Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “Love, Need, and Want You” from Patti LaBelle’s 1983 album I’m In Love Again.
From Motown to Stax, every classic label had its own musical style and signature. In the late 60s through the 80s, the records produced at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, under the production guidance of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, were no exception. The Sound of Philly was applied to the incredible Patti LaBelle, when she signed with Philly International after releasing four solo albums on Epic Records. With her mid-70s success behind her, she released her sixth studio album, I’m In Love Again, in 1983.
I’m In Love Again put LaBelle back on the record charts and the radio after several years. The album produced two hits, the biggest of which was “If Only You Knew,” which spent four weeks as the number one on the Billboard R&B charts. The follow-up single, was “Love, Need and Want You,” written by Kenny Gamble and Bunny Sigler. The song is a quintessential Philly International turn-the-lights-down low and let’s make love jam. Vocally, it’s pure Patti. She rides the melody like gorgeous midnight blue, yearning in love, hopeful in love, shouting about being in love at the top of the mountain.
“Love, Need, and Want You” is filled with love song lyrical clichés. However, it works on every level. Phrases like “you can always count on my love,” “I just want you to know how I feel,” “Sugar, I want you so bad,” “I got a burning desire,” and “Can’t you see you’re my everything,” abound, but dang — LaBelle sings it like it’s the last love song she’s ever going to sing, to the adoring love object her heart is attached to.
And then there’s that sound: the classic Sound of Philly that LaBelle so confidently and passionately leans into. It comes with a sweet swirling string arrangement that both counters her singing and plays along with it, the smooth popping bass that drives a subtle, meditative, yet sensual rhythm, the repetitive harmonies of the backup singers singing “love and need and want you, baby,” and the eloquent guitar lines throughout. It’s one of LaBelle seminal recordings, from a career that to this day is as strong as ever.
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