In a recent interview with TheUrbandaily about his new album Groovy People, legendary songwriter and producer Leon Huff shared how he and his partner Kenny Gamble came to create the “Soul Train” theme song:
..It was a dance show and he[Don Cornelius] was very excited about it. He had everything in place, the only thing missing was a theme song. When he came to us he called Gamble, they communicated and he flew into Philadelphia. He talked about the concept…we didn’t have any ideas but I said me and Gamble will come up with something quick. We always rise to the occasion when it comes to a song.
[But] we went into the studio the first night and nothing really clicked. So Don Cornelius got a little nervous and I said, “Don’t worry. We don’t force creativity. Let’s come back tomorrow.” It was on a Friday, I’ll never forget it. The next day Saturday me and Gamble went back into the studio with the musicians and we grooved all day with that “dun dun dunnununua.” He was very happy. Everything turned out great. The MFSB orchestra and Three Degrees put it out as “T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia) and it went #1. Their album and the single were #1 at the same time. Plus his show was red hot. So it was win-win for everybody.
Don Cornelius coming up with that Black concept show to expose Black R&B artists was right on time.
While Gamble & Huff’s theme song is the most recognized, it was not the first or only theme song “Soul Train” would have. Take a look at the list of Soul Train’s opening theme songs.
Soul Train used various original and current music for theme songs during its run, including:
1971-1973: “SoulTrain (Hot Potato)” by King Curtis (Curtis Ousley) and later redone by the Rimshots as “Soul Train, Parts 1&2”. [The original 1962 version Curtis recorded 9 years before the show was named “Hot Potatoes (Piping Hot)”]
1973-1975: “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)“, composed by Gamble and Huff and recorded by Philadelphia soul studio group MFSB with vocals by the Three Degrees. Released as a single, this song became a pop and R&B radio hit in 1974 and the show’s best-known theme.
1976-1978: “Soul Train ’76 (Get on Board)”, also by the Soul Train Gang
1978-1980: “Soul Train Theme ’79”, produced by the Hollywood Disco Jazz Band with vocals by the Waters
1987-1989: “TSOP ’87”, a remake of the original “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”, composed and produced by George Duke
1989-1993: “TSOP ’89”, a remixed version of “TSOP ’87”, also by George Duke
1999-2006: “TSOP 2000”, with rap vocals by hip hop artist Samson and music by Dr. Freeze, and again featuring an Everette Harp saxophone solo. However, a portion of “Know You Like to Dance” was still used in the show’s second-half opening segment during this period.