A HOUSE ON FIRE: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul

John A. Jackson, Author . Oxford Univ. $35 (368p) ISBN 978-0-19-514972-2

In his latest meticulously detailed slice of pop music history, Jackson (American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock and Roll Empire ) focuses on the creation, expansion and dissolution of Philadelphia International Records, whose songs and artists dominated soul and pop airwaves throughout the 1970s. Specifically, he follows the careers of three men who defined the company's "Philly Soul" sound: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, a powerhouse producing-writing team who made stars of Teddy Pendergrass and the O'Jays, and Thom Bell, whose solo work as a producer brought success to groups such as the Spinners and the Stylistics. On the musical side, Philadelphia International combined the smooth harmonies and sophistication of Motown with the hard-driving funk of the Memphis-based Stax Records; on the business end, the black-owned label mirrored the almost dictatorial Motown machine while seeking to emulate the family feel of the smaller Stax. The unlikely combination of the outgoing Gamble and the gruff, taciturn Huff—"a study in complementary talents"—managed to create some of the most memorable songs of the era, including "Back Stabbers" and "If You Don't Know Me By Now." Though by 1983 the label was but "a shell of what it once had been," the Philadelphia International sound influences pop-soul and rap artists today. Photos not seen by PW . Agent, Nancy Love. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/04/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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