A documentary entitled “The Sound of Philadelphia” is in development by Warner Music Entertainment, Warner Chappell Music, and Imagine Documentaries. The film focuses on the 1970s “Philly Soul” sound developed by Jamaican songwriter and producer Thom Bell and his associates Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The trio was known as “The Mighty Three,” and they created a sound that was characterized by the lush and soulful orchestrations in many of the most popular R&B tunes of the time, including “Love Train” by the O’Jays, “If You Don’t Know Me Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, and “TSOP” by MFSB and the Three Degrees. The sound dominated radio airplay in the United States during the 1970s and had a major influence on all R&B music since then.
Thomas Randolph Bell, singer, songwriter, and record producer, was born in Jamaica and raised in Philadelphia. A classically trained musician, Bell sang with Gamble and Huff, along with Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, in high school. He worked as a session player and arranger at Cameo Records, where he got his first break in soul music. After being introduced to the local group “The Delfonics” in 1967, he produced two singles for them on the “Moonglow” label. The recordings brought recognition for his production talents, and he was instrumental in getting a number of hits for the group, including “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” which received a Grammy nomination in 1970.
Bell joined a record production company run by Gamble and Huff and worked as an arranger there for artists like Archie Bell & The Drells, The O’Jays, and Dusty Springfield. He also arranged hit like the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers” on Philadelphia International Records label, which was established by Gamble and Huff in 1971. The three then launched a music publishing firm for their songs called “Mighty Three Music.”
Bell went on to product The Stylistics for Acvo Records and then joined with Linda Creed to become one of the major songwriting teams for soul music during that era and wrote the hits “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)”, “You Are Everything”, “Betcha by Golly, Wow”, “Break Up to Make Up”, “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and “I’m Stone in Love with You.”
Bell then agreed to produce The Spinners in 1972 after they left Motown Records and moved to Atlantic Records. Bell and The Spinners went on to collaborate for seven years on eight original anthems. He produced five gold albums for the group and achieved chart success with the singles “I’ll Be Around”, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, “Games People Play”, and “The Rubberband Man”. Bell received a Grammy Award in the Best Producer of the Year category in 1972.
During his career, Bell produced albums with Dion Warwick, Johnny Mathis, Billy Paul, Ronnie Dyson, and Anthony & The Imperials in the mid to late 1970s. In 1982, he found success with Deniece Williams with the remake of “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” and in 1990, Bell got his second Number 1 pop hit with James Ingram on “I Don’t Have the Heart.” He worked with Elton John, whose EP, “The Thom Bell Sessions,” featured The Spinners and in the 1980s, he produced songs for The Temptations, Phyllis Hyman, Dee Bridgwater, reuniting with the Stylistics in 1981.
Bell was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.