Chicago DJ, Don Cornelius created one of the longest running musical variety shows ever on TV. In fact it’s the longest running syndicated show ever spanning 35 years. That it was a black owned, black run TV show aimed specifically for a black audience featuring soul music that crossed over into mainstream America in the 70s is nothing short of a miracle. The only African-American performers you might have seen on TV before Soul Train were limited to Harry Belafonte & Sammy Davis Jr. They gave a voice to rising soul stars like Al Green, funkers like War & Kool & the Gang, supporting veterans like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder & Aretha Franklin as they moved to the mature part of their careers. It took soul music into the living rooms of America. They created a disco group from 3 of its dancers (Shalamar) and became the show to learn the latest dance moves. American Bandstand was where you watched people dance. Soul Train was where you watched people get down.
The original theme to the show was Hot Potatoes by King Curtis, but host Don Cornelius wanted something hot & fresh & original as Soul Train’s theme. In 1973, he approached the two men who were in the midst of creating their own genre, Philly Soul. Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, the architects of the Philadelphia house of soul, where artists such as the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The Stylistics, the Spinners and many others were conquering the charts with one amazing hit after another. It made sense to Don that they would create the new theme to Soul Train.
And they did. And it should have been formally called the Soul Train theme. But Don was protective of his trademark, so when Gamble & Huff wanted to release it as single credited to the Philly Soul house band, MFSB, they changed the title to The Sound of Philadelphia (or TSOP). By all accounts it was the perfect name for the track even though Don admitted later he should have loosened up and had his Soul Train name on the record.
Nevertheless this funky instrumental went to #1 in April of 1974. It was surprisingly their only Top 40 hit, although they had lots of great jams, such as Sexy or the disco classic, Love Is The Message. And while most credit Rock The Boat as the first #1 disco single, this is the one that should have gotten the credit. If you are feeling down, this is the perfect song to lift you up. And if it doesn’t make you move, call a doctor.
Wherever you are Don, I hope you’re having a stone gas….Peace, love & soooooooul!