VARIOUS ARTISTS – Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul

Album: Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Jamie/Guyden

Release Date: October 01, 2013

Cooler than Ice


 Ah, Philly soul… never let a discussion of classic soul sides from the ‘60s be dominated only by Detroit (Motown, natch), Memphis (Stax, plus sister label Volt) and Muscle Shoals (where Atlantic Recs regularly decamped when in need of funky sounds). Philadelphia should always be part of the same conversation. And while to a lot of people the Philly soul story is all about Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s legendary Philadelphia International Records, founded in ’71, those in the know understand that there’s plenty more.

 One such immediate precedent was the Arctic label, founded in 1964 by local deejay Jimmy Bishop and lasting most of the decade, along the way notching a number of national hits (notably by the honey-throated Barbara Mason, of “Yes, I’m Ready” acclaim), playing patron to a young Temple University student named Daryl Hohl and his pre-Hall & Oates band The Temptones, and being an incubator for no small number of Gamble & Huff’s early productions. As collected on the Jamie/Guyden label’s 6-CD/6-45 box set Cooler Than Ice, Arctic’s entire singles output, some 60 platters in all (plus the 3 that was released on short-lived imprint Frantic), finally receives its full due, and packaged in such an elaborate manner as to suggest—not unwarranted—the presence of true musical royalty.

 The box is designed as a 10” x 11” tri-fold book (see below), with a massive 50-page book bound into the left leaf, the six singles affixed to the center spine, and the six CDs lodged in the back panel and right leaf. It brings to mind some of the award-winning Rhino and Bear Family creations, and with the inclusion of exhaustive, detailed liner notes and track-by-track annotations by music historian Bill Dahl plus tons of rare photos (try to pick out the impossibly fresh-faced Hall in his band pic), it brings a genuine historical heft that is the very definition of the term “cultural service.” As an additional bonus, the vinyl 45s were apparently sourced from “freshly unearthed tapes” in the Jamie/Guyden vaults.


The music? From the aforementioned sensual-yet-innocent Mason Top Ten hit and the eternally sexy Honey & The Bees’ “One Time Is Forever” (a sassy girl group delicacy from ’66, and an early Kenny Gamble co-write); to Gamble’s proper solo debut, also ’66, a silky, strings-drenched “Don’t Stop Loving Me” b/w a sleek slice of midtempo funk co-written with Huff, “The Jokes[sic] On You” and Hall’s Temptones putting a Motown spin on their signature doo-wop powered pop (“Girl I Love You” b/w “Good-Bye”); to a pre-Teddy Pendergrass incarnation of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes on equally strong A- and B-sides (“Go Away” b/w “What Can A Man Do” and a positively killer jukebox dance number done by The Rotations called “(Put a Dime On) D-9”; to a frankly bizarre slice of sax/piano-backed topical spoken word, “(If You Could See Through) The Eyes of a Blackman” performed by label owner Bishop himself, cut in ’69 against a backdrop of racial and social change in America; pretty much every sixties soul base was touched at some point by the Arctic crew. As one might expect, the in-house aesthetic was frequently (though not exclusively) operative at the label, so a lot of the same names in various combinations crop up in the credits, which helps lend a consistency of quality across the recordings.

 In short, any serious collector and aficionado will find much to cheer about Cooler Than Ice, and as suggested above, it offers a crucial historical window as well, charting the early trajectories of a number of musical giants even as it offers snapshots of a slew of deserving less-knowns. Call it an essential purchase on multiple levels.

 DOWNLOAD: Have at it!

 There’s a great story in the Philly City Paper written by longtime BLURT contributing editor A.D. Amorosi that was published earlier this year about the Jamie/Guyden label and the Arctic box. Check it out right here.

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