100 Best Philly Albums of all Time

It seemed like a good idea in the meeting ...

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When we decided to do this a few months ago, we were all enthusiasm and bright ideas. Excited by the city's musical legacy--which many people aren't even aware of--we thought we'd try to highlight some of the best moments and sounds in Philadelphia's cultural history. And what better way than a list? People love lists.

So we sent out an email that said, "We have decided to take on an almost insurmountable task: We're going to try to pick the 100 Best Philly Albums of All Time." At the time, we didn't know how insurmountable that task really was.

The email was sent to dozens of people--radio DJs and program directors, club DJs,music critics, record store owners, heads of major music-related organizations, musicians, promoters, booking agents, songwriters, website owners, zine makers and people who are simply obsessed with finding that one thing on vinyl they haven't been able to find for 15 years.

It was an interesting and motley group, and most wrote back with idiosyncratic lists. The only instruction was to limit selections to artists from Philadelphia or to albums that were recorded here. We were tempted to include some people--like Nina Simone--who were tenuously connected to the city. But we decided to be a little more stringent--in our own way. Dusty Springfield never lived in Philly, but the album we list here, A Brand New Me, was recorded in Philadelphia with Gamble and Huff, which gave it a distinctly Philly sound.

Some names were on every respondent's list: Coltrane, Bowie, the Roots, Dead Milkmen. Others were relative obscurities that showed up once or twice: Sweet Stavin Chain, for instance, or Good God.

The range led us to an important resolution: Rather than produce a definitive list, we decided to come up with a quirky assemblage. Our hope in creating this catalog is that you'll discover things you didn't know before, and return to things you may have forgotten.

Check out our honorable mentions box for those who almost made it. Maybe next year ... Oh, wait--there won't be a next year. I think we've learned our lesson. (Liz Spikol)

1.John Coltrane

A Love Supreme / Impulse!, 1964

Perhaps not as easily accessible as Coltrane's breakthrough classic Blue Train, which established the tenor titan as both a great improviser and a great composer, A Love Supreme revels in all the power and majesty that we now associate with John Coltrane, the jazz legend who got his professional start in Philadelphia. A trancelike and economical yet profoundly satisfying recording that clocks in at a mere 33 minutes, A Love Supreme contains standards like the massively swinging "Part Two--Resolution," with its hypnotically repetitive melody, the blissful "Part Three--Pursuance" and the hymnal Latin-induced "Part One--Acknowledgement" and its prayerful sleepwalking chant, "A love supreme, a love supreme." Backed by the equally profound quartet of drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison and Philly-born pianist McCoy Tyner (see No. 16), Coltrane traverses A Love Supreme as both seer and common man, meshing his unparalleled passion and technique with music that swings ferociously yet introspectively, foreshadowing the far galaxies his music would eventually inhabit. Unlike such later 'Trane albums as Sun Ship and Interstellar Space, A Love Supreme appeals to both the sheets-of-sound crowd and Blue Train diehards alike, the album bridging styles, intensity levels and thematic material in a remarkably cohesive and powerful statement of genius.

2. O'Jays

Back Stabbers / Epic/Legacy, 1972

This album, which lands on most every soul fan's list of top 10 albums ever, is considered by most R&B aficionados Gamble and Huff's best work. Unlike Motown groups like the Temps and the Tops, the O'Jays had edge and a sense of immediacy. When they sang about back-stabbers, they weren't just complaining about haters--they were indicting them. They could sound lush and funky and romantic too, which is what gave their albums an operatic feel. Back Stabbers came early in their career and established them as the consummate '70s R&B group. You couldn't help but get aboard their love train, and once there, you wanted to stay. The best thing about the O'Jays--and this album in particular--is how both they and it have aged: smoothly and gracefully.

3. Marian Anderson

Spirituals / RCA, 1999

Rumor has it that singer Marian Anderson will be featured on a stamp soon, and it's no wonder. The famous contralto was a pioneering African-American interpreter of opera and concert singing, and fought discrimination that sometimes barred her from performing. Though she was familiar with a wide classical repertoire, this album--which consists of recordings she made between 1936 and 1952--highlights what she was able to do with traditional American religious music. It includes standards like "Trampin'," "Go Down Moses," "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," but there's nothing standard about the way Anderson handled the material.

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Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. Serease Brown said... on Nov 13, 2008 at 09:34AM

“Buuter, Who sings the song Step Into My World , I heard it on your show female group? Thanks Serase”

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2. Drew said... on Jul 23, 2009 at 12:01AM

“"Backstabbers" was hardly early in the O'Jays' career. The group has been recording and touring since 1960.They were a quintet until 1965/66, then a quartet until they resigned with Gamble-Huff and became a trio. Prior to being a trio and hitting with "Backstabbers" they had recorded for at least six different labels with most of their songs scoring in the high echelons of R&B charts in the cities they were played.”

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3. greg said... on Jul 24, 2009 at 04:36PM

“I was in Sweet Stavin Chain and Good God...I was also in a band called Breakwater in the late '70's and early '80's that had 2 successful albums on Arista and a national following. It was one of the best funk bands ever to come out of Philadelphia and one of the few truly self-contained bands on the soul side of town to make a mark. It still gets played on WDAS...the songs were good enough. I'm a little surprised that it didn't get a mention here.
By the way, were getting together again after almost thirty years and it's a real pleasure. The band sounds possibly better than it did back then... nice to know it's still there after all these years, makes you think you were on to something the first time. Keep your eyes peeled, we'll be playing out before the year is out.


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4. Frank C. said... on Jul 26, 2009 at 08:29PM

“Hats off for citing Essra Mohawk's PRIMORDIAL LOVERS but it should be in Top 10, for sure!
The album still blows me away and to think Essra was only 21 when she created it... Not only is it, for my money, the best of the earliest singer-songwriter works, but Rhino Records even went one step further by essentially calling it the mother album of "grrrl power."
Essra, rock on!!!”

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5. Richard Romanowski said... on Dec 25, 2009 at 06:24AM

“Essra, for me, has become a suitable, iconic legend. One listen ro ant of her songs could alone exolain my rationale behind thid thinking. Her songs are truly an inspiration, they are a force to be dealt with. I feel her melodies bery deeply, surging within the innermost parts of my very soul. Thank you. Rich Romanowski of Romanowski Studios (look for my songs on YouTube.”

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6. Joann Cape May NJ said... on May 14, 2010 at 12:42AM

“My husband John Bussell is still alive, still singing and playing for his family and friends.”

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7. john travis said... on May 27, 2010 at 10:19AM

“What about the album Dobbs Lives. only 1000 copies were made, 1980 copy right, Living Room Artists Productions.”

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8. Fluke said... on Mar 24, 2011 at 11:53PM

“Tommy Conwell, are you joking? After he stopped booze and drugs, and became the real him, one of the biggest jerkoffs to ram the earth.”

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9. Ed said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 10:15AM

“The "John Bussell" I'm curious about would be hard to miss ... maybe 6'10" tall!!! Graduated Olney High School Class of '67. He played drums, played with us on graduation night, played drums in Sweet Stavin Chain ... still with us??? Inquiring minds (and old friends) want to know. May be a 45th HS Reunion coming up in May '2012. Please advise”

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10. Dave said... on Feb 10, 2012 at 01:54PM

“The Kit Kats at #81-
the correct song title is "Won't Find Better Than Me", just sayin'”

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11. Michael said... on Feb 28, 2012 at 07:28PM

“What. No mention of American Dream, Good News, Crystal Mansion, Woody Truck Stop, High Treason. Are you sure you were in Philly those years?”

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12. The Warped Vinyl Junkie said... on Mar 28, 2013 at 08:10PM

“You include Bessie Smith on your list since she died near Philadelphia? What an ignorant way to make up a "top 100" list. My vote is you are -200.”

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13. Joann Bussell said... on Nov 7, 2013 at 02:56PM

“Just want to add I am the wife of John Bussell .We married in 1970 and still together today. John Bussell of Sweet Stavin Chain is Alive and well. At 65 he still playing his guitars and singing to his grandkids lol. So late he is not. Lol Still living and loving life.”

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14. Larry said... on May 9, 2014 at 04:58PM

“How come you did not have the singing group the futures on the list?”

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15. Anonymous said... on Sep 16, 2014 at 04:29PM

“U forgot First Choice!”

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16. Anonymous said... on Oct 16, 2014 at 12:41PM

“Two corrections. David Bowie's "David Live" was released on RCA, not Capitol (Bowie's never been on Capitol); and Clarence Clemons recorded "Woman's Got The Power," not "After Last Night."”

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17. Ed Feldamn said... on Dec 5, 2014 at 10:57AM

“The Philadelphia Orchestra, you incredibly ignorant bastards.”

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18. Tom Rothermel said... on Apr 29, 2015 at 10:36PM

“How did you miss American Dream? Incredible band, amazing album. My high school rock band covered several of their songs.

Great to see Edison Electric Band and Good God on the list. Two of my other Philly favorites from the day.”


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