Philadelphia International Classics
The Tom Moulton Remixes Four CD Box Set
Review By Claude Lemaire
Moulton Mix" & "The Sound of Philadelphia"
served not only as the long time Soul Train theme
but its original acronym proudly shined as The Sound Of Philadelphia - home to
an incredible array of immensely popular soul hits throughout the 1970s by truly
gifted writers, arrangers, producers and artists.
Bridging the gap between Berry Gordy's Detroit Motown
Sound of the 1960s to the more electronified disco sounds of the mid to late
1970s, Philly Soul a.k.a. The Philly Sound became
the reigning template for slickly polished 'producer-based' discothèque music
as well as many inspiring soul ballads.
Launched in 1971 by writers-producers Kenny Gamble and Leon
Huff, Philadelphia International Records was the home turf for such soulful acts
as The O'Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, Teddy Pendergrass,
The Intruders, The Three Degrees, Lou Rawls, The Trammps and we are barely
scratching the surface. But it is not just the famed duo that kept the Philly
flame burning hot for nearly a decade.
The Sound Of Philadelphia was made possible by a large
'family' of sorts; to which house band MFSB - Mother Father Sister Brother -
served a similar role as The Funk Brothers previously did for Motown,
coincidentally 'taking up the torch' when the latter group disbanded in 1972
during the move from Detroit to L.A. and effectively ending the Motown Sound as
we know it.
By the late 1960s - Motown mastermind - Norman Whitfield's
psychedelic soul productions started incorporating social issues into songs,
lengthening instrumental parts, adding more complex arrangements, thus veering
away from the uptempo Holland-Dozier-Holland hit makers' winning format. Gamble
and Huff along with arranger-songwriter Thom Bell - the famous "Mighty
Three Music" publishing company - picked up the trail, melding their own
social conscience themes in such songs as "Back Stabbers", "Love
is the Message" and "For the Love of the Money". [That the latter
O'Jays single has 'rediscovered' a new audience due to The Donald's - money
celebrating -The Apprentice show
is one of the most ironic and sad marketing dichotomy I can think of.] But I
digress. This was 1972 not 1968 after all; gone were the distorted psychedelic
flourishes of 'yesteryear', now replaced by luscious strings and biting brass.
Concurrently, Barry White - the future icon of love - was climbing up the stairs
on a parallel ladder with his particular brand of symphonic soul inspired partly
by Detroit's Motown but equally Memphis' own Stax legend, Isaac Hayes.
The center pillar which anchored the funky groove consisted of
bassist Ronnie Baker, guitarist Norman Harris and drummer Earl Young who is
credited for 'inventing' the disco beat.
Vincent Montana, Jr., who later conducted 'parent
counterparts' The Salsoul Orchestra, played the vibes on many of those landmark
The latter of which were - with a few exceptions - wonderfully
recorded and mixed at Joe Tarsia's Sigma Sound Studios; first in Philadelphia
starting in August 1968 then later opening a second avenue in New York in 1977
in the Ed Sullivan building.
After a decade working in the research department at Philco
Corporation and taking an audio engineering position with Cameo Parkway Records,
Tarsia soon caught the bug of owning and operating a top of the line recording
studio. Starting with only a point to point 12-input console and state of the
art 8-track tape machine, it was not long before it became the second studio in
the country to offer 24-track recording and the first to take full advantage of
automation working hand in hand with industry leaders SSL and custom designs
adapted to MCI's 600 series console.
One of the 'secrets' for his signature Philly Sound was a
custom-designed direct input box - a.k.a. a DI in studio parlance - that paved
the way for crisper electric bass, guitar and keyboard tracks instead of the
traditional - at the time - instrument amp/cabinet mic’ing; thus providing
better level control and precision during the tracking and mixing stages.
Before any remixes whatsoever, Tom Moulton was a long time
music lover, so much so that he left school to work in a record shop. He grew up
in upstate New York before moving to Philadelphia later landing in California.
Contrary to expectations he never became a DJ, in large part because of the
payola scandal in the late 1950s leaving him with a bitter taste; though he
dabbled in the record business throughout the 1960s beginning with King,
followed by RCA and lastly Liberty/United Artist. Disillusioned by the inner
workings of the industry, he quit and became a model - at one point recognized
as the Camel Cigarette man. In 1971, he attended a 'tea dance' at a place called
Botel on Fire Island, New York and noticed that the DJ - spinning mostly 3
minute singles - kept 'emptying' the dance floor because of his poor overlapping
skills. Not only that but Moulton rightly surmised that the dancers did not have
sufficient time to savor the song, figure out if they should hit the dance floor
and once there, get into a groove before the following song and beat took over.
The rest is the stuff of legends; Moulton then headed back home and proceeded to
make a painstaking reel-to-reel tape of back to back popular and underground
soulful-funky songs using the 'sound on sound' technique for assembly and
varying the speed to build up the tempo and tension within the groove. Applying
his previous record experience and grasping the psyche of the typical
dancer/music buff he determined that doubling the song length to around 6
minutes - oftentimes interspersed with the 'B-side instrumental parts - would be
ideal for both dancer and DJ; that tape becoming in all probability the first extended
mix. The resulting 45 minute tape took him 80 hours to make but a few
weeks later the crowd at The Sandpiper were going wild over it.
