I was in Philadelphia last week. Yes, I had a cheesesteak, but even better than the city’s signature sandwich is the music that Philadelphia has produced. In the ’60s and early ’70s that music often took the form of sweet soul ballads by the likes of the Delfonics, the Stylistics, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. As the ’70s rolled on, a new sound began to emerge. It was a funkier, more upbeat sound, one that was embodied in the music of a group by the name of the People’s Choice.
Frank Brunson was born in Buffalo, NY and learned to play piano and organ as a child. In his mid-20s he began to play professionally, making his first recording in 1956 as “Little” (he stood 5’4″ tall) Frankie Brunson. Failing to achieve success, Brunson lit out for Philadelphia in the early ’60s, and in 1965 he put together the People’s Choice in that city. The band couldn’t find much recording success, and made a living as a lounge act for several years.
It took 15 years and 17 records but Brunson eventually got his hit in 1971 with the band’s debut single for Phil-La Records, “I Likes to Do It.” The single reached #9 on the R&B chart, and crossed over to the Top 40 on the Pop chart. Success begat success because it was while the band was riding the crest of that early hit that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff came to see them play.
The legendary songwriting/producing team was impressed with what they heard that night, and by 1974 the People’s Choice had signed with Philadelphia International Records. Huff took on the role of produce for the band, and in an uncharacteristic move eschewed the use of the MFSB studio musicians who played on nearly every Philadelphia International record, and allowed the self-contained funk band to play their instruments in the studio.
The band’s debut single for the label didn’t find much success in the summer of 1974, but the band came back to Sigma Sound to record an album that fall. The album, Boogie Down USA, was released at the end of the year, and with it the single “Party is a Groovy Thing.” It was not a big hit, but the album’s second single was.
“Do It Any Way You Wanna” was written by Huff and released on Philadelphia International’s TSOP imprint. It topped the R&B chart in 1975, and was a crossover hit as well, reaching #11 on the Pop chart. The record sold a million copies in just three months and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. “Do It Any Way You Wanna” was also one of the earliest disco hits, reaching #3 on the dance chart.
The People’s Choice hung on at Philadelphia International until 1982, and although they placed records like “Here We Go Again,” “Cold Blooded & Down-Right-Funky,” and “My Feet Won’t Move, But My Shoes Did the Boogie” on the R&B chart, they were never again able to achieve the level of success that they had with “Do It Any Way You Wanna.”