The O’Jays – 1972 – Back Stabbers
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A major turning point for the O’Jays, Back Stabbers took the group to the top of the charts and made them household names in the R&B world. The O’Jays had been paying serious dues since the late ’50s, and their perseverance payed off in a major way when the unsettling title song, the infectious “Time to Get Down,” and the uplifting “Love Train” became their biggest hits up to that point. Indeed, this album did more than its part to help establish Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records as the most successful soul label since Stax and Motown.
A1 When The World’s At Peace 5:21
A2 Back Stabbers 3:07
A3 Who Am I 5:14
A4 (They Call Me) Mr. Lucky 3:20
A5 Time To Get Down 2:53
B1 992 Arguments 6:09
B2 Listen To The Clock On The Wall 3:48
B3 Shiftless, Shady, Jealous Kind Of People 3:36
B4 Sunshine 3:42
B5 Love Train 2:59
Soul music is easily distinguishable by label and by region, perhaps more so than any genre. The most notable of the sounds that emerged to prominence in soul music was for one, the Stax, southern soul sound that was gritty and raw and heavily influenced by blues, and for another Motown in Detroit, the most pop oriented sub-genre that often, but not always featured a simpler structure and catchy melody. Chicago and Miami also deserve mention for their distinct sound, but they were never as popular as the others mention, nor as prominent as the sub-genre that continually pushed the genre’s limits, Philly Soul. The analogy that is most commonly used to describe its sound is that it was soul music dressed in a tuxedo. I was lavish, almost always featuring a full orchestra, slick and more polished than most other music. The sound and the label behind it, Philadelphia International, produced many landmark albums, but title of their greatest album has to go to “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays.
Before I get into the album’s quality, its importance is necessary to note. The album has not one, but two hits that just about everybody is familiar with. Thirty-eight years after the album’s release, you can hardly turn on the television without hearing its most popular tune “Love Train,” and though not as much so, the album’s title track makes many appearances in pop culture as well. Something can be said for these songs’ longevity. It is doubtful that they have been adopted for advertising campaigns because they happen to fit their message, but more likely that the feel-good vibe the emit and the meaningful lyrics they contain could are universally well-liked.
Though it is one of their first albums for their own label (Philly Intl.) Leon Huff and Kenneth Gamble, two of the most deserving members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I might add, are on the top of their game here. While towards the end of the ’70s some of their material seemed tired, the song writing and composing is fresh and original. It was almost entirely their working, but they did have some assistance from figures who were sort of disciples of themselves, Bunny Sigler, Gene McFadden, and John Whitehead. “Love Train,” “Time To Get Down,” “Backstabbers” and “Mr. Lucky” represent the sound that so distinctively belonged to them. Credit is also due to their closely knit studio musicians, Vincent Montana, Earl Young, Norman Harris and Ron Baker. The O’Jays themselves were too at the top of their game at this early stage in their lengthy career. The trio’s vocal interaction is at its best at the smooth, somewhat eerie “Who Am I” which features a great vocal arrangement that everyone participates in. The last half of the song hardly features a real word, but still at this point Eddie Levert’s is at its most pleasant. Unlike many other vocal groups with multiple members, all three of the O’Jays are just about equally valuable. It is good to hear them sing in unison, take for example in their effort on the chorus of “Love Train” which almost forces you to join in and sing along.
Gambel & Huff took a risk by going for this sound in the early ’70s. The popular sound was funk, and there would have seemed to be no room for their clean shaven soul sound. There obviously was though as Philly International grew to become one of the most successful entirely soul labels that the genre had to offer. We are certainly lucky that they did take the risk though, as the label provided so many great albums, this one perhaps being the best, and made crucial developments such as the advent of disco, which if you listen carefully to “Backstabbers” you may hear a hint of .