The O'Jays


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1958-1965)

- Bill Isles -- vocals  

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

- Bobby Massey -- vocals 

- William Powell (RIP 1977) -- vocals 

- Walter Williams -- vocals 

 

  line up 2 (1965-71)

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

- Bobby Massey -- vocals 

- William Powell (RIP 1977) -- vocals 

- Walter Williams -- vocals 

 

  line up 3 (1971-76)

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

- William Powell (RIP 1977) -- vocals 

- Walter Williams -- vocals 

 

  line up 4 (1976-93)

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

NEW - Sam Strain -- vocals (replaced William Powell)

- Walter Williams -- vocals 

 

  line up 5 (1993-97)

NEW Nathaniel Best -- vocals (replaced Sammy Strain)

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

- Walter Williams -- vocals  

 

  line up 5 (1993-97):

NEW Eric Grant -- vocals (replaced Nathaniel Best)

- Eddie Levert -- vocals  

- Walter Williams -- vocals 

 

 

 

- The Blue Chips (Sammy Strain)

- The Chips (Sammy Strain)

- The Fantastics (Sammy Strain)

- The Impacts (Sammy Strain)

- Little Anthony and the Imperials (Sammy Strain)

- The Mascots

 

 

 


 

Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The O'Jays

Company: Bell

Catalog: 6082

Year: 1975

Country/State: Canton, Ohio

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG

Comments: still in shrink; (torn), corner wear, 2" seam split along top right corner; lots of spider lines and occasional hiss, but plays without skips or pops

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5311

Price: $20.00

 

A quick slice of group history before I describe this surprisingly hard-to-find mid-1970s compilation ...

 

Growing up in Canton, Ohio Eddie Levert and Walter Williams started their musical collaboration singing in the same church choir.  Attending the same High School (McKinley) in 1958 the pair decided to branch out into doo-wop, forming their own group with the addition of buddies Bill Isles, Bobby Massey and Williams Powell.  Initially performing as The Triumphs, the quintet began to attract local attention via local parties and dances.  Changing their name to The Mascots the following year the group continued plugging away on the local scene.  They managed to attract the attention of King Records which went as far as recording a series of demos with the group (though they weren't released).  The group also managed to  score some work as background singers, but seemed unable to breakout. 

 

Their initial breakthrough came in 1960 when they found a mentor in the form of Cleveland disc jockey Eddie O'Jay.  Providing business, performance and musical guidance to the quintet, the group debuted with a 1960 single on the Apollo label ('Miracles' b//w 'I Can't Take It' (Apollo catalog number 759 A/B).  The group repaid O'Jays' efforts by renaming themselves The O'Jays.  Things subsequently began to move for the group, including a short term deal with  Little Star. 1963 saw them signed to H.B. Barnum's Imperial, followed by stints on Minit, Gamble and Huff's pre-Philly International Neptune, and Bell.

 

With The O'Jays wiping up the charts on Philadelphia International it was only natural that former label Bell would be anxious to cash-in on the market.  The company's attempt came in the form of 1975's "The O'Jays".   Technically this was little more than a compilation of earlier material the group had released, including a number of 1967-69 singles.  That said, the album was curious on at least two counts.  Musically all twelve performances were wonderful.  Tracks like 'Going, Going, Going' and 'Look Over Your Shoulder' may have been a little rawer than their collaborations with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but the differences were modest, making you wonder why it took so long for radio and the buying public to discover The O'Jays.  Hard to pick favorites, though 'I Dig You Act', 'Four for the Price of One' and 'Love Is Everywhere' were all killer.  Even weirder was Bell's decision to add crowd noise at the start of the set and in-between the tracks, almost as if to give you the impression this was a live release.  The post-production efforts (blame producer George Kerr) were simply inept.  Add to that the decision to package the album in what may have been the year's ugliest cover certainly did little to support sales.  

