1968 Philly Soul Progenitors

Jerry Butler: Hey, Western Union Man

The Delfonics: La-La (Means I Love You)

The Formations: At The Top of The Stairs

Let’s start with Western Union and the true founders of philly soul, The Five Americans, with their big hit “Western Union” – wait no sorry wrong Western Union hit song, also great, with its unforgettable simulated telegraph message via impeccably period keyboards. Produced by the wild Dale Hawkins. Wrong group! But that was 1967 when telegrams were still coming. A song could still be written about what it was like to read a telegram that bummed you out.

By 1968 you could only hope to send telegrams and that is why Jerry Butler’s great record, and now we are doing some first Gamble and Huff records proper, is called “Hey, Western Union Man” because it’s this exhortation to send this telegram. The paradox is that while technically telegrams arrive instantly, the message will also have to arrive at the speed of a bike “something like yesterday.” Butler sings like she can hear him already.

The Delfonics “La-La” is one of my most replayed tracks ever, it shimmers like a suspension bridge. There’s some appealing tweak in the taping of the strings I never tire of concentrating on. That goes perfectly with the unusual condition of the much seen video on youtube, a demo that includes early TV edit video typography in the foreground.

The most mysterious of these records is the one by The Formations. “At the top of the stairs there’s darkness, my life was not made for happiness.” What is it about. I don’t know all the lyrics to this one yet. One of the best instrumental breaks of the 60s between the traumatized vocals too.


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