Part-tribute, part-parody: New York City’s Soulful Road

Holly Tessler

Published June 2024


Soulful Road, the second and final album from the band New York City, is part-tribute, part-parody of the Beatles’ 1969 record, Abbey Road. Soulful Road's front and back covers are the most obvious homages, with the first photo depicting the band crossing the same famous London street, dressed in styles similar to the Beatles, but moving in the opposite direction. The back photo depicts the track listing in much the same way as the original Beatles record, imposing the titles against a similar-looking brick wall. Many of the Soulful Road's songs also allude to Beatles songs, for instance, ‘Got To Get You Back Into My Life’ and ‘Do You Remember Yesterday’. The album had limited commercial success upon release in 1974, reaching the Top 50 in Billboard’s US Top Soul Albums. The singles, ‘Happiness Is’ and ‘Love Is What You Make It’ reached numbers 20 and 41, respectively, on the US R&B charts.


Philadelphia Soul

Despite its modest commercial success, New York City should be remembered as playing a critically important part in the development of The Philadelphia Soul genre. Rather than an emphasis on star performers, the ‘Philly Sound’ instead centred around songwriting, production styles and techniques, bringing together Soul, Disco, Funk, R&B and Jazz sounds with lavish horn and string arrangements. Producer Thom Bell, known for his work with artists including Archie Bell and the Drells, the O’Jays and Dusty Springfield produced Soulful Road. Kenny Gamble, half of the seminal production and songwriting duo of Gamble and Huff, who co-authored the track, ‘Do You Remember Yesterday’, also wrote era-defining tracks including, ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (1968) by the Supremes, ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ (1972) by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and ‘TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’ (1973) by MFSB.  Singers Linda Creed, Evette Benton, Lucille Jones all went on to successful Philly Soul careers, and Barbara Ingram continued to work steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s, performing with artists including Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.



Sigma Sound Studios

Also notable in the creation of the Soulful Road album is the studio in which it was recorded, Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. One of the world’s most famous historical studios, Sigma Sound, as it was known locally, was founded in 1968 and will always be intrinsically linked to the Philly Soul story, being one of the first American studios to offer 24-track recording, necessary to create the complex and multi-layered sounds of the genre. The Philly Soul sound produced at Sigma Sound became so well-known, it began to attract artists from all over the world looking to capture that same energy, feel and power. Most notably David Bowie recorded his 1974 album Young Americans at Sigma Sound, immersing himself entirely in the Philly Soul Sound, producing what he would later call ‘blue-eyed soul’ or ‘plastic soul’ period, with the album becoming one of the most critically lauded of his career.  


Dr Holly Tessler leads the MA in Beatles, Music Industry and Heritage Music at University of Liverpool and is founding co-editor of the Journal of Beatles Studies published by Liverpool University Press. She is also Senior Lecturer in Music Industries. Holly created the University’s two record labels: Redbrick Records, for staff research projects and original releases; and Merciful Sound, a fully student-run record label. Holly’s research interests include the Beatles, music industries, music industries as creative industries, Garage Rock/Medway Sound, music branding, cultural branding, interactive audio, popular music culture and popular music history.

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