It’s it really Wednesday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. This means it’s time to pack my bags anew and head to that imaginary desert island. But before leaving, I must pick one song to take along.
It can’t be just any tune. It must be a song by an artist or a band I’ve rarely covered or not covered at all. And it must be an artist or a band whose name starts with the letter “o” since I’m doing this exercise alphabetically and did my pick for “n” last week.
For the letter “o”, some of the choices included Oasis, Sinead O’Connor, Phil Ochs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Roy Orbison and Ozzy Osborne. And my pick is a smooth Philly soul tune I’ve always loved but not covered yet: Back Stabbers by The O’Jays.
Back Stabbers, co-written by Philadelphia International label songwriters Leon Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, is the title track of The O’Jays’ sixth studio album. Released in August 1972, it was their breakthrough and the first for Philadelphia International Records, a label that had only been founded in 1971. I dig the nice contrast between Levert’s rough voice and Williams’ smooth singing.
The O’Jays originally hailed from Canton, Ohio and were formed in 1958 as The Mascots by Eddie Levert, Walter Lee Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles while they were still in high school. They changed their name to The Triumphs before becoming The O’Jays in 1963 in tribute to Eddie O’Jay, a Cleveland radio DJ.
In 1963, The O’Jays released Lonely Drifter, their first charting U.S. single, which reached no. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their debut album that came out in 1965. But as noted above, the group’s breakthrough didn’t happen until they signed with Philadelphia International Records and released the Back Stabbers album. By that time, The O’Jays had become a trio featuring Levert, Williams and Powell.
After 64 years, The O’Jays are still around, with Levert and Williams remaining part of the current line-up that also includes Eric Nolan Grant. In fact, they have upcoming tour dates in July and August. To date, they have released 29 studio albums, 20 compilations, one live album and nearly 100 singles. The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2004), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005) and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame (2013).
Back Stabbers ranks among The O’Jays most successful U.S. singles, topping the R&B chart and reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Only Love Train, another track from Back Stabbers, ever topped the Hot 100. Other hits included Put Your Hands Together (1973), For the Love of Money (1974), I Love Music (1975), Livin’ For the Weekend (1976) and Use ta Be My Girl (1978).
Here’s a nice clip of The O’Jays’ 2005 Rock Hall induction performance, a medley of Back Stabbers, For the Love of Money and Love Train.
Following are some additional tidbits on Back Stabbers from Songfacts:
This song starts with a piano roll that Leon Huff played. He explained in an interview with National Public Radio: “‘Back Stabbers sounds like something eerie, so that roll was like something horrible, because that’s what back stabbers are. It reflected that type of drama.”
Regarding the elaborate production and orchestral sound, he added: “Our dream was to play so many counter-melodies that came with those songs, and the orchestra was able to put that together. Plus, stereo radio had just come around, and you had a lot of space to fill up. Stereo was much more soothing than mono, so we thought about the mixes we could do. The music was funky and classical at the same time.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; O’Jays website; YouTube