An American Odyssey in Song: Pennsylvania – The Delfonics and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Looking back at the “history” for this post (we get that here at WordPress), I started writing it back in November! I really need to pick up the pace with this series otherwise it looks as if I’m going to be in my dotage before I make it all the way round to my final destination, Florida. Anyway, as it’s now been over three months since I entered New Jersey (must have lost track of time in those vast gambling emporiums in Atlantic City), the great state of Pennsylvania now beckons. Yet again however we are entering a state that cannot be neatly summed up as having a single character. Pennsylvania has wide stretches of farmland, forests and mountains but it also has Philadelphia, the sixth largest city in the US.

pennsylvaniaA few random facts about Pennsylvania. It was one of the 13 original founding states and came into being as a result of a royal land grant given to William Penn, an English Quaker and son of the state’s namesake. Philadelphia played an important role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States – The Declaration of Independence was signed there on the 4th of July, 1776. It is also home to the cracked Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence.

During the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the south central region of the state and is the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered his landmark address. The Pennsylvania Dutch (who were actually German/Deutsch) settled in the south-east of the state and there are still Christian groups living there today who separate themselves from the world favouring simple living and plain dressing.

But what do I associate with Pennsylvania when it comes to music. Last time a few suggestions were offered up for which I am always grateful. Rol over at My Top Ten suspected I might choose Pennsylvania 6-5000 by The Glenn Miller Orchestra which was most definitely going to be a contender until I discovered it was actually the telephone number for the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City! C, from Sun Dried Sparrows suggested I’m in Pittsburgh (and It’s Raining) by the Outcasts, a sort of “sub-Stones US ’60s garage classic” she tells us. Last but not least Lynchie, a frequent and very knowledgeable visitor to the music blogosphere, came up with two songs by Loudon Wainwright III. “I don’t think you’ll find the first one on YouTube” he said, and he was right, but fortunately he gave us some of the lyrics for Have You Ever Been To Pittsburgh.

Have you ever been to Pittsburgh
Do you think you’d wanna go?
Have you ever been to Pittsburgh
(It’s in Pennsylvania)
Do you think you’d wanna go?
Well – if you wanna go to Pittsburgh
Get on the bus and go!

“Loudon however”, he added, “also wrote the more affectionate Ode To Pittsburgh” and this time it could be found YouTube. A nice little film to accompany the song that gives us a bit of a flavour of what it might be like to live there. Not heard it myself before, but I find myself strangely smitten.

But as ever, music and film go hand in hand for me, and three movies immediately came to mind for this Pennsylvania post. The tunes from them are by no means all favourites, but they do for me, sum up the state. As tends to happen at award ceremonies, I will announce the results in reverse order:

First of all, when I saw that the next state we would be entering was Pennsylvania, I was immediately reminded of the film The Deer Hunter as the main characters in that epic Vietnam war drama were steelworkers from Clairton, Pennsylvania, a small working class town south of Pittsburgh. The images of that grim steel town have obviously stayed with me but also the scenes in the mountains where that trio of friends, played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage, spend much of their time deer hunting. I didn’t see the film when it first came out in 1979, but I do remember that the piece of music called Cavatina (popularly known as “Theme from The Deer Hunter”) received much radio airplay at the time and reached No. 13 in the UK Singles Chart. It was performed by classical guitarist John Williams whom I have just discovered is not the same John Williams responsible for writing the film scores for ET and Jurassic Park. Obvious now, but the same name and from a long time ago.

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Cavatina by John Williams:

The second film I was reminded of was of course Rocky where the main character, played by new kid on the block Sylvester Stallone, is to be seen pounding the streets of Philadelphia in his grey sweats, whilst carrying out his gruelling training regime. These scenes were of course very memorably played out to the sounds of Gonna Fly Now (popularly known as the “Theme from Rocky”) which was composed by Bill Conti. The lyrics (all 30 words of them), were performed by DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford. Released in February 1977, the song has become part of American popular culture after Rocky Balboa runs up the 72 stone steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and then raises his arms in a victory pose.

Whenever I watch 1970s footage of American cities (like in this clip), I think of “the three B’s”, boxes, braziers and back alleys, as just about everything I watched on telly back then seemed to feature these three elements. Maybe it was just because there was a plethora of gritty cop shows and crime dramas, but also our inner cities were in real need of gentrification. I am sure however that the Philadelphia of today looks quite different, and I’m also sure that Neil from Yeah, Another Blogger, who is a resident, will keep us right on that score?

Gonna Fly Now by DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford:

But of course I can’t write a post about PA, without mentioning all the great music that came to be known as the Philadelphia Sound, or Philly Soul. Any regular visitors to this place might remember that I wrote about how it all came to pass recently (The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and a “Year Of Decision”). It does seem that there were three pivotal players without whom it might never have happened – Philadelphia International Records was founded in 1971 by the very talented writer-producer duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, along with collaborator Thom Bell. It very much showcased a new genre of music based on the gospel, doo-wop and soul music of the time. Throughout the 1970s the label released a string of worldwide hits which featured lavish orchestral instrumentation, heavy bass and driving percussion. Some of their most popular and best selling acts included The O’Jays, The Three Degrees, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.

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But I have written about some of those artists before so this time I’m going to go a little further back in time to 1969 when Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) was written by producer Thom Bell and William Hart, lead singer of the Philadelphia R&B/Soul vocal group The Delfonics. It was released by the group on the Philly Groove record label and is regarded as a classic, winning a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.

And this is where my third film choice comes in, as for many of us, it is simply that great song from the Tarantino film Jackie Brown. It very much plays a pivotal role in the film as it underscores the relationship between main characters Jackie, and Max Cherry. Like many others I was probably a bit too young for a song like this when it first came along in 1969 but after re-discovering it in 1997, when the film came out, I found a new appreciation for Philadelphia based groups like The Delfonics.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) by The Delfonics:

So that’s your lot as far as Pennsylvania goes. When I started this series it was with a view to featuring one song per state but of course once you start to do the research it becomes impossible to limit it to just that. Next time however we will be entering Delaware, a very small state indeed which at the moment is not offering up any inspiration (bar the obvious candidate). If you have any suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments boxes, as left to my own devices it’s going to be a very short post.

It has just occurred to me, as I returned to the top of the page to insert a title, that I may have inadvertently been a tad insensitive having included both the Theme from The Deer Hunter and Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) in the same post – To anyone who has “experienced” the film The Deer Hunter, they will probably know what I mean. Enough said.

See you in Delaware….

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) Lyrics
(Song by Thom Bell/William Hart)

I gave my heart and soul to you, girl
Now didn’t I do it, baby didn’t I do it baby
Gave you the love you never knew, girl, oh
Didn’t I do it, baby didn’t I do it baby

I’ve cried so many times and that’s no lie
It seems to make you laugh each time I cry

Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
Yes sir

I thought that heart of yours was true, girl
Now, didn’t I think it baby didn’t I think it baby
But this time I’m really leavin’ you girl oh
Hope you know it baby hope you know it baby

Ten times or more, yes, I’ve walked out that door
Get this into your head, there’ll be no more

Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
Yes sir

(Didn’t I do it baby didn’t I do it baby)
(Didn’t I do it baby didn’t I do it baby)

Ten times or more, yes, I’ve walked out that door
Get this into your head, there’ll be no more

Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (oh)
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Hoo
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Did I blow your mind, baby)
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Can’t you see)
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Did I blow your mind)
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Ooh baby, ooh)

Girl, can we talk for a second
I know it’s been a long time
Since some someone’s blown your mind, like I did
There’ll be other times, for me and you
And I can see the tears fallin’ from your eyes

Tell me girl, did I blow your mind

Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Did I blow your mind baby)
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and a “Year Of Decision”

Well, this is odd. As regulars to this place know I left work last week after around 30 years with the same organisation – Not going to rush headlong into the next project yet, which could be all too easy, so until I start something new I find myself with plenty of spare time to sit down and partake in a little light blogging. Just as I do that however, it seems that inspiration has deserted me! Strange, as when I was a busy bee I had no shortage of inspiration and could often be seen bashing away on the laptop into the early hours of the morning.