In the informative accompanying booklet we learn that his
earliest contribution 'put to wax', dates back to 1973 with the obscure soul
single "It Really Hurts Me Girl" by The Carstairs [Red Coach RC 802],
a rare fact that even Moulton tends to forget in interviews. His hard work paid
off, eventually leading to a contract in 1974 with Scepter Records' Roadshow
label producing B.T. Express' funkified disco hit "Do It ('Til You're
Satisfied)"; transforming the 3:31 original into a 5:52 Disco
Remix pressed on the single's B-side and album [Scepter Records
SCE-12395 and SPS 5117 respectively]. Don Downing's 1973 "Dream World"
[Roadshow 7006] originally lasted only 2:36 but was reissued a year later,
extended to 4:13 with 'Disco Mix:Tom Moulton' printed on the label [Scepter SCE
12397] thus creating by happenstance the 'signature Moulton' deconstructive
breakdown where he would 'strip' the song down to its basic core
elements - drums and percussion - and build them back up again one layer after
the other. His partnership with Mel Cheren at Scepter/Wand would culminate in
the incredible Disco Gold
compilation [Scepter SPS 5120] recalling the pivotal proto-disco gems while
highlighting Moulton's magic.
In the Fall, he applied his unique gift to disco's first
crossover hit: - the DCA produced, Gloria Gaynor cover of - "Never Can Say
Goodbye" [MGM Records M3G 4982], originally a 1971 ballad sung by The
Jackson 5, again doubling from 3 to over 6 minutes. And just as the guys from
the Brooklin Trucking Express did not appreciate - at least at first - Major
Tom's 'rearrangements', nor did the 'first disco queen' rejoice upon listening
to the extended version of her hit, finding he used her vocals too sparingly. In
its heyday, Moulton would book Sigma straight from Monday to Thursday night,
leaving him Friday to head down to Media Sound to cut some test pressings for a
few lucky DJs. One such night when they were out of 7-inch blanks, they resorted
to use a 12-inch instead and to fill the side, boosted the bottom end and
extended the top and also the cutting level; leading to the invention of the
DJ's best friend - the 12 inch disco single. The 'Disco Mix by Tom Moulton' of
Al Downing's 1974 single "I'll Be Holding On" [Chess 2158] was the
first 'extended mix' cut on this larger format but was never released
commercially. After recruited by Sigma's GM Harry Chipetz, he then gained
further prominence producing Grace Jones first LP, 1977s Portfolio
[Island ILPS 9470] and repeating his winning recipe with many of the big Philly
acts. He was the first to leave his imprint with the following trademark:
"A Tom Moulton Mix" - always a symbol of top quality among
connoisseurs. Over the course of his career, he has mixed in the vicinity of
4000 different songs! Contrary to Radiohead's TKOLRMX
1234567 [tbd records 88088217592] project I evaluated last May where
it was often nearly impossible to identify the original track that inspired the
remix, here the original songs are treated with the utmost respect, typical of
Moulton's gifted 'handiwork'.
CD Art & Design created in the U.K. by Jaffa at the-unknown is tastefully
executed. The four CDs are contained in a square glossy box approximately 5/8
inch thick sporting a minimalist white background. On the front cover, two
graphically-altered Technics SL-1200 MK? turntables mimic the classic
Philadelphia International Records logo; again very original and classy while
creatively effective at conveying precisely this particular music production
sub-genre. The back cover simply lists the 31 remixed songs including the
undeniable increased track timings versus the original versions. Each CD comes
in its individual glossy cardboard sleeve reproducing the front cover artwork,
the latter presented in a succession from lighter to darker hues of brownish
grey instead of white. All four CDs sport the same label featuring the classic
PIR logo over a plain white background, which is not ideal detail wise when
listened to on a very high resolution system. In addition, a 20-page booklet is
included containing "A Word from the Executive Producer - Reid
Whitelaw" and more importantly 10 pages dedicated to the Maestro himself -
Tom Moulton, as he "Breaks It Down Track By Track", providing us with
some rare inside info and his personal opinions and memories of that rich
musical period. Interspersed are numerous 'sepia-toned' photos of the producers
and artists lending a welcomed 'nostalgic' and historical touch - kudos!
Note that with one exception, all songs are sequenced
chronologically in their original chart debut entry dates spanning nearly a
decade from July 1972 to February 1982. In the booklet page 17, track-1 of CD4
has a misprint regarding its entry date, it should read: 22/01/77 and not
22/10/77, thus January 1977 and not October is the correct date and logically
this track should reverse positions with track-2. This mistake aside, being a
music history buff, I applaud this order choice over others. A set of 3
separately sold double 12-inch vinyl, 33 1/3 RPM editions, titled Part 1, 2 and
3 (Of 3) [Harmless HURTX 12 112] respectively feature selected material from
this box set comprising one remixed song per side - thus 4 songs/volume; all
three pressed by MPO in France most probably. I have not heard any of these so I
cannot comment on any sound distinctions versus these CDs under evaluations.