 

"The O'Jays" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I was Today)   (P. Poindexter - S. Poindexter - E. Thomas - J. Members) - 2:45

2.) I'm So Glad I Found You   (George Kerr - L. Roberts - V. Kerr) - 2:57

3.) Going, Going, Going   (P. Poindexter - S. Poindexter - J. Members) - 2:40

4.) That's Alright   (Walter Williams - G. Baxter) - 2:28

5.) I Dig You Act   (P. Poindexter - S. Poindexter - J. Tibbs) - 2:12

6.) Look Over Your Shoulder   (George Kerr - L. Roberts) - 2:45

 

(side 2)
1.) You're Too Sweet   (P. Poindexter - S. Poindexter - C.Harper) - 2:58

2.) Just Another Guy   (George Kerr - G. Harris - L.Gross) - 2:40

3.) Four for the Price of One   (L. Williams - J. Watson - D. Mundy) - 3:49

4.) Love Is Everywhere   (P. Poindexter - S. Poindexter - R.Lewis - C. Harper) - 2:42

5.) Now That I've Found You   (Walter Williams - G. Baxter) - 2:21

6.) I'll Be Seeing You   (I. Kahal - S. Fain) - 2:24)

 

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Super Bad

Company: Trip

Catalog: TLP 9510

Year: 1971

Country/State: Canton, Ohio

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+

Comments: split lower edge

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 3267

Price: $20.00

 

Originally released by H.B. Barnum's Los Angeles-based Little Star label (catalog LS-LP 1000 X), 1969's 'Super Bad" pulled together a hodge-podge collection of previously released singles and what

 

 

appeared to be newer studio material.  Produced by Barnum and Bobby Massey, the album was interesting for capturing The O'Jays starting to make the transition to the group that would begin dominating mid'-70s radio. With Eddie Levert  handling most of the lead vocals, the roots of their patented sound were certainly there.  In fact  tracks like 'Now He's Home', 'Crossroads of Life', and 'Never Can Say Goodbye' would not have sounded out of place on one of their forthcoming Phladelphia International albums.  Still, those tunes were exceptions to the rule.  'Little Brother' was interesting in capturing the group dipping their toes in Clarence Carter-styled Southern country-soul.  A bit clunky, the ballad  'Peace' was an indicator of  the socially relevant material Gamble and Huff would occasionally saddle them with.  One of three previously released singles, 'Shattered Man' was an album highlight  showcasing the group at their toughest.  Certainly not their most consistent release, but an interesting transitional collection.   Well worth looking for.  

 

The New Jersey-based budget label Trip somehow acquired rights to the collection, reissuing the set in 1971.  Buy the Trip version since it's virtually identical to the Little Star version, but seriously cheaper.

 

"Super Bad" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Now He's Home  (Bobby Masse - Lester McKenzie - Bobby Dukes) - 3:42  rating; *** stars

A sweet ballad with an interesting "three way" lyric, the opening track was one of those songs that would not have sounded out of place on a forthcoming Philadelphia International.  Featuring one of the album's strongest melodies, it had been tapped as a single:

 

- 1972's 'Now He's Home' b/w 'Just To Be with You' (Little Star catalog number X 1401-A/B)

2.) Little Brother  (Walter Williams - R Shane) - 2:55   rating: **** stars

You wouldn't expect a Philly-based group to be able to nail a Southern, country-soul number like 'Little Brothers', but The O'Jays managed to pull it off on this one.  Clarence Carter would have been proud of this performance.  Shame on that little brother ...

3.) Crossroads of Life   (Fred Butler - Eddie Levert - William Powell)  - 2:48   rating: **** stars

I've always found 'Crossroads of Life' to be a fascinating O'Jays track.  First off it's an original number - a rarity in the group's extensive catalog.  Second, the song clearly shows the direction they were going to take when they signed with Philadelphia International.  That classic O'Jays sound ws certainly there (love the little guitar riff that underlay the song)); just not fully flushed out.   Nice performance that would have made a dandy single.

4.) La-De-Da  (The O'Jays) - 2:38   rating: ** stars

With Eddie Levert handling lead vocals, I've always thought 'La-De-Da' had kind of at clunky structure.  Another group original, it sounded like the track had been stitched together from three or four separate ideas; none of them particularly strong.

5.) Peace - 5:22  (Bradford Craig - H.B. Barnum)   rating: **** stars

'Peace' was another tune that had previously been released as a single.  The big, orchestral opening has always reminded me of something off a Star Trek soundtrack and while it took awhile for the song to get going, once it did, the over-the-top, Richard Harris-styled arrangement was a hoot.

- 1972's 'Peace' b/w 'Don't You Know a True Love' (Astroscope catalog number AS 1104)

 

(side 2)
1.) Shattered Man   (Fred Butler - John Owens) - 3:18  rating: **** stars

'Shattered Man' had previously appeared as a 1971 single released by the Cleveland-based Sabu label.  Musically it was one of the group's tougher numbers (love the shrieks), sounding more than a little like Norman Whitfield-styled Temptations.   Nice dance number and it should have been a massive hit for the group.  Trip subsequently reissued it as a 45 (with a different flip side):

- 1971's 'Shattered Man' b/w 'La-De-Da (Means I'm Out To Get You)' (Sabu catalog number 1220)

- 1973's 'Shattered Man' b/w 'Now He's Home' (Trip catalog number TX-3008)

2.) Your Turn This Time  (The O'Jays) - 3:44  rating: *** stars

Classic O'Jays ballad, though Levert sounded a bit strained on the lead vocals.  The song was sampled by Westside Gunn and Conway on the song 'Loganberry'.  

