Philly When It Sizzles

South Street to North and West Philly, it's been rockin' for half a century
Great Migration map

Click the map to see the patterns of the Great Migration close up

Philadelphia was one of the chief beneficiaries musically of the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities. Philly followed only New York and Chicago in numbers of in-migrating black people from the old Confederacy. In 1900, fewer than 800,000 blacks, mostly locally born, lived in the North. By 1970 the total number residing in the North was more than 10 million.

These migrants brought with them a musical heritage that stretched back to Africa that was touched by Caribbean influences, and already steeped in genres ranging from the Blues, Country and Folk to the savory, complex gumbo dished up along the Gulf and into the coastal deltas and bayous.

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Rock Around The Clock

Bill Haley & His Comets
Rock Around The Clock (1954)

Whether it’s the first or 51st Rock-N-Roll song in history makes no difference. “Rock Around The Clock” is a landmark, a throne, a night to remember.

Based out of Chester, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles southwest of Philadelphia, it became Bill Haley & The Comets’ home during their most successful years.

Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

At The Hop

Danny & The Juniors
Single (1958)

It bops, it doo-wops, it spins, it swings, it rocks. It’s one of the stones in the first layer of the foundations of Rock-N-Roll. A little creaky now, it’s missing a prominent guitar and even the ’50s signature saxophone break.

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The Twist

Chubby Checker
Twist With Chubby Checker (1960, 1962)

The Twist still brings a smile to the face and gets you moving. It would have been easy for Chubby Checker (born Earnest Evans) to have gone down a twisted road instead of the “Twist’s” road.

He grew up in the South Philly housing projects but the kid loved to sing and by age 9 he was singing in street-corner harmony groups and picking up nickels and dimes.

Dick Clark aided Chubby’s rise to stardom. Clark’s wife rounded out the childhood tease name of “Chubby” by adding “Checker” in a kind of imitation of Fats Domino’s name. Get it?

“The Bristol Stomp” is so happy it ends up making you sad. It embodies everything that was dazzlingly great about Rock-N-Roll in its first 10 years of existence.

Now, as the King James Bible says, here we are, wandering “in the wilderness in a solitary way,” and we find “no city to dwell in.”

Rock-N-Roll was serious about fun long before it got serious about being serious.

Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Mashed Potato Time

Dee Dee Sharp
It's Mashed Potato Time (1962)

Dione LaRue became Dee Dee Sharp overnight when her producers changed her name to better fit with her upcoming release, “Mashed Potato Time.” They literally thought the name was sharper.

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One of the dozens of hit-making machines that worked out of the Cameo-Parkway Record stable, The Orlons cranked out gold records like a diner cranks out pancakes on a Saturday morning. They were unstoppable for about 18 months in 1962 and ’63.

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If you want some pure, unadulterated joy reflecting falling in love without restraint, give a listen to “Wonderful Dream.” The song gives off showers of sparks of happiness, the likes of which are hard to come by in the 21st century.

You’ll also hear the roots of early Jackson 5 hits like “I Want You Back” and “ABC,” The Hues Corporation’s “Rock The Boat,” and Jean Knight’s killer, “Mr. Big Stuff.”

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Songs like “Party Lights” signaled that the ’60s were waking up from their early torpor.

Unfortunately, Claudine Clark was a one-hit wonder with her own composition, 1962′s “Party Lights,” a song about a girl who has been forbidden to go to a party at a neighboring house by her mother. Worse, this entry from Chancellor Records in Philly never really received the promotion it should have commanded.

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Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Jim Croce
Life and Times (1973)

Jim Croce was born in South Philadelphia, studied at nearby Villanova University, and got his start in and around the City of Brotherly Love. He hammered out hits at the anvil of Folk, Pop and Rock.

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The Rubberband Man

The Spinners
Happiness Is Being With the Spinners (1976)

The Spinners were pure Detroit. Or were they? No disputing that they hail from the Motor City, but their one rockin’ hit was written by a pair of composers who were two of the inventors of the Philadelphia Soul sound of the 1970s – Linda Creed and Thom Bell.

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Streets of Philadelphia

Bruce Springsteen
Philadelphia (1993)

Ominous, admonitory, “Streets Of Philadelphia” stands as one of Bruce Springsteen’s landmark achievements, an exploration of the sinister effects of bigotry, an indictment and a public hanging of the devils who cause such problems. 

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Fast Train

Solomon Burke
Don't Give Up On Me (2002)

Back behind the 30th Street Station lies West Philly, once home to a neighborhood called “Black Bottom,” since displaced by the University of Pennsylvania and various medical and other quasi-public buildings. Until Black Bottom was demolished in the 1960s in the destructive movement known as urban renewal, it was a poor, but stable, racially mixed neighborhood.

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