Both formats were mastered and cut by Barry Grint a.k.a. Bazza at Alchemy Music
Mastering in the U.K.
Of the 31 tracks, 18 are brand new, never-released before
versions, remixed between 2006 and 2011 while the remaining 13 are 'vintage
Moulton'; 8 having previously appeared on the 1977 double-LP compilation Philadelphia
Classics [Philadelphia International Records PZG 34940] which
incredibly does not credit Moulton one bit in the gatefold jacket; only in the
dead wax does the inscription 'TM/JR' confirm his work along with mastering and
cutting engineer José Rodriguez at Frankford/Wayne Recording or Mastering Labs,
first in PA and later in NY. These extended mixes were also released on
individual 12-inch singles in different incarnations either on white label promo
copies, black and silver in 1979 and later circa 1987-89, in green on the 45 rpm
Mixed Masters series. The remaining 5 were mixed in 1976 and 1977 with 3 of the
4 Trammps tracks previously available on the 1977 LP Disco
Champs [Philadelphia International Records ZX 34728] but slightly
They smile in your
face, all the time they want to take your place, the back stabbers...
How ironic that the first track to inaugurate the 40th
anniversary of PIR contains lyrics that deal with betrayal for which Moulton
freely associates with the Music Industry and just happens to be chronologically
the top contender for first spot - The O'Jays top million-seller, the
'social-oriented' soul classic "Back Stabbers". And what a great
opener it is. The original U.S. LP [Philadelphia International Records KZ 31712]
always sounded a bit thinny and tipped up to my ears (the Canadian Columbia '360
sound' 1rst pressing was duller but no better) and much too short for such a
great song. To think that there was never a "Moulton Mix" before this
is almost a crime but the wait was well worth it. I'm glad to report that this
new version addresses all of the original's lackings. From the signature piano
roll intro to the last bars some whopping 9 1/2 minutes later, there is never a
dull moment when one indulges into the classy soulful ambiance that this new mix
As I expected from the maestro mixer, he re-adopts his
successful formula of the 1970s by postponing the vocal tracks a few bars to let
us appreciate the beautiful instrumental background composed of superb strings
and arrangements. Conga and percussion gain much prominence in this new version
with increased detail precision and spatial panning. The lead rhythm section of
bouncy electric bass and 'metronomic' drum stick give better propulsion and much
improved weight vs the 'middy' original. Note that we are still in soul
territory and too premature to christen this disco, a fact supported by the
energetic drive force deriving its roots mainly from Latin soul-rock tracks like
Santana's "Evil Ways" from their 1969 debut Santana
[Columbia CS 9781 or Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-303],
"Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" from 1970s Abraxas
[KC 30130 or Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-305] based on the
cha-cha-cha rhythm pattern as well as Booket T & The M.G.'s title track from
1971s Melting Pot [Stax STS 2035].
The tonal balance is spot on with a good combination of warmth and modern
crispness without veering into hyper-digital sterility. My sole nitpick is the
vocal tracks seem a bit lean as if a 'lo-cut' EQ was applied and some added
artificial reverb could have been dialed down to blend better in the mix instead
of 'standing out', especially during the "What They Do" acappella
riff. In essence vocal and never before heard instrumental sections share time
while a welcome breakdown is created midway with the vocals uttering
"Dirty, Dirty" before the piano ruffles the keys. I always say: be it
a book, a movie or a music album, the key is to make an impressive beginning to
win over your audience. Splendid indeed!
The Intruders follow suit with "Win, Place Or Show (She's
A Winner)" initially a 1972, 7-inch single [Gamble G 4019] that never made
it to LP. While the original had some good moments, the production values were
not as refined as later Gamble-Huff material plus it contained some quirky
'sound effects' that always put me off to a degree. In this first time ever
remix, we are treated to 'la crème de la crème'. This is truly a magnificent
metamorphosis of Moulton magnitude. The minimalist intro consist of a 32-beat
measure loop of kick drum, hi-hat and electric bass locking us into the groove;
a gradual one note key ascension paves us up the ladder culminating in the
soaring violins that sweep us to heaven; vocals come in afterwards with a touch
of added reverb that reaches celestial heights; the whole buildup reminiscent of
a perfect symphony. In addition, gone are the 'corny' trumpet and horse racing
overdubs, making it much classier as a result. Sound is quite good, almost on
par with the previous track if it were not for the vocals and strings -
beautiful as they are - that could be mixed about 2 dB lower to let the kick and
bass stand out a tad more. Thankfully compression and gain leveling are moderate
on this track as on the previous one and in no way approach the ear-annoying
levels found in modern pop nowadays. This and the opening selection are two of
the three best tracks from the box set in terms of remix appreciation and sound
Veering more funky is Johnny Williams' 1972 single "Slow
Motion" [Philadelphia International Records ZS7 3518], a great little gem
that astonishingly I had never heard before this new release. It boasts some
heavy meaty bass and a nice wide soundstage panned by a clean rhythm guitar on
the left. Sound is a bit compressed, thick and could be airier to equal the two
previous tracks; that aside it is mainly well balanced and for this genre,
better to err on the 'fat' side than the thin and aggressive. It would be
wishful thinking that the whole box set adhere at least to this quality level;
alas such will not be the case.
