By 1973, Gamble & Huff had hit their stride with Philadelphia International Records, thereby coloring the sound of soul music for the era, so, appropriately enough, Bear Family's 1973 volume of Sweet Soul Music begins with their protégé Thom Bell's arrangement and production of the Spinners' "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love." Not a Philly International record, it's nevertheless an indication of how thoroughly smooth soul spread throughout the U.S. in the early '70s. Among these 23 songs are some big songs for Philadelphia International -- the O'Jays' "Love Train," Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost, Pt. 1," which in this context does indeed sound like the first disco record -- but it's also possible to hear their influence on Timmy Thomas' slow-burning "Why Can't We Live Together," the Four Tops' post-Motown hit "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got)," Marvin Gaye's sultry "Let's Get It On," and the Manhattans' "There's No Me Without You." Apart from James Brown -- heard here through Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s "Doing It to Death" -- the funk and Southern soul are also getting more dramatic, as evidenced by Don Covay's cheating classic "I Was Checkin' Out She Was Checkin' In," Syl Johnson's tight "Back for a Taste of Your Love," and the slick funk of the Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can Can." This polish is intoxicating but it isn't so slick that it disguises how this was one of the most vital, creative eras of soul, and it still sounds vibrant decades later.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine