With an additional disc, Love Train rectifies the error by including signature songs, from the label’s principal songwriters and producers, that weren’t on the PIR imprint. Songs like The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around,” Denise Williams’ “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” and The Manhattans’ “Kiss and Say Goodbye.” The gambit works to the set’s advantage as it illustrates how omnipresent and influential the PIR sound was on ’70s R&B. It gives insight to Gamble, Huff and Bell’s (sometimes known as the Mighty Three) pre-PIR work with artists like The Delfonics, Jerry Butler and Dusty Springfield.
Since the box-set producers went so far as to include non-PIR songs, listeners may wonder why wouldn’t they also exhume some of the more obscure gems in the PIR catalog, like the rare jazz LPs from the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra or Monk Montgomery? This is where Love Train falters. If you’re already a serious Philly soul fan, most likely you’ll already have most of the material from this “greatest hits” treatment of the label. Luckily Leo Sacks produced Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records, earlier this year, with rare grooves from Yellow Sunshine, Soul Devalients and The Mellow Moods.
Small qualms aside, Love Train delivers a superb and succinct glimpse into one of the most enduring legacies in black American music. Now that we have that solid soundtrack, can someone out there give us that much-belated, big-budgeted Hollywood movie?
John Murph is a regular contributor to The Root.