"People all over the
world, join hands, Start a love train, love train"
Stopping in England, Russia, China, Africa, Egypt and Israel?
Talk about world music before its time!
as long as I can remember I always loved The O'Jays' "Love Train",
never-failing to put a smile on my face. It is such an inclusive song. The
original 1972 version - the LP being identical to the single - lasted a paltry 3
minutes and like the rest of the Back
Stabbers album sounded a bit middy and thin. Thus it was only natural
that Moulton would give it all the care it demanded and such was the case back
in November 1976 when he remixed and extended it beautifully to over 6 minutes
in preparation for the original 1977 compilation Philadelphia
Classics [Philadelphia International Records PZG 34940]. As Tom would
surely concur, there is no sense wasting time in doing over something that was
and still remains an incredible remix that clearly outshined the original both
in musical emotion and sound quality. So in this box set, we can simply sit back
and enjoy this classic Moulton remix, right? Unfortunately no this is not the
case. "Say what?", I
hear you saying. Yes it is the same extended version musically
BUT NOT sonically.
Even though they specify at the very end of the booklet on
page 18 the following: "This is the first time that first generation
masters of the original Philadelphia Classics album, The Trammps and People’s
Choice tracks are being used." Do not be misled in thinking that this track
and the remaining 'vintage remixes' sound as good as or even superior to the
original vinyl editions - be it the two 1977 LPs, 1979 black and silver 12-inch
singles or the 45 rpm 'Mixed Masters' of 1987-89 because you will be in for
quite a disappointment like I was. Do not sell your original vinyl records yet!
The Intruders' "I'll Always Love My Mama" lasted a healthy 6 1/2
minutes on the 1973 LP Save the Children [Gamble
KZ 31991] so while the 9:41 extended remix done in October 1976 was always
welcome, it was not of absolute necessity compared to other shorter versions.
Nevertheless it was then and now, a great remix that follows his successful
recipe of prolonging the instrumental parts while postponing the vocal ones. The
best sounding versions in decreasing order are the original 1973 LP; the 1977
extended white label promo 12-inch [Philadelphia International Records ASD 345];
the 1977 Philadelphia Classics [Philadelphia
International Records PZG 34940]; the 1988 45 rpm 'Mixed Masters' series 12-inch
[Philadelphia International Records 4ZH 07558] and way behind, the one included
in this box set sounding even worse than the previous track.
How do you go about improving on perfection? Obviously it is a
tricky question because naturally you cannot; at best you can merely wish to
equal it. Such is the case with one of my all-time favorite songs: Harold Melvin
& The Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost" from Black
& Blue [Philadelphia International Records KZ 32407].
it first surfaced in September 1973, it set the tone for a new musical
phenomenon - disco. Earl Young's shuffling hi-hat and four-on-the-floor kick
drum redefined the possibilities for what was then 'soulful discothèque music'
played in the cities' underground gay clubs, from which would resonate in the
following decades through Hi-NRG, house and techno. Surprisingly the song was
supposed to be a soul ballad and when you listen to singer extraordinaire Teddy
Pendergrass belt out the lyrics it becomes clearer that its origins hail more
from the heart than the dance floor. The original LP version lasted just over 6
minutes including a beautiful 'beatless' intro of 'churchy' organ sharing stage
with warm electric guitar and towards the midway point, something approaching a
musical breakdown. So in a sense, it never felt lacking in structure. Though
there was not any extended version available during the 1970s, rumor has it
Moulton had come up with a longer remix some years ago but somehow it got lost!
For the first time, thanks to this box set, we are treated to
a brand new "Tom Moulton Mix" of this seminal track clocking in at a
whopping 12 1/2 minutes - twice the length of the original no less. The intro
remains 'beatless', no doubt paying tribute to the older version though organ
and guitar seem panned wider, while the former a few measures further, takes on
a 'frenzier' funky shuffling rhythm pattern. This brings a more exciting
'edgier' - though not necessarily better - mood to the piece. Also, Young's
drumkit enters a measure earlier hitting forcefully the snare and toms instead
of coming in 'on the 4' of the syncopated kick. The first chorus is 'dropped
out' of the mix leaving us the pleasure of taking in Don Renaldo's strings which
in turn helps build up the emotional intensity of the score like never before.
When the first chorus finally enters (in reality the 2nd chorus on the actual
tape) we rejoice even more than the original, then cleverly leading us back to
the first verse via digital editing most probably. The break differs a lot and
is much longer while Pendergrass' "Never,
Never" shouts are repeated several times, taking on a loop
pattern over Young's near-metronomic funky groove. This gives DJs ample time to
segue into their following song but it would be most unfortunate to lose out on
what follows the break, i.e. some superb instrumental passages never presented
like this before; again it goes to show, up to what extent a 24-(multi)track
remix can alter the mood of a given piece. The overall sound is fairly good but
a bit inferior to tracks 1 through 3 and more so compared with the original 1973
vinyl LP engineered by Joe Tarsia which is really superb in tonal balance and
everything else. This time around, some dynamic compression and leveling seems
apparent though close to tolerable. On the new version, reverb and vocals are a
few dBs too strong vs the rest of the mix. The hi-hat is nicely defined (for a
CD) but the drumkit does not have enough punch and weight in the kick.
