, and perhaps a little more bouncier than the well-known and higher-charting singles. “Conquer the World” is a lovely duet between Bunny Sigler and Dee Dee Sharp; Soul Devalents’ “Grasshopper” is a novelty funk number, perhaps too gritty by PIR standards, as well as Sigler’s “Theme from Five Fingers of Death”; and Frankie & the Spindles’ “Makin’ Up Time” is both sublime and grand. For fans of Philadelphia soul, this is a treasure trove of rarities that ranks alongside with the familiar classics.
Watch a video of “Love Train”