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T.S.O.P. - MFSB featuring The Three Degrees
(Philadelphia International 3540)
Most people think that our show adopted 'T.S.O.P.' as a theme song," said the tall, cool TV emcee. "But that's not the way it was. Actually, 'T.S.O.P.' was 'The Theme from Soul Train' at first. Only later was the name changed."
Don Cornelius, the creator, producer, and host of "Soul Train," did not start out to make his mark in music. He spent time as a Marine and an insurance agent before gettting into broadcasting. After taking a $400 disc jockey course, he was offered an announcing job at radio station WVON in Chicago.
"A practice that jocks were into then was finding a little-known or forgotten record with a special quality and using it as a theme song," Don recalled. "Whenever I did a show, I would open and close with my personal theme, which was 'Hot Potatoes' by King Curtis. It wasn't in anybody's catalog anymore -- so it was mine alone."
In 1970, Don got the idea to put together a black-oriented TV dance show, something along the lines of "American Bandstand." Numerous potential sponsors turned him down, but then Sears indicated a willingness to take a chance. With their backing, "Soul Train" premiered over WCIU-TV on August 17, 1970.
"A little over a year later we began making a syndicated version -- a little more sophisticated -- in Los Angeles. I was still hanging in there with 'Hot Potatoes,' and made some inquiries as to how I could acquire ownership of the song. I found out that it was too complicated; King Curtis had passed on, and his people were not exactly the kind one could negotiate with. So I decided what we needed was an original theme.
"People in music were just starting to hear about the new show when I happened to run into Kenny Gamble in New York. We really hit it off, and I mentioned that I wanted to do a special song for the show. He was all excited, so we made a date, met in Philadelphia, and sort of co-produced a rhythm track. It was done more or less to my specifications.
"It was Kenny who came up with the basic melody. We started the session with seven or eight notes and the rest evolved from the contributions of musicians, as musicians will do once they tune in on a particular groove. We laid a foundation that we all felt had some magic in it, and then Kenny, Leon Huff, and Bobby Martin did the bulk of the arranging.
"Several months went by before the song was released as a single. I was trying to hang on to it as an exclusive, which was a mistake. Finally, Kenny called me and said, "This doesn't make a lot of sense. When you have a record like this, Don, you have to put it out.' So I said, 'O.K. Put it out.' However, I wasn't satisfied that everything in our agreement was coming true. So I told him not to use 'Soul Train,' our service mark, on the record. Kenny then changed the title of the song to 'T.S.O.P.,' meaning 'The Sound of Philadelphia.' "
MFSB stood for "Mother Father Sister Brother" -- not a family band, but rather a group of thirty-four resident studio musicians at Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios. Their ages ranged from 26 to 73, and they had played on dozens of hit records over the years. Twenty-eight contributed to "T.S.O.P.," including Kenny Gamble (keyboards), Norman Harris (guitar), Roland Harris (guitar), Ron Kersey (guitar), Bobby Eli (bass), Ronnie Baker (bass), Zack Zacherly (sax), Lenny Pakula (organ), Vince Montana (vibes), Larry Washington (percussion), Earl Young (drums), and Don Renaldo (contractor for strings, reeds, and horns).
"T.S.O.P." was introduced as the "Soul Train" theme in November 1973. The single version broke nationally in March 1974, reaching number one in April. It spent eighteen weeks on the charts, and won a Grammy as the "Best R&B Instrumental Performance of the Year."