Soundstage is fine and wide with really nice clean electric guitar and an airy
top end. A small dose of 1970s analog warmth would really help in elevating this
remix to its full potential.
The Three Degrees' Dirty Ol' Man closes the first CD. Mixed
back in October 1976, at over 8 minutes, it is nearly twice the length of the
original 1973 LP [Philadelphia International Records KZ 32406]. The latter
recorded by engineer Joe Tarsia sounded 'middy' and tipped up while the remix
was a bit better balanced on the original Philadelphia Classics album but on
this CD it is less so.
Paul's "The Whole Town's Talking" from the 1973 LP War
of the Gods [Philadelphia International Records KZ 32409] is another
great song I'm surprised to admit that I discovered just recently. The main
repetitive riff is almost a copy of The Intruders' "I'll Always Love My
Mama" intro and I'm sure would mix perfectly together. The soundstage is
very wide with good tonal balance. Again, a bit too much reverb on the vocals
and strong in level. The outro is heavy in reverb on the a cappella vocals. This
is the third best remix in sonic terms.
The Trammps' "Love Epidemic" remix from the 1977 Disco
Champs LP [Philadelphia International Records ZX 34728] seems to be
the same version as the one in this compilation except that the latter outlast
the older one - 7:32 instead of 5:57. Surprisingly this one for a change has
good bass and punch but lacks a bit of top end detail; the original LP still
surpasses it in sound.
MFSB Featuring The Three Degrees' "TSOP (The Sound Of
Philadelphia)" is the same remix as the 1977 compilation. Here it is
transferred much too loud, compressed and inferior to the 1977 vinyl LP and even
more so to the 1979 black and silver label 12-inch [Philadelphia International
Records 4Z8 3711] with "Love is the Message" on the B-side.
The Three Degrees' "Year Of Decision" originally
from their 1973 LP [Philadelphia International Records KZ 32406] is a lovely
remix that at 6:44 is quite longer than the original's 2:42 timing. The intro is
really great before the vocals appear. Too bad the sound is not up to the remix
quality level; vocals are too loud; compression is too high producing a 'middy'
tonal balance; not enough punch, kick drum and hi-hat.
The Trammps' "Where Do We Go From Here" seems to be
an extended version of his 1977 remix for the Disco
Champs LP [Philadelphia International Records ZX 34728] at 5:30
instead of 4:36. After what appears to be an identical intro, the first verses
of the newer remix are instrumental while the older version kept the vocals in.
The sound transfer is just awful compared with the sublime warm and crisp sound
of the original LP; clearly suffering from major debilitating digititus. All the
beautiful low end, brass and drum cymbals etc. sound artificially plasticised
and loud due to gain leveling and poor analog to digital conversion. On a scale
of 1 to 5, the original scores a solid 4 1/2 while the one included here is a
MFSB's "Love Is The Message" is another incredible
Philly classic almost on par with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' "The
Love I Lost" in terms of impact on the genesis of serious soulful disco
music. Elements of Big Band and jazz permeate throughout the instrumental piece
with arrangements to die for. The original version from the 1973 LP Love
is the Message [Philadelphia International Records KZ 32707] remains
my preference in structure and sound; the latter of true audiophile reference
level. A 1979 12-inch version of almost identical length appears on the B-side
of "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)" [Philadelphia International
Records 4Z8 3711]. The 11:29 version included in this box set was mixed in
September 1976 and is identical to the 1977 Philadelphia Classics album but -
not surprisingly by now - with very inferior sound. Just in case you skipped the
preceding track, the same applies here: clearly suffering from major
debilitating digititus. All the beautiful low end, brass and drum cymbals etc.
sound artificially plasticised and loud due to gain leveling and poor analog to
digital conversion. On a scale of 1 to 5, the original 1973 LP scores a 5; the
remix on the 1977 Philadelphia Classics album, a 4; while the one included here
is a miserable 2. And like the previous track, the old first pressing vinyl
copies are really worth hunting for.
Moulton's 2011 remix of Robert Upchurch's "The Devil Made Me Do It"
just trounces my original 7-inch [Golden Fleece ZS8 3254]; there is no debate on
that and to my knowledge it was never released on LP. The 1974 single sounds
full and bass heavy and lacks a lot of air in the highs. Running at only 3:23,
there is not enough time for instrumental or break sections to develop...until
now that is. The remix keeps the short eerie synth intro of the original but as
soon as the first beat starts, get ready, for you are in for an incredible 10
1/2 minute journey with a much lengthier loop-style groove - a 24 beat measure
in fact. Then one by one starting with keyboard, guitar, strings, vibes, bass
and cymbals, they add on like a symphony and before long a melody hinting at
what will be an enormous influence on the future sound of The Salsoul Orchestra
a la 1977s "Nice and Nasty" [Salsoul 12D-2011] before The Trammps'
Robert Upchurch sings and swings his oh so soulful voice. The breakdown further
on is just to die for, with instrument after instrument panned from left to
right gradually filling in the soundstage before stripping away towards the
outro. The sound retains the full thick bass but thankfully adds some top end
detail to compensate and clear up the original's 'fogginess' and lo and behold
even adds a deeper bass bottom, anchoring the tonal balance down to new depths.