3.) Just To Be with You  (Bobby Masse - Bobby Dukes) - 2:39   rating: *** stars

'Just To Be with You' had served as the 'B' side on 1971's 'Now He's Home'.  This one had all the ingredients to serve as their breakout song, except for Levert's slightly flat delivery and an equally plodding string arrangement.  Those shortcomings aside, I've always liked this bouncy tune better than the song that was the 'A' side.  Bobby Dukes also recorded a nice version of the song.

4.) Gotta Get My Broom   (The O'Jays) - 2:21   rating: ***** stars

With some of the funniest lyrics you'll ever head, 'Gotta Get My Broom' was one of the album highlights.  Always loved the backing vocals on this one.

5.) Never Can Say Goodbye  (Bobby Masse - Bobby Dukes) -3:50  rating: *** stars

'Never Can Say Goodbye' was a big, bold ballad that was propelled by one of their prettiest melodies.  This one would not have sounded out of place on one of the forthcoming Philadelphia International albums.

The O'Jays are one of those groups that have been plagued by questionable reissues and this album is a perfect example of the problem.  In addition to the Trip label reissue, ,the album was issued in Germany under the title "Now He's Home" (Intercord catalog number 128.612) and in the UK under the title "Peace" (DJM catalog number DJSLM 2009).  Under the clever title "The O'Jays" and inexplicably dropping two of the songs ('Your Turn This Time' and 'Never Can Say Goodbye') the UpFront label also reissued it (UpFront catalog number UPF-168).  (Adding to the confusion, I believe UpFront was related to Trip Records.)  Finally, the US Koala tax scam imprint reissued it in 1980 under the title "Just To Be With You" (Koala catalog number AW-14233).  

 

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 4 star ****

Title:  Message In the Music

Company: Philadelphia International

Catalog: PZ 34245

Year: 1976

Country/State: Canton, Ohio

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5812

Price: $5.00

 

I was a senior in high school when "Message In the Music" came out and I can clearly recall being bombarded by the title track on virtually every radio station on the local dial.  It still makes me smile remembering how integrated radio seemed to be back in the mid-1970s.  Bubblegum pop, country-rock, rock, soul, lite jazz ...  for a brief period in time radio stations seemed to have the freedom and flexibility to play whatever the world they wanted to.  Radio was literally fun, due in large measure to the fact you never knew what was coming next.  Geez I can remember a station playing a Dolly Parton track, followed by a 10cc song, and then a Fleetwood Mac selection.  Wouldn't happen today.  Oh well, enough daydreaming. 

 

Looking back at this one some 30 years after it was released, some of the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff lyrics seem hopelessly naive.  They were probably that way back in 1976, but who was paying attention to the words back then?  Besides, I think I'd take naive over cynical any day of the week.  After a couple of mediocre releases, this collection found Gamble and Huff back in peaking writing form.  All hyperbole aside, four out of the eight songs on the album have become soul classics.   As for The O'Jays, well with the exception of "Back Stabber" I don't think they ever sounded as sharp.

 

"Message In the Music" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Message In Our Music   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 6:24    rating: **** stars

Once you got over the scat intro 'Message In Our Music' opened up into one of the era's best 'message' songs.  A perfect vehicle for showcasing their vocal harmonies, it was also one of the few songs that really didn't suffer as an extended album version - that was due in no small part to the fantastic electric and acoustic guitar solos that kicked the song into the final sequence.  One of the best Sigma Studio production numbers and a deserved massive hit for the group ...

2.) A Prayer   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 6:30    rating: ** stars 

'A Prayer' was a beautiful Gospel ballad, but simply too churchy for my ears.     

3.) Paradise   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 5:02    rating: **** stars

Not only were The O'Jays wonderful harmony singers, but folks routinely overlook how good Levert and Williams were when trading lead vocals.  'Paradise' was a perfect example of their chemistry.  The song actually gets better and better as the trio hit the accelerator consistently upping the antie and leaving the rhythm section to desperately hang on.  One of my favorite songs on the album and would have made a dandy single.

