From his groundbreaking '60s productions with the Delfonics to his acclaimed '70s work with the Spinners, the O'Jays and the Stylistics, Thom Bell's elegant r&b songs and arrangements have retained their champagne effervescence and timeless appeal. Combining urban melodies with semi-classical styling, Bell ranks as one of pop music's most sophisticated composers.
Considered a principal architect of the influential "Philly Soul" sound, Bell is arguably best known for his 1970s achievements. But the fact is, the legendary composer-arranger hasn't slowed down or limited his creative scope. Bell arranged several songs on David Byrne's acclaimed 2001 album Look Into The Eyeball. Most recently, many of Bell's songs were featured in the musical stage production Me and Mrs. Jones, starring Lou Rawls and performed at Philadelphia's Prince Music Theater.
Even Madison Avenue has acknowledged the mesmerizing power of Thom Bell's music. Bell's composition "I'll Be Around" has been selected as the theme for the multi-million dollar Chevy Impala advertising campaign. The new Chevy slogan "We'll Be There" was culled from Bell's song, which was popularized by the Spinners in 1972.
It would do a disservice to describe Bell's career as "successful." Consider this: Bell's songwriting and arranging achievements are so voluminous, space prohibits us from listing them all. He co-wrote the Stylistics most memorable hits, including "Stop, Look and Listen," "You Are Everything," "Betcha By Golly Wow," "Break Up To Make Up" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New." Bell was similarly instrumental in the success of the Spinners, co-composing such hits as "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love," "One of a Kind Love Affair," "Mighty Love" and "Rubberband Man," as well as the Spinners/Dionne Warwick duet "Then Came You." His song "Mama Can't Buy You Love" was one of Elton John's most successful tunes, and Bell arranged O'Jays classics like "Back Stabbers," "Love Train" and "For the Love of Money."
The two-time Grammy winner has received numerous BMI accolades, including 11 Pop Awards, four R&B Awards and a total of 16 "Million-Air" certificates for an astounding 10 songs with one million or more broadcast performances. Bell has also been twice honored by Billboard with their Number One Producer award.
Born in Philadelphia in 1941, Bell studied classical piano as a youth. In 1959, he joined Kenny Gamble's harmony group the Romeos and by age 19 he was conducting and arranging for rock & roll dance pioneer Chubby Checker. When manager Stan Watson formed the Philly Groove label in 1968, Bell came aboard and oversaw Delfonics classics like "La La Means I Love You" (1968) and "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" (1970).
Bell's work with the Delfonics resonated with r&b fans hungry for romantic "slow drag" ballads. When Bell reunited with Gamble and new partner Leon Huff at their newly formed Philadelphia International Records, the classic Philly Soul crystallized in earnest. Seminal hits like Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive" (1969), Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" (1972), and the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes classic "If You Don't Know Me By Now" featured Bell's inimitable arrangements.
Noteworthy for their potent fusion of soaring strings, burnished horns and well-tempered rhythms, Bell's arrangements factored largely in the development of funk and disco. With contemporary artists like Alicia Keys, D'Angelo and Angie Stone reviving the sounds of the '70s, Thom Bell's influence looms larger than ever.