To think that this great song never benefited from Tom's magic touch until now
is hard to believe. This is one of the four best tracks from the box set in
terms of remix appreciation and sound quality.
The Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again"
lasted barely 3 minutes on the original LP [Philadelphia International Records
KZ 32406] and was disadvantage by 'last cut' per side plus a lack of bass weight
and punch. This 2011 remix, though compressed, is a bit better balanced tonally
with more bass foundation and fairly good highs. Too bad the vocals, reverbs and
mids in general are pushed a little strong in the mix, robbing the track of
analog richness and warmth. Instruments are better panned across the stage which
is welcome but also producing questionable 'phasiness' artifacts in the
soundstage. As for the new song structure, Moulton delivers once more with a
vast improvement in musical enjoyment and creative 'symphonic build up' with a
never heard before breakdown and follow up 'reconstruction'. Hands on better
than the original I must admit.
Trammps' "Trusting Heart" remix passes from 3:15 on the 1977 Disco
Champs LP [Philadelphia International Records ZX 34728] to 6 minutes
in this new extended version. Poorer sound here though.
"Bad Luck" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
featuring Teodore Pendergrass holds a special place in my heart as it was that
song back in March 1975 that really got me interested in this soul-disco hybrid
known as Philly Sound though I was only ten years old at the time and had just
taken command of the old family 'stereo wooden console'. The original from the
LP To Be True [Philadelphia International Records KZ 33148] had
very good sound and lasted a decent 6 1/2 minutes. A 12-inch single black and
silver label [Philadelphia International Records 4Z8 3712] came out in 1979
lasting 6:50. Moulton's September 1976 remix extends it to 8 minutes for the
1977 Philadelphia Classics album but remains quite close to the original in
structure and sound.
The Trammps' "Trammps Disco Theme" / "Zing Went
The Strings Of My Heart" melded together, will surely put a smile on many
'old school' DJs who used to segue these two in their live sets. Probably the
least interesting remix of the collection if forced to choose one.
As explained a bit in the booklet and in interviews, "Do
It Anyway You Wanna", the first funkified-disco single by People's Choice,
was taken as a challenge to show that Gamble-Huff's PIR could top the charts
with a minimalist-arrangement, nearly-instrumental track without Philly's
ubiquitous strings and this is the
track that got Tom on board with the label. The original from 1975's Boogie
Down U.S.A. [TSOPKZ 33154] lasted only 3:18; supposedly this remix
goes back to May 1975 but was shelved until recently.
love music, any kind of music, Long as it's swinging, All the joy that it's
Among their many hits, "I Love Music" is certainly
The O'Jays most disco-infused track of their repertoire. Released in November
1975, it - and the following track - represents well the shifting point where
disco took over soul in the Philly mindset, a fact simply reflecting the music
industry as a whole. The original from Family
Reunion [Philadelphia International Records PZ 33807], lasted close
to 7 minutes and despite being unfavorably cut as the last song of side-2, it
nonetheless benefited from fine sound by the recording talents of Joe Tarsia,
Jim Gallagher and Mike Hutchinson. It came back out in 1979 on the black and
silver label 12-inch [Philadelphia International Records 4Z8 3713]. Tom's remix
of October 1976 for the 1977 Philadelphia Classics LP adds almost 3 minutes to
the 'party'; pretty much preserving the first half of the original intact and
mainly extending or looping the driving energetic instrumental riff with added
electric guitar at one point; the whole producing a highly hypnotic happy state
that makes you want to get up and dance in your living room. This same version
was released as a 12-inch single first in the U.K. [Philadelphia International
Records S PIR 6093] and in 1988 on the 45 rpm 'Mixed Masters' series 12-inch
[Philadelphia International Records 4ZH 07553] both with "Love Train"
on the B-side. Naturally all the above vinyl versions beat the crap out of this
"Don't Leave Me This Way" was a huge hit for Thelma
Houston in November 1976 [Motown M-00002D1] but the original was released
exactly a year earlier by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Originally running
6 minutes on the 1975 LP Wake Up Everybody [Philadelphia
International Records PZ 33808], Moulton's 11 minute masterpiece done in October
1976 as found on the 1977 Philadelphia Classics LP is simply out of this world
in structure and sound quality. Tom's remix as well as Joe Tarsia, Jay Mark, Jim
Gallagher and Mike Hutchinson audiophile recording set the standard for what a
disco record should sound like. The punch, deep bass and treble extension on the
1977 Philadelphia Classics LP - even more so on the white label promo - is as
good as it gets and holds its own with any 12-inch single of the genre. Strange
as it may be but Moulton once said that this track was the hardest to mix
because the intro starts out very mellow but with time, the tempo keeps speeding
up and he went to great lengths to get that sound even using a "special
mallet - a foot pedal on a stick - with a cut-out for his hand to play the 4/4
on the bass drum" to add weight no doubt; talk about dedication! A 7 minute
version also came out in 1979 on the black and silver label 12-inch single
[Philadelphia International Records 4Z8 3712]. No surprise that this nirvana
sound is not transferred on this box set; far far from it. There must be a
groove in order to groove.