4.) Make a Joyful Noise   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 4:02    rating: **** stars

'Make a Joyful Noise' found Levert and company preaching as it was intended.  Kicked along by another irresistible hook, if this one couldn't lift your spirits you were likely already dead.     

 

(side 2)
1.) Desire Me?   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 6:21    rating: ** stars 

'Desire Me?' was the first disappointment.  The song started out as a pretty, but forgettable ballad, before morphing into a weird, pseudo-big band jazz number.  Quite strange, though not very appealing.    

2.) Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) - 4:14    rating: **** stars

In my book 'Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)' was one of their creative zeniths - a breezy, easy going love song that had a hook that was simply irresistible with the tandem leads of Levert and Williams seldom sounding as good.   Geez, I remember dancing to this one at a prom, or homecoming dance ...   Amazing how the years pass us by.    There was so much demand for this one that Philadelphia International even released it in a 12" format.     

3.) I Swear I Love Nobody But You   (Bunny Sigler) - 5:13    rating: *** stars

Backed by the band Instant Funk, 'I Swear I Love Nobody But You' started out as an okay ballad highlighted by some wonderful harmony vocals.   Otherwise it didn't make nearly as much of an impression on me.  Levert came off as trying too hard on this one ...  And then - bam it turned into a runaway killer of a song with Levert singing like his life was on the line.  Shame the second part faded out so fast.

4.) Let Life Flow   (John Whitehead - Gene McFadden - Victor Carstarphen) - 4:37    rating: **** stars

'Let Life Flow' closed the album with a patented O'Jays mid-tempo number.  Levert and Williams again displayed their fantastic knack for trading off leads, this time vamping all over the place with great results. This one would have made another dandy single.   

 

The album also spun off two of their bigger hits:

 

- 1976's 'Message In Our Music' b/w 'She's Only a Woman' (Philadelphia International catalog number ZS8 3601) # 1 R&B; # 49 pop

- 1976's 'Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)' b/w 'A Prayer' (Philadelphia International catalog number ZS8 3610)

- 1976's 'Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)' b/w 'Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)' (Philadelphia International catalog number ASD 248) 12" format

 

Simply stated, this is one of the 'must own' O'Jays albums.  A massive hit, the collection hit # 3 R&B and # 20 pop.

 

 

A sad postscript - Williams had previously been diagnosed with cancer.  He participated in the recording sessions, but 'retired' shortly after the album was released and died in May 1977.  He was only 36.

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 2 star **

Title:  The Year 2000

Company: TSOP

Catalog: FZ-36416

Year: 1980

Country/State: Canton, Ohio

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: original lyric inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5811

Price: $5.00

 

With Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff back at the helm in the roles of producers and major songwriters, you would have thought 1980's "The Year 2000" would have been a return to prime form.  Didn't happen.  In fact, like most folks I'd argue this was probably The O'Jay's least satisfying release for the Philadelphia International nameplate.  

 

"The Year 2000" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) The Year 2000   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) -     rating: *** stars

The title track opened up with some tasty jazz guitar riffing, but then fell into one of those Gamble and Huff slices of political and social commentary.  Mind you the sentiments weren't anything particularly controversial, rather your typical high school thesis on peace and brotherhood.  Similarly there wasn't much to the melody ... the chorus was the best part of the song and it was mediocre at best.   Even the O'Jays seemed less than enthusiastic in their performance.  

2.) To Prove I Love You   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) -      rating: **** stars

While it wasn't the strongest melody Gamble and Huff had ever crafted, 'To Prove I Love You' was a far stronger performance with a brezzy melody and a fantastic chorus hook.  Instantly identifiable as an O'Jays track, Levert and company actually seemed relieved to be back in more familiar territory.  

3.) You'll Never Know (All There Is To Know 'Bout Love)   (John Whitehead - Gene McFadden - Victor Carstarphen) -  rating: ** stars 

Technically 'You'll Never Know (All There Is To Know 'Bout Love)' was one of those big ballads that should have been a major find.  Instead, here it came of as bland and forgettable.  It really sounded like something you'd heard dozens of times before and in spite of giving it a shot, The O'Jays just couldn't salvage this one.   

4.) You're the Girl of My Dreams (Sho Nuff Real)'   (Mike Jackson - Walter Williams - Eddie Levert - Willy Ross) -     rating: *** stars

Normally 'You're the Girl of My Dreams (Sho Nuff Real)' probably wouldn't have made much of an impression on the listener, but compared against the rest of the album, this Latin-tinged O'Jays original came