If it’s possible, less may be known about the Formations than about the Poets, who were featured in last week’s column. There is a not-so-great photo of them at least, as you will see below, but information is hard to come by regarding this Philadelphia vocal group. What is known is that they had a moderately-sized local hit single which became a Northern Soul classic in the U.K.
The Formations got together in 1966. The original lineup included Victor Drayton, Jerry Akins, Ernie Brooks, Reginald Turner, and Johnny Bellman. Their first recording was as backup singers on a Coed Records single called “Sad Illusion,” which was credited to Margie and the Formations.
Their first single on their own was a song written by Akins along with the not-yet-legendary Leon Huff. The involvement of Huff, who would soon team with Kenny Gamble to create the Sound of Philadelphia, marked an early sign of what was to come. “At the Top of the Stairs” was released in 1967 on the Bank label and was a sizable enough hit locally that it convinced MGM Records to license the record for national distribution in 1968. Unfortunately, the record failed to make the charts in this country, although it was a Top 30 hit in the U.K. when it was re-released there in 1970 on Mojo Records.
Despite the lack of chart success, the Formations weren’t quite done yet. Their next single was “Love’s Not Only for the Heart.” It was produced by Huff who by that time was working with Gamble, making it one of the team’s earliest collaborations. Despite the inclusion of the two Philly Soul pioneers, the record failed to make a dent.
There was one last single, released at the end of 1968 on MGM. Although like its predecessors it was not a hit, “There’s No Room” really had that Philadelphia sound that would become so popular in the next few years. Interestingly, it had that sound even though Gamble and Huff were not involved with the record this time.
Gamble and Huff re-entered the picture when the Formations, by then known as the Corner Boys, released “Gang War (Don’t Make Sense)” in 1969 on Neptune, a Gamble and Huff imprint. Although the group soldiered on, the Formations name died. With the original lineup still intact, they changed their name to the Silent Majority in 1970, and then they became Hot Ice two years later. In all, there were three new names, and five record labels for the group including Atlantic Records and Hot Wax.
None of the name or label changes had any impact. The Formations never did find any chart success but they left us with a Northern Soul classic and a series of records that pointed the way forward for soul music in Philadelphia.