I was in Philadelphia last Saturday. It was my first visit in a number of months and I’m pleased to report that just because Philadelphia is now a City of Champions after many years of winding up on the losing end, very little has changed. The city is, as it always has been, all attitude. Coming from New Jersey as I do, that’s high praise indeed.
Sports aside, one thing that Philadelphia has always been a winner at, and a big winner at that, is music. Whether it’s the Philly Soul created by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell or today’s vibrant rock and roll scene, Philadelphia has always been a hotbed of great music.
The Show Stoppers, sometimes called the Showstoppers but I always go by the record label (see below), were a Philadelphia group who slightly pre-dated the glory years of the Philly Soul sound. The four-man vocal group was made up of two sets of brothers who met up at Germantown High School. Alex Burke and Laddie Burke were two of the younger brothers of soul legend Solomon Burke who was recording for Atlantic Records at the time. They were joined in the Show Stoppers by Earl and Timmy Smith.
With the benefit of mentorship from Solomon Burke, the Show Stoppers got a record deal with Showtime Records, a local Philadelphia label. In 1967, Showtime released the record that the Show Stoppers are best remembered for, “Ain’t Nothin’ but a House Party.” It wasn’t a huge hit but it did good business in New York, Pittsburgh, and of course Philadelphia. Its regional power was enough to propel the single to #118 on Billboard chart.
“Ain’t Nothin’ but a House Party” did even better in the UK, overcoming somewhat complicated business arrangements to catch on with British DJs and become a Top 40 UK hit in 1968, eventually peaking at #11. The strength of the single overseas earned the Show Stoppers a British tour on which they appeared on the Top of the Pops television show three times.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, music business legend-in-the-making Jerry Ross had started a new label called Heritage and he decided to not only buy the master recording of “Ain’t Nothin’ but a House Party” for his label but to sign the Show Stoppers and become their manager as well. He re-released the single in 1968 this time with national distribution from MGM Records. It did better, reaching #87 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending five weeks on the charts.
The next Show Stoppers single for Heritage, “Eeny Meeny,” failed to chart in the US. The failure to have a true national hit meant that the Show Stoppers would have to rely on their popularity overseas to move forward. When Beacon Records, their British label, released “Eeny Meeny” it failed to chart at first. Then Beacon arranged a distribution deal with EMI and when “Eeny Meeny” was re-released with EMI distribution it ran up the UK chart to #33 and remained on the chart for seven weeks.
Subsequent singles including “Shake Your Mini” and “Just a Little Bit of Lovin'” failed to find chart success but their earlier UK hits meant that the Show Stoppers were still in-demand as a live act. When the original group broke up temporarily, Jerry Ross sent a whole new group of Show Stoppers overseas to meet the demand. The new group eventually became known as the Persuaders and had a big hit with “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” The original Show Stoppers eventually returned to Europe for a successful tour.
The Show Stoppers finally broke up for good in 1972. “Ain’t Nothin’ but a House Party” has been covered many times including versions by the Tremeloes, Cliff Richard, and the J. Geils Band which had a #2 AOR chart hit with their take on the song in 1973.