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CD Review: The Essential O’Jays

You know the O’Jays. Even if you don’t think you do, you do.

Beginning with “Back Stabbers” in 1972, the group had a string of hits that also included “Love Train,” “Give The People What They Want,” and the dark masterpiece “For The Love Of Money.” Produced by the legendary Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the O’Jays’ sound was the epitome of Philly Soul, though they adapted to the influence of disco as well with “Message In Our Music” and the still overplayed “I Love Music.” Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell (later replaced by Sammy Strain) sang with the passion of the gospel music they began with, traded lead vocals like their idols The Temptations, and bridged the gap between classic soul and the pure party that was disco.

Penned by Gamble and Huff, the O’Jays’ hits reflected the producers’ strong social consciousness and their ability to write about complex subjects like paranoia and marital discord.

Together, Gamble and Huff and the O’Jays formed an unequalled dream team of talent that could inject a protest song with infectious grooves as easily as most groups could spin a love song. All the big hits are included on this CD, and it remedies the lack of “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “Message In Our Music” in earlier collections.

Devotees of the era may quibble about precisely which songs are most “essential” after the very biggest hits – personally I could live without “The Big Gangster,” and an example of their later work would have been welcome – but if you have room for only one O’Jays volume in your collection, this is an excellent choice. Their 1972 album Back Stabbers would be a very worthwhile number two – it has stood the test of time as well as What’s Going On or Songs In The Key Of Life.

We may still be waiting for that soul revival we keep hearing about, but we’ve always got this great and indeed essential music to listen to.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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