Soul music is a big part of my record collection, and lately when visiting vinyl fares I’ve picked up quite a few classic singles and albums including many purchases just based on a name or record label. Bell Records in the early 1970’s housed some of the best exponents of soul vocal harmony groups, many from the USA who did made a breakthrough into the UK.
This album typifies what I mean.
I bought this in 2016 for £4 at a vinyl fare at Wolverhampton based on it had a classic hit single, I knew the name of the group, and it was on Bell Records. Although it didn’t chart in the UK (US #61 Hot 100, #4 R&B Chart) it was recorded late 1969 early 1970 and this eponymous named album was released in the UK whilst they were signed to Philly Groove label in the USA.
Formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1965 and originally known as the Four Gents, the Delfonics classic lineup featured: William Hart (born January 17, 1945, Washington, D.C.), Wilbert Hart (born October 19, 1947, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Randy Cain (born Herbert Randal Cain III May 2, 1945, Philadelphia; died April 9, 2009, Maple Shade Township, New Jersey).
Side 1 starts with the classic single release “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), a UK #22 and US #10 hit, winning a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Produced by Thom Bell it has a familiar sound like other contemporary groups such as The Chi-Lites, Drifters, Stylistics and Detroit Spinners. “Funny Feeling” is a more funky feeling almost Motown/Northern Soul sound with high lead falsetto vocals and harmonies. “When You Get Right Down To It” slows the tempo down and could be mistaken for a Sytlistics track, there is the full orchestra of strings and brass. Written by Barry Mann who was a part of the successful songwriting partnership with his wife, Cynthia Weil. Some of his classics include “You’ve lost That loving Feeling” and also “Saturday Night At The Movies” for the Drifters. “Baby I Love You” takes us back to the style of “Didn’t I” but each line of the verses delivered in a staccato style. Side 1 finishes with a fantastic mainly Instrumental track called “Delfonics Theme (How Could You)”. On first listen you could feel its crying out for lyrics, but actually this has everything, Drums, Strings, Brass, Organ, and the orchestra takes you on a journey and right at the end the Delfonics suddenly add a small vocal to fade out.
Side 2 starts with “Trying To Make A Fool Of Me” Very uptempo and has a more soul/pop feel but still has the classic falsetto vocals, and lead seems to switch between all group members. “Down Is Up, Up is Down”, is a classic Northern Soul sound and I can see everyone up on the dance floor for this one. “Over and Over” is an attempt at a ballad and well executed. “Think About Me” has a more pop sound. “I Gave To You” finishes the album. Almost 6 minutes of pure vocal gymnastics. A last dance song. The album as a whole is worth my risk of choosing on the basis of one track.
The writing credits are mainly Thom Bell and vocalist William Hart, who on two tracks is the sole writer and of course the one Barry Mann track.
The Delfonics line up began to change as of 1971 when Randy Cain left and set up the group Blue Magic much in the same vain as the Stylistics. By 1975 because of various changes including Thom Bell moving to produce other artists the hits seemed to dry up and there were two versions of the Delfonics at the same time.