The 10 Essential Sound of Philadelphia Songs Everyone Should Know
If you just landed here from outer space or weren’t, you know, born yet when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were all the rage, here are the songs you need to listen to first.
Hit play, then go check out our oral history of the Sound of Philadelphia, in which Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, with friends and collaborators from Thom Bell to John Oates to Patti LaBelle, look back on the musical partnership that came to define the city.
The Intruders, 1967
This Philly group is better known for the Mother’s Day classic “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” but “Together” is the perfect love song, about two people with just two pennies to rub together.
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, 1972
It’s believed that Gamble and Huff wrote this for Patti LaBelle’s trio Labelle, but that group never recorded it. And that’s just fine, because Harold Melvin and company wound up with it and completely owned it. A song of the century.
“If Only You Knew”
Patti LaBelle, 1983
This is Patti at her best, pouring her heart out on a beautiful ballad that says: If you only knew how much I love you, you wouldn’t be hesitating about being with me. It’s a true karaoke killer — lots of people try to sing it, but they just can’t.
“Break Up to Make Up”
The Stylistics, 1973
The title says it all — a song about the relationship drama that most people go through at one time or another.
The O’Jays, 1972
The quintessential warning tune: Your friends may not actually be your friends, so watch your back, all set to an irresistible groove.
“Living All Alone”
Phyllis Hyman, 1986
She was a beautiful, tall, proud Black woman from Philadelphia, but her songs always had a melancholy flavor that identified them immediately as hers. And this one, a perfect example of what Gamble and Huff were doing in the mid–’80s, is no exception.
“Me and Mrs. Jones”
Billy Paul, 1972
The timeless story of a love triangle in the form of an extramarital affair. It’s the tune that put Philadelphia’s Paul on the map.
The O’Jays, 1972
All about sisterly and brotherly love, community engagement, and how to be a better person. Resonates as much today as when it came out.
“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”
MFSB featuring the Three Degrees, 1974
A.k.a. the Soul Train theme. When you put this on at your party, everybody got up and danced.
“Show You the Way to Go”
The Jacksons, 1977
Michael’s gorgeous voice floats above majestic strings and horns on this powerful song about helping each other and coming together.
Bobbi I. Booker can be heard on WRTI 90.1 every second Sunday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for Spirit Soul Music on Ovations and every weekday from midnight until 6 a.m. for Jazz Through the Night.
Published as “The Essential Sound of Philadelphia Playlist” in the April 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.