The Songwriters – Gamble and Huff

“What you gon’ write about us, smart guy?”  Leon Huff (left) and Kenny Gamble

Sometimes you don’t know just how prolific a songwriter was until you look into it, because their names are not associated with the records as the artists’ names are. The Gamble and Huff partnership that flourished in the 1970s is pretty well known, but the volume of hits they wrote is astonishing.

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff pioneered the Philadelphia Sound that became like a successor to Motown once the Detroit outfit had started to run out of steam.

Me and Mrs Jones brought them to our attention in 1972, Billy Paul doing a sterling job of singing it, and then it was on to the O’Jays. Love Train was a jolly little thing, but the preceding Backstabbers (no Gamble in the writing credits, but Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead) gave a quick indication that they weren’t going to serve us up chocolate box stuff all the time.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, when Gamble and Huff’s igniting of the Three Degrees’ already long but uneventful career brought us Year of Decision, which wasn’t about making your mind up about love, but more serious, political matters. Somehow the nature of the subject matter was smuggled into the charts by a tune and production that smelled of perfume and wore long, glittery dresses.

Subsequent Three Degrees hits such as When Will I See You Again, Get Your Love Back and Take Good Care of Yourself were on more familiar pop/soul territory.

The cumbersomely named Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes benefited from G&F’s purple patch with  The Love I Lost and another thinker, Wake Up Everybody, plus If You Don’t Know Me By Now, which would be resurrected  in 1990 by Simply Red, while the O’Jays continued with Now That We’ve Found Love, which was also a hit for Third World.

In 1974 the largely instrumental TSOP (the sound of Philadelphia) featured vocals by the Three Degrees and in 1976 came something of a masterpiece: soul legend Lou Rawls’s smash You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.

Eventually, though, the Seventies sweet soul boom petered out in the face of, among other things,  cleaned-up rock bands with their pompous ballads, and  Gamble and Huff had a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labours, but they weren’t quite finished and 1979 saw the release of Ain’t No Stopping Us Now by McFadden and Whitehead, names you no doubt recognized earlier.

So, if the Motown guys  were the mass  confectioners of the Sixties (and we’ll get to them in a week or two), Gamble and Huff took over the chocolate factory with some style.

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