to contact me


EVALUATIONS OCCUR IN REAL TIME

SIX YEAR ANNIVERSARY



TO CONTACT ME

soundeval@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS: THE TOM MOULTON REMIXES

Harmless HURTXCD 112 (2012, March)

Rating: 4.0 - 9.0/ A

Remix rating: 9.0

Category: Philly Soul - Disco
Format: 4CD Box Set

Total time: over 264 minutes
 

 
"A Tom Moulton Mix" & "The Sound of Philadelphia "

 
 "TSOP" 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 aka 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 recordings.


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 - aka 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 dabbed 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 dancefloor because of his poor overlapping skills. Not only that but Moulton rightly surmised that the dancers did not have sufficient time to savour the song, figure out if they should hit the dancefloor 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; leading the owner to 'order up' more tapes from him. Fortunately one of those famous later tapes from 1974 - often called the Fire Island "Labour Day Mix Tape" - can still be found and streamed when searching on the web.

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 payed 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' rejoyce 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 TKOL RMX 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'.


The 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 vs 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 aka 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 sligthly extended here.

CD One

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 shortcomings. 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 allows.


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 [Columbia 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" a capella 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 more classy 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 quality.

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 agressive. 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!



For 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 Peoples 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 vinyls yet!


Initially The Intruders' "I'll Always Love My Mama" lasted a healty 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 sucessful 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].

 
When 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 suppose 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 dancefloor. 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.

CD Two

Billy 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 extented 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 10, the original scores a solid 9 while the one included here is a miserable 4.

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 10, the original 1973 LP scores around 9.5; the remix on the 1977 Philadelphia Classics album, an 8; while the one included here is a miserable 4. And like the previous track, the old first pressing vinyl copies are really worth hunting for.


Tom 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.

CD Three

The 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. [TSOP KZ 33154] lasted only 3:18; supposedly this remix goes back to May 1975 but was shelved until recently.



I love music, any kind of music, Long as it's swinging, All the joy that it's bringing...

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 unfavourably 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 CD.

"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 one.

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 impart.

CD Four

Archie Bell & The Drells' 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; plasticised with a standout shuffling hi-hat that sounds phasey like a malaligned or magnetised 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 vs the lows and highs; as the majority on this box set, reverb on vocals are close to exageration 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 analysing 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/samling rate? A quick A/B with the U.S. first pressing vinyl LP mentioned above, unequivocally destroys the remix's inferior compressed cold sound vs 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 favourite 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 dancefloor. 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 is suppose to 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 decision.

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 dancefloor 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,

Thanks Tom!
____________________________________________________________________

No comments:

Post a Comment