50 years ago, the sound of Philly Soul was born out of the legendary Philadelphia International Records. With the talents of The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees, McFadden & Whitehead, and others, the label rewrote the standards of soul music. To celebrate all P.I.R. contributed to the world of music, we’re publishing a number of soul features this month, and giving away The Story of Philadelphia International Records prize pack, which includes vinyl, a turntable, and speakers.
How do you pick 20 songs that define an era — that represent a sound that means so much to so many people? It’s not easy, but the first thing that comes to mind is “emotion.”
The Philadelphia Sound, made famous by Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff, endures decades after its inception. Songs by The O’Jays, The Stylistics, Patti LaBelle, and Teddy Pendergrass — to name just a few — will never go out of style.
That’s a testament to the work of everyone involved, as they created everlasting soundscapes and wrote about universal topics that will always be a part of the human condition.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into the list, shall we? Here are the 20 best Philly Sound songs of all time.
20. The Delfonics – “La-La (Means I Love You)”
It wasn’t easy putting this at number 20. Even in this position, it doesn’t mean this is a bad song; every song here is a high standard for the genre. “La-La (Means I Love You)” by The Delfonics is a perfect love song. It was perfect in 1968, it’s perfect in 2021, and it will remain perfect in 2038. Every band from The Jacksons to Prince have their own version of it, and it is The Delfonics’ legacy. From the second those drums hit, the song announces itself as something special and worthy of your time.
19. The Stylistics – “People Make the World Go Round”
“People Make the World Go Round” is haunting. Sonically, it might be the most divergent song on this list. Another example of musicians being inspired by their surroundings, the song details the effect the ’70s transit strikes had on residents of big cities, but exudes an understanding that we’re all connected. “People Make the World Go Round” is a brief reminder that what happens to one of us happens to all of us.
18. The Spinners – “The Rubberband Man”
Thom Bell and Linda Creed wrote “The Rubberband Man” song for Bell’s son, whose classmates were teasing him for being overweight. The funky rhythms and its cheerful nature continue to captivate audiences to this day. The song shows up in commercials, movies, and most recently, Avengers: Infinity War. With all that said, this is probably the best gift any parent could give their child.
17. The Spinners – “O-o-h Child”
We all have days when we feel like the world is crumbling around us. “O-o-h Child” is the anthem for those days. Originally recorded by Chicago’s the Five Stairsteps in 1970, it was covered by The Spinners that same year. Its most recent appearance in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy further etched its significance in pop culture, as a brand new generation was introduced to it in a different emotional context.
16. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – “The Love I Lost”
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes didn’t mess around. “The Love I Lost” grabs your attention from the start. Once the singing comes in, it’s a foregone conclusion that the song will worm its way into your head and never leave. It’s also another case of very sad subject matter existing over an energetic and joyful beat. One wonders if this was all part of the plan for Philadelphia artists, as they managed to talk about deep subject matter that got people on the dance floors.