Going the Distance Films: A One of A Kind Love Affair – Sigma Sound Studios and the Philadelphia Sound
“People All Over The World!” the Three Degrees joyously shouted out from atop Philadelphia’s 550 foot City Hall tower—or at least it felt that way. The vehicle for their bold, five-word proclamation was a #1 hit record released in 1974. It served notice to the world that—while the ’60s may have been all about “American Bandstand,” the British Invasion and the soul of Motown and STAX—the ‘70s would be ruled by Philly.
That record was “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” as recorded by MFSB. Don Cornelius’ “Soul Train” TV show quickly adopted the track as its theme song. In the year that followed, “TSOP” raucously blared out of sound systems in discotheques all over the planet. It was everywhere.
The Philly sound had already ascended to the Mt. Olympus of the R&B world several years before. Leading the charge was Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, with its arsenal of seductive melodies, irrepressible funk, soaring strings and lyrical messages of hope and love. Matching them stride-for-stride was producer/composer/arranger Thom Bell, whose run of meticulously crafted pop hits with the Delphonics, the Stylistics and the Spinners earned him heady comparisons with Burt Bacharach from music journalists and historians alike.
But, every sound needs a home—an incubator in which to develop. That void was filled in 1968, when Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios rose from the ashes of hometown label Cameo Parkway Record’s epic collapse. For the next three- and-a-half decades, Sigma earned every bit of its status as one of the premier recording studios in the history of popular music.
But Joe’s new studio was no one-trick pony that was limited to the Philadelphia Sound; recording artists from all across the world—from all genres of music— made pilgrimages to 212 North 12th St. in hopes that some of Sigma’s magic would rub off on them. Sonic innovations pioneered by Tarsia and his staff of engineers re-invented the way records were made and changed the music industry forever; the more than 200 gold and platinum records born at Sigma changed the world.