I don’t want to wait until one of the members of this group dies or something similar to do this one.
I have avoided most R&B music ever since having a traumatic termination experience at the last R&B radio outlet I diligently performed on, and tirelessly worked for getting exceptional “ratings”, when I was literally “fired” as the individual who hired me, (the GM) used a load gun in-hand while he dismissed me. Seemy book, “He’s In A Meeting…” for how it played-out thereafter. However, today I shot a promotional video, where I had creative control, and in one of “those” moments, it came to me that this particular O’Jays song was the perfect background theme song. “As luck would have it”, I have now pulled my whole O’Jays catalog from me library to me desk, Mon. Let us see what we have here….
Hailing from Canton, Ohio, I believe and named after one of my favorite and much-missed radio disc jockey inspirations, the late Eddie O’Jay, these cats have been part of the fabric of my life since their first big album dropped in 1972 as I was a freshman in college. I first listened to Eddie O’Jay on Newark, New Jersey’s WNJR AM where he scatted such cool gibberish as “So cool, docaroo; eh-tu, me and you, sabee-doo!” LOL as part of his daily sign-off the air. For a long time I didn’t connect the group with the radio personality – “Duh??” Just like I didn’t know they were originally a quartet that included Bobby Isles – my parents tried to keep my from what they described as the “gut-bucket music” R&B table; what can I say except, that I broke free in college, rapido-style, in order to catch-up.
Last I paid serious attention, The O’Jays are/were Eddie Lavert, William Powell and Walter Williams. They came to hit status due to the writing prowess of Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble in the early 1970s and to me, their signature is the almost rough and churchy- energetic vamping of lead singer, Mr. Lavert. He is the male standard for “bringing a song home”! He knows how to put the “beg” on the woman in-song, is smooth and soft; or “nice and rough” as Tina Turner once described their “Rolling On The River”. Moreover, do not get it twisted, all three of the O’Jays can carry the lead.
My oldest O’Jays vinyl is “Backstabbers” which featured the classics ‘Love Train”, “Sunshine”, “Time To Get Down”, and of course the title track that became a euphemism for me and my college mates back then when it became known that another man was after “your’ girl – he then dubbed was a “Backstabber (what they do!)”.
Thanks to the promotion people I remember at CBS Records (the “black rock building” like Jackie Thomas, Elaine Valentine and T.C. Tompkins, I own about seventeen O’Jays vinyls. Of course, growing up in music within the sound of Frankie Crocker’s “total Black Experience In Sound, ” WBLS FM radio station did not hurt my O’Jay education nor catalog. I remember him “running” the hit “For The Love Of Money” over and over again! This was an era prior to “remixed versions” that are just part of the music machine fabric nowadays. My second oldest is “The O”Jays in Philadelphia” which includes “‘One Night Affair”, which was my first 45rpm by them from the local record shop on Neptune Records.
Then there is the classic (another one!) “Ship Ahoy”, where in addition to “Money”, I always dug “Put Your Hands Together”, “People Keep Telling Me” and “Now That We Found Love” which the reggae group Third World made a smash out of too! Next is “The O’Jays Live In London” which, when released, was kind of a first. A reverse Beatles moment when an American “soul” group went across the “pond” and “wowed” the Brits! (I couldn’t find any video for that appearance, sadly)
Next are my vinyls: “Family Reunion”, featuring the love classic “You and Me” as well as the sometimes over-played, IMHO, title track, the cool “Living For The Weekend”, McFadden and Whitehead-written “She’s Only A Woman”, and a little ditty called “I Love Music” which became a disco classic upon remixes by the likes of yours truly and other selectors of the day. Positioning that track last on that album was genius! Next I have the “Survival” album featuring “Give The People What They Want” and my personal fave, “How Time Flies”; next 1976’s “Message In The Music” featuring the ultimate dance floor-filler classic of it’s time, “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love)” – I still have the 12″ versions separate from the rest, LOL. You just heard it here (and I dedicate it to my Ukrainian, Nina, by-the-way).
Following that platinum success the guys were ‘Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought” (an interlude in their discography) until they discovered they were “So Full Of Love” which included their first real “crossover” sure shot into the mainstream of Pop music, “She Used Ta Be My Girl”. I can name THAT tune in the first several guitar riff notes and it always reminds me of my first commercial radio riff on WFLB AM in 1978. “Identify Yourself” took the stage on Philadelphia International/Mighty Three Music in 1979 where “Forever Mine’ was the star song. In 1982 my collection features the non-descriptive “My Favorite Person” album, which was only saved by the title song and the Womack connection on the first song, “I Just Want To Satisfy You” which played big in New York City radio because of Crocker and Sonny Taylor. Play it again, “Sam”! A rare dud for the group was the vinyl, “When Will I See You Again”, and I knew that they should take a powder for a while after it. Sure enough, the came back in 1984 and 1984 with “Love and More” and did a little bit better on “Love Fever”, but still not up to their previous standards until the album that inspired this post, 1987’s “Let Me Touch You”. This effort showcases all the styles, spectrums and signatures of The O’Jays as exemplified by a Latin-funky “True Love Never Dies” on one song and then a heartfelt “Still Missing” on the next.
So which one is my favorite album or cut? Well, there are way too many to mention! I love “Darlin’ Baby” the same way I dig “Lovin’ You” or “When The World Is At Peace”. I am sure , and at least HOPE that they are still making music and albums/CDs. I am not in the “loop” anymore with their labels like it was easy “back in the day” to keep up, and I want to cry about it.
Not the “Old Jays” as I recently heard some young homies disrespectfully refer to them, but still the O’JOINTS! Ya know, “True love” really “never dies”. We Love you Eddie Lavert!
So what are your favorite O’Jays songs or concert moments? Or had you ever even heard of them until you read this?