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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul | still from video

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 “Me and Mrs. Jones” from Billy Paul’s 1972 album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul.

Back in the day, in the late 60s and 70s, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records produced their share of incredible love songs. From “Expressway To Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors and “La La Means I Love You” by The Delfonics, to The Spinners’ “Then Came You” and the smooth soul of “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls, L-O-V-E was this label’s bread and butter. That’s to say nothing of Philly International’s ultimate love man, Teddy Pendergrass, whose songs illustrated the full range of love; requited, unrequited, and in the timeless ballad “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (recorded in 1972 with Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes), tortured love.

But three months later, in December 1972, the now-classic R&B song “Me and Mrs. Jones” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the number one spot for three weeks. The ballad — sung by Philly International legend Billy Paul (originally from just across the river, in Blackwood, New Jersey) and written by Gamble, Huff, and Cary Gilbert — was about marital infidelity, a secret love, and sung from the man’s perspective. On top of a smooth, sultry groove, and a memorable, dramatic string arrangement that heightened the tension of the affair, Paul sings “We both know it’s wrong, but it’s much too strong to let it go now,” about their daily meeting (“the same place, the same cafe, the same time”). Continue reading →

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XPN MusicNotes: Remembering Philly’s own Billy Paul, watch Chris Stapleton pay tribute to Prince

A photo posted by Pete Rock (@agentcbw7) on

Philadelphia R&B/Soul Singer Billy Paul has died.  He passed away on Sunday at his home in Blackwood, NJ.  He was 81.

Billy Paul started getting attention at age 11 while attending the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School of Music. He was was one of the many, many artists who had success with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records.  Billy Paul hit it big in 1972 with his No. 1 hit “Me and Mrs. Jones,” for which he won a Grammy Award for best rhythm ‘n blues male vocal performance. Continue reading →

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Here’s a show I wish I had been at: “Golden Gate Groove: The Sound Of Philadelphia in 1973”

Golden Gate Groove: The Sound Of Philadelphia in 1973 is one concert I would have loved to have been at. Released today, the album, according to Philadelphia International Records “documents the first—and only— time that the stars of Philadelphia International Records ever played in concert with the label’s fabled house band, MFSB. The concert took place in San Francisco during the annual CBS Records convention at the Fairmont Hotel in September 1973.”

In a review of the album on the music site The Second Disc, Joe Marchese writes:

Recorded on July 27, 1973, the concert was held at CBS Records’ company convention inside the plush environs of the Fairmont Hotel. Previous performers at the convention included Bruce Springsteen and Engelbert Humperdinck. Joe Tarsia, the owner of Philly’s hallowed Sigma Sound Studios and the concert’s engineer, recalls in the liner notes that the event was attended by everyone on the CBS roster from Perry Como to Edgar Winter. (What a sight that must have been!) And nearly everyone associated with the success of Philadelphia International was up there, on that stage. Vocalists included Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees, Billy Paul, and the O’Jays. The MFSB Orchestra that evening counted among its 35 members two-thirds of the city’s “Mighty Three,” Leon Huff and Thom Bell on piano and organ, respectively. Huff and Bell were joined by a duo of Philly’s finest arrangers, Norman Harris and Bobby Eli (guitars), plus Earl Young (drums), Ronnie Baker (bass), Lenny Pakula (piano/keyboards), Jack Faith (saxophone), Vince Montana (vibes) and other notables. Bobby Martin and Richard Rome, two more arrangers with key contributions to the Philadelphia sound, took turns conducting.

Gamble and Huff considered the evening a crucial one to secure ongoing promotion at CBS Records for their fledgling label despite its already-proven hitmaking ability. That urgency is evident in the performances. (Thom Bell was the third partner in Gamble and Huff’s publishing company, and a frequent face at the label despite his outside productions for The Stylistics, The Spinners, Ronnie Dyson, New York City, Johnny Mathis and so many others.) Hit the jump to meet the evening’s emcee, the one and only Mr. Don Cornelius!

Go here to read the full review.