Monday, 3 March 2014

O' Jays

For those who lived in the United States between 1971 and 1973 there was no way one could avoid listening to the music made by the O'Jays! 

Even though I hardly spoke any English having just arrived in Newark, N.J. from South America I used to listen to New York City's Top 40 radio stations and was impressed by the O'Jays sound. Listening to the introduction of 'Back stabbers' was a dramatic experience. That piano exuberance followed by the sound of bongos is something unique in pop music. After the luscious overture come the voices of the 3 fellows asking the crucial question: 'What'd they do?' Superb!

Then in early 1973, the O' Jayss had their first and only Number One with marvelous 'Love train' an ode to peace, brotherhood and understanding among the countries of the world. 

I had to move back to South America but I kept my ears open for any O' Jays new single having had the pleasure to dig 'For the love of money' around May 1974

By mid-1975 I was back in the States and to my joy the O' Jays had a big hit with 'I love music' which played through the new year (1976). 

William Powell (* 20 Jan 1942 + 26 May 1977), Walter Williams (25 Aug 1943) & Eddie Levert (16 June 1942).
Eddie Levert, William Powell & Walter Williams.
Walter Williams, William Powell & Eddie Lavert.

O'Jays pre-1972: William Powell, Bill Isles, Walter Williams, Eddie Levert & Bobby Massey.

Eddie Levert in a prominent central position as The O'Jays were in the 1960s;  from left to right: Bill Isles, William Powell, Eddie Levert, Bobby Massey & Walter Williams.

1. When the world's at peace (Kenneth Gamble-Bunny-Sigler-Phil Hurtt)  5:21
2. Back stabbers (Leon Huff-Gene McFadden-John Whitehead)  3:07
3. Who am I? (Sigler-Hurtt)  5:14
4. (They call me) Mr. Lucky (Gamble-Huff)  3:20
5. Time do get down (Gamble-Huff)  2:53

1. 992 arguments (Gamble-Huff)  6:09
2. Listen to the clock on the wall (Gamble-Huff-Whitehead)  3:48
3. Shiftless, shady, jealus kind of people (Gamble-Huff-Whitehead-Mc Fadden))  3:36
4. Sunshine (Sigler-Hurtt)  3:42
5. Love train (Gamble-Huff)  2:59

release date: August 1972.

The first great album of 1970's Philadelphia soul, 'Back stabbers' took the best impulse of the era's pop music -  the inclination to celebrate love as something precious - and bathed it in the studio-orchestra opulence that became the defining characteristic oif the Sound of Philadelphia.

This was a potent combination, and a goldl mine. On the opening track, lead singer Eddie Lavert proclaims the albums's guiding philosophy: 'Love is not a state of find, love's a fact of life.' Nine songs later, on the massive hit 'Love train', the singer sends an urgent, idealistic appeal to others who might feel the same way: 'People all over the world, join hands, start a love train'. In between are accounts of love trouble  ('992 arguments'), fear of commitment ('Time to get down'), and a trenchant cautionary tale about deceitful  friends ('Back stabbers').

The songs are all great, but the arrangements - far more lavish than anything else on the radio - makes them undeniable classics. Producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff assembled a team of arrangers who conceived of pop on an orchestral level. The Philly Sound is distinguished by active, often tricky string parts that snake around the vocal lines, offset with jazz guitar and vibraphone and other sophisticated touches. The arrangers - and the musicians of what became known as the MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother) Orchestra, which included moonlighting Philadelphia Orchestra members - do the hard work. All the O'Jays' Levert (and Teddy Pendergrass and the other Philly-soul stars) had to do was slide their vocals into a sumptuous, instantly sensual mix.

'Back stabbers' contains most of the key O'Jays tracks - one exception is the ambitious 7-minute masterpiece  'For the love of money', issued on the subsequent album 'Ship Ahoy' and 1975's 'I love music'.

text taken from '1.000 recordings to hear before you die' by Tom Moon.

William Powell, Walter Williams & Eddie Lavert. 


  1. in the second photo from bottom it should read William Powell, Bill Isles, Walter Williams ,Eddie levert and Bobby Massey. Bottom photo clockwise from left to right Isles Powell Levert Massey and Williams. THE PRIDE OF CANTON OHIO

  2. dear Will, thanks very much for correcting the names on the photos. See if I did the right thing, please.