Category Archives: The O’Jays

The O’Jays: My Favorite Jams From On Board The Philly Foursome’s Love Train

O'Jays Painting

The O’Jays have always been a part of my musical core. And so much personal understanding of the Philly sound came by way of this vocal trio. From the first time hearing “Back Stabbers” on the radio and singing along with my mom all the way to ringing in the new millennium to the tune of their song “The Year 2000”. When looking upon a single song or album to break down,it didn’t quite feel right. So with Eddie Levert turning 74,and so many his generations music peers dying off this year,I decided to break down my favorite O’Jays uptempo grooves-song by song. So here come the Philly jams!


“Back Stabbers”/1972

Henrique Hopkins and I once discussed this and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as being Watergate era cinematic soul anthems of paranoia. With the sauntering,theatrical proto disco Philly soul “Back Stabbers” made the darker social climate of the early 70’s wiggle and wobble with a type of excitement and joy.

“For The Love Of Money”/1973

The first time I heard this song,it reminded me of the song “Poppy Girls” from Quincy Jones’s production of The Wiz.  Turns out that was an instrumental recasting of this song’s classic bass line. The original hear is a whole different thing-a frank bit of people funk declaring “some people gotta have it/some people really need it”. No irony is lost that the group performed this song one time on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

“I Love Music”/1975

Always loved this fast paced slice of ultra fast tempo’d Philly dance music. It’s an anthem to the disco era of funk as representative of the love of music for both dancing to and playing it as well as for singing. The most humorous part is the first did I heard it-as part of a VH1 bumper featuring a stereotypical female librarian listening to it on an MP3 player on a subway. Really showcased the funky power of this groove.

“Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought”/1977

The sheer drama of this Afro Cuban percussion/disco bass driven jam made an immediate impact on my ear holes. Hearing the trio sing to the tune of some serious space funk synthesizer’s  lyrics like “Come with me/unsolve the mystery/the mystery of you and  me” alone made my hairs stand up on end with funky emotion.

“Strokety Stroke”/1978

So Full Of Love was an album that was always available brand new from Borders Books & Music since they opened in 1995. That very same copy was still there when I finally picked it up on closeout when the Borders chain closed 15 years later. It was a big surprise to hear this hardcore rocking funk on the same album that delivered the sleek Philly jump of “She Used Ta Be My Girl” and the harmony drenched ballad “Brandy”. One of my favorites in a funk context on this wonderful 1978 album.

“Out Here In The Real World”/1981

This song probably has the most personal resonance in my personal life. Musically,it’s light shuffle isn’t too big a deal for me. Vocally it has some of Eddie’s strongest vocals and the trios fine harmonies. Lyrically,this was a song my own mother often referenced to me (via my own record collection-this song turned into a favorite of hers at the time) when I was facing the difficulties of employment and a future on my own. Long story short,it’s an ongoing journey of many unexpected challenges. Still it’s sometimes good to hear Eddie Levert’s opening line of “oh man,I’ve got to get myself together” for perspective.

“Can’t Slow Down”/1985

The only reason I found out about the O’Jays 1985 album Love Fever was because I found it in the $5.99 bin,again at Borders. Much to my surprise it showcased the O’Jays doing a style of music I’d never have expected to hear from them at that time: brittle synth/electro funk. The opener “Can’t Slow Down” was my favorite. Showcases how some of soul finest harmony singers can bring out at the best in vocal samplers and other mid 80’s technology.


There are many O’Jay’s albums that are not represented with songs on this particular list. That’s because the O’Jays discography is so large,I have yet to hear all of their studio albums. These are just some of the ones that stuck out to for me. What the O’Jays have always represented to me is Gamble & Huff parlaying their talent for writing message songs. Than utilizing their most powerful vocal trio to preach the gospel of humanism. And on Eddie Levert’s birthday this year,that is what I want to celebrate most about them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, disco jazz, Eddie Levert, Funk Bass, Gamble & Huff, message songs, Philly Soul, The O'Jays

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Tribute To Eddie Levert-‘The Year 2000’ by The O’Jays

They say every picture tells a story. And this is actually a story I’ve told before on my previous blog. Personally? I found the 1990’s in my area anyway culturally and socially trying. Sometimes insurmountable. Towards the end of the decade along with the Y2K conspiracy theory? A Christmas gift from my parents,a twofer O’Jays CD on The Right Stuff label,ended up on my CD player on that dark,snowy Maine morning of January 1st,2000. The title of the 1980 CD was The Year 2000. And the title song was the first thing that came on.

It all starts off with a hi hat drum roll-into which emerges a heavily processed Fender Rhodes electric piano. Like the rhythm guitar which accents it? The piano is playing a short,bluesy melodic phrase. Following this twenty seconds of spare musicality? There is a brief pause before the swinging,percussive Philly medium tempo dance rhythm comes with the Rhodes still leading the way with the strong,fruity vocal harmonies of the O’Jays kick in for the chorus. On the melodic refrain? The strings that swell and fall climatically throughout the song are themselves phased through a futuristic,Leslie type filter. And this all sustains itself until the song itself fades out.

Before and after this? I’ve heard a lot of The O’Jays music from the 70’s and 80’s. There are many personal favorites of course. Yet something about this particular song sticks out for me as a musical statement. It goes far beyond any selfish form of nostalgia on my part. From what I’ve heard? This song is basically one of the final representatives of the early to late 70’s Philly dance sound pioneered by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. It continues a very futurist,cinematic space funk theme courtesy of MFSB,with many jazzy melodic and rhythmic accents that I could already hear with the O’Jays on late 70’s numbers such as “Travellin’ At The Speed Of Thought”. So it was instrumentally extending on a strong idea.

Lyrically? The the song is both beautiful,telling and on a personal level mildly haunting. Andresmusictalk is a blog whose most essential ingredient is hope. Hope for an instrumentally and thematically sustainable future for music. This is also a blog that celebrates and advocates for well rounded assessments. And sometimes that means that this hope may arrive from a questioning point of view. On this song? Eddie Levert sings the line “Will there still be wars/I hope and I pray they will cease to be/look at the time we’ve wasted/this is one of things that got the world in such a mess”. It looks back on a troubling recent past and towards a more human and joyous future.

What troubled me for some time is that 21 months after adopting this song as my personal anthem for the new millennium/new century? 9/11 occurred. And the weary “war on terror” lingered on for over a decade after. So in all frankness? No-Eddie’s prayer’s were definitely not answered. What does seem to be happening now though is that millions of Americans are starting to ask the same questions this song,which arrived at the tail end of what I call the “people music” era of the 60’s and 70’s,was striving for answers to. Would war continue to be the only way to protect freedom? Would poverty be the defining aspects of so many lives? If one can ask the question? Especially as this song did at or at least near the start of the Reagan era? Than Eddie Levert,The O’Jays and Philly soul did their good deed very well with this song.

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Filed under 1980's, 9/11, message songs, MFSB, Philly Soul, The O'Jays, The Year 2000, Y2K