Talking about grooves...Before Earth Wind and Fire hit the
1980s charts with "Let's Groove", there was a totally different
composition by Archie Bell & The Drells going way back to December 1975. The
original LP Dance Your Troubles Away
[TSOP PZ 33844] clocked it in at 6 minutes while this new remix is over 10
minutes. It is a complete revision and I would have to say - if not for the
inferior sound - I prefer it to the original but your mileage may vary on this
Lou Rawls' first and biggest hit for PIR is without doubt the
crooner-influenced "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" from the
1976 LP All Things In time [Philadelphia International Records PZ
33957]. No previous remix had ever been done; here for the first time, Moulton
presents one that I find rather non-inspiring I'm afraid to say. Perhaps it is
because this remix tends to sound more synthetic and less organic than the warm
suave original. With a better sound transfer, who knows what this remix could
Archie Bell & TheDrells' follow-up to "Let's
Groove" was "Where Will You Go When The Party's Over" from their
1976 LP [Philadelphia International Records PZ 34323]. Originally only 4:20, the
new remix scales it up to 9 minutes. I do not have the original on hand to
compare but I am quite confident that this remix is inferior in sound but
superior in structure. Starting with the latter, there is a long breakdown and
build up that in all probability did not exist or at least not under this
interesting form. As for the former, the sound quality approaches low resolution
digital almost MP3-ish; plasticized with a standout shuffling hi-hat that sounds
phasey like a malaligned or magnetized tape head; an overemphasized fundamental
without its natural overtones; cardboard one-dimensional kick drum; and one of
the worse emancipated saxes ever to greet a Philly recording. Strangely during
the break when the kick and hi-hat re-enter, they seem to 'unsync' at times.
Such a shame for this great non-commercial driving disco track.
"Jam, Jam, Jam (All Night Long)" For those who are
unfamiliar with this People's Choice track from 1976, like I was; imagine
"Do It Anyway You Wanna" jamming with War's "Galaxy" and
James Brown's mid-1970s heavier funk. Yes it is very repetitive but it is after
all 'a funky jam'. Sonic wise it suffers from pretty much the same faults of the
previous track with artificial-sounding cymbals and is low in the warmth and
organic departments as well as phasiness due to stage widening effects. This
fun, fun, fun(ky) track just begs for a real 12-inch vinyl mastered and cut by
an old pro like José Rodriguez or Kevin Gray.
Once again I am dumbfounded that I never heard this
outstanding Teddy Pendergrass track before now. Why "I Don't Love You
Anymore" did not get as much air play as his 1978 follow-up "Only You
[Philadelphia International Records 2Z8 3655] remains a mystery to this day. The
original LP version [Philadelphia International Records PZ34390] lasted only 4
minutes so I am guessing that if there was any break at all, it must have been
quite short. By contrast this recent remix tops the 8:41 mark so fasten your
seat belt 'cause your in for quite a ride. Simply put, Tom Moulton has this gift
for want of a better term to work up and down the tension within a song like no
other. You cannot help but want to get up and dance. Sonic wise, this one is
only fair with too much compression; mids are over-pronounced versus the lows
and highs; as the majority on this box set, reverb on vocals are close to exaggeration
as if the mix or mastering monitors were 'mid-shy' and 'screwed up' what should
logically approximate a huge organic 1970s disco sound kit.
Lou Rawls' 1977 follow-up for PIR was the slightly less
commercial "See You When I Git There" from Unmistakably
You [Philadelphia International Records PZ 34488]. I think this was
one song that even more than "You'll Never Find Another Love Like
Mine" was wetting the remix appetite of 'Moulton-Philly' fans for a long
time coming but sadly I was also disappointed on this one. Gone is the
original's famous 'phone call' intro, replaced by a very different but still
interesting combo of hi-hat and clean guitar followed by kick, conga and churchy
organ in the vein of "The Love I Lost" until the main riff appears and
segues into the instrumental verses and chorus and finally Lou arrives home. The
wonderful groovy rhythm tracks seem altered as if the hi-hat and conga were
lo-bit sampled and looped or synthesized. The human spirit seems 'exorcised out'
of the original recording. Without spectrum analyzing it, there is definitely a
premature roll-off of the top octave bringing a greyish veil over 8 kHz about.
It begs the question, what was the actual source used for this and other suspect
tracks: the original 24-track analog session tape or a discrete multi-track
digital dub and at what bit/sampling rate? A quick A/B with the U.S. first
pressing vinyl LP mentioned above, unequivocally destroys the remix's inferior
compressed cold sound versus the original's near-audiophile warmth and dynamics.
Personally I would have preferred a re-edit of the original with trippling of
the main riff a la Walter Gibbons' 1976 re-edit of Double Exposure's "Ten
Percent" [Salsoul 12D-2008] with instrumental parts interwoven.
Interestingly in the booklet, Moulton admits: "this isn't one of my favorite
Lou Rawls songs". Upon listening to this remix, I believe it transpires.
To me "This Time Baby" will always be Jackie Moore's
baby. Her 1979 12-inch cover [Columbia 23-10994] was the one that we heard on
the radio and the dance floor. I am sure many like myself, will be surprised to
find out that the original was recorded a year earlier by The O'Jays and if so
do not fret over it for - according to the booklet info - even Maestro Moulton
thought likewise. You know what they say: 'great minds...'
The Futures' "Party Time Man" led the new year in
1979 and just like Tom, I had never heard of it before. I know I sound like an
old grumpy 'endless groove' but we are confronted once more with a fun party
track that comes from the land that time forgot, resurrected by Tom's touch but
let down by either MP3-ish sound quality or poor tonal balance and reduced
dynamics. There seems to be a broad bump in the mids and a narrower peak in the
mid-highs that degrades the richness of the period - which let me remind you
should be 1979 analog Sigma and not 1989 hard-disk or 2000 plus low budget Pro
Tools/Reason/Mac/DAWs and Co. The intro is awesome with an 8-beat measure of
clean rhythm guitar playing solo on the left, soon joined by a doubling on the
right for the complementary 8-beats. Pumping 4/4 kick comes in dead center 'on
the one' of the next 16-beat measure, joined by 'sandy-ish' hi hat a la
juiced-up "Gimme Some" every 8-beats; piano follows; hand claps;
brass; strings; percs; bass and finally vocals complete the 'sound pyramid'.
What I call Moulton 101 par excellence.
Jean Carn's "Intro / My Love Don't Come Easy" is the
only other 1979 track featured here and aside from McFadden and Whitehead's mega
hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" [Philadelphia International Records 2Z8
3675], it just goes to show that by then the Philly Sound was, like disco but
even more so, declining in frequency and popularity.
From 1979 we jump to 1982 with The Jones Girls' "Nights
Over Egypt" and what a difference three years was back then compared to
now. If it were not included in this collection I would have never guessed that
this was a 'Philly song'; there is not a CSI trace of the old Gamble-Huff-B.H.Y.-etc.
to be found here. Which does not diminish it one bit; a fine mid-tempo song with
superb sound. FFRR comes to mind; deep quality bass and extended airy top end
octave. Intro semiquaver hi-hat plus triangle, panning harp and syncopated kick
lend support to typical Egyptian melody until an avalanche of strings and synths
cascade down into smooth-jazzyish arrangements recalling The Crusader's 1979
classy disco-jazz hybrid "Street Life" [MCA 3094] as well as Johnny
Bristol's 1980-81 soulful hit "Love No longer Has a Hold on Me"
[Handshake Hansa 4W8 02076]. And just like the latter, the tonal balance is
perfect and very extended in both directions with great articulation, a bit of
warmth - even for early 1980s - and very moderate compression which permits
turning up the volume without any ear-fatigue. What a nice and surprising ending
to this project.
Music is the healing force
of the world, It's understood by every man, woman, boy and girl...
Summing up, of the 31 treasured tracks, every single one is
musically worth its weight in gold. Contrary to most box sets, here there is
definitely no 'filler-up' material to be found. Mastering engineer Barry Grint
has done a poor job of transferring the 1970s originals to digital. Compression
and gain leveling are evident, sounding 'middier', thinner and louder than the
newer mixes and the originals of course. On this 40th anniversary celebration it
would have been a perfect occasion to either slightly improve on the originals
or at the very least do what is called a straight transfer without compression
or limiting directly from the 2-track stereo analog tape. Regrettably this
applies to the 13 'vintage' tracks in this box set, some worse than others but
suffice to say they all suffer at some point from this maddening ill-conceived
You will find numerous 'reviews' on line that swear how
improved is the new 'refreshed' sound or that the digital remastering has done
'miracles' on such and such track. On what planet these reviewers live on, I
have no idea but it is certainly not Planet Reality nor Planet Vinyl; for that
is the true benchmark to compare, not some second-rate CD compilation
dynamically compressed and frequency emancipated by a fresh-ear tech whose main
criterion for sound quality is "can't we make these level meters stop
swinging?" That this overshadows the incredible musical wealth, history and
genius of such gifted people as Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, Tom Bell,
Baker-Harris-Young, Joe Tarsia, José Rodriguez, Tom Moulton and so many others
is truly a tragedy.
That said, in spite of my strong sonic criticism above, I
still heartily recommend this box set for its immense musical richness,
essential historic value and Tom Moulton's creative dedication to elevating the
state of the art of remixing and putting back Emotion
into classic dance floor treasures.
Now how can we get on board a Kevin Gray or a Doug Sax to give
it the Royal Treatment it deserves.
At age seventy-two, Tom Moulton is still going strong and
having the time of his life. From all of us,
Sound Quality: Variable from