But no, the problem this time is perhaps not a lack of inspiration but rather indecision as to what to write about next. I have a couple of series in progress and I have my trusty “blogging notebook” of ideas to refer to, but somehow neither of these routes work for me today so it’s time to search my digital database of tunes, to find something that relates to decision-making – Didn’t have to look far as immediately up popped Year Of Decision from 1974, by The Three Degrees. I haven’t featured anything from that stable of artists who went on to create the Philadelphia Sound before, so high time really. Also, my recent personal “big decision”, makes the lyrics very pertinent.

Year Of Decision by The Three Degrees:

Ok, so if you watched the clip, you had to endure that faux banter that used to happen as a prelude to introducing the acts on light entertainment shows such as this one (plus Cliff’s edge to edge embroidered tunic) but the three girls, Sheila Ferguson, Fayette Pinkney and Valerie Holiday certainly knew how to ply their trade back in the mid ’70s and those glamourous matching outfits, usually chiffon with strategically placed sequins, were their trademark.

Philadelphia International Records was founded in 1971 by the very talented writer-producer duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, along with collaborator Thom Bell.  It very much showcased a new genre of music based on the gospel, doo-wop, and soul music of the time. Throughout the 1970s the label released a string of worldwide hits which featured lavish orchestral instrumentation, heavy bass, and driving percussion. Other than The Three Degrees some of their most popular and best selling acts included The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls. Between 1971 and the early 1980s, the label sold over 170 gold and platinum records.

Watching shows like TOTP in the mid ’70s, rarely a week went by without an appearance by one of the aforementioned acts. The Three Degrees even become known for having our future king as a fan and after reaching No.1 in the UK Singles Chart with When Will I See You Again, they were well and truly propelled into the mainstream.

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Charlie’s Darlings!

We’ve now seen a fine example of what the Philly Sound served up in the mid ’70s when it came to the ladies – What were the immaculately dressed men doing around that time? If you did watch the earlier clip, you will know that Gamble & Huff’s first big success was this 1972 song, Back Stabbers, performed by the O’Jays. A fine tune indeed and one I have always liked although apparently a warning to men that although their male friends might be all friendly to their faces, they secretly plan to steal their wives or girlfriends. A far fetched premise indeed (?) although after watching the current hit television drama Dr Foster, where the reviewers are lauding it for being so realistic, I am starting to realise that I must live in an alternate universe where relationships are concerned.

Back Stabbers by The O’Jays:

So, “What’s It All About?” – The move to a new, more home-based life has obviously robbed me of my decision-making abilities. As hobbies go, blogging is a relatively inexpensive one (as long as the technology holds out) so having not done much else over the last 20 months except work and blog, I have bought myself a few months of time before I have to make any more big decisions. Just as well as even deciding on a subject for this post was hard enough.

When I started this blog, I used to link each post to the previous one in some way but it might be more fun if I am set a challenge. I have put out a request like this once before and it worked well for me, so again, which song would logically follow on from either Year Of Decision or Back Stabbers for you? You know where the comments boxes are but please try and make it something I might have heard of!

Until next time….

Year Of Decision Lyrics
(Song by Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff)

Yes
This is the year
To make your decision.
Yes
This is the year
To open up your mind.

If you’ve been holding back kind of slack

Now’s the time to get the things you need.
There ain’t no reason why you should be shy

People have died to set you free.
Oh we need ev’ry one to succeed

Everybody to succeed everybody
Soul isn’t enough hey come on and join us

Please (come on come on and join us please

Yes this is the year . . .

If you’re strong out on a Jones
Better make sure that you leave the bad stuff
What ever you want to do think it over good
Cause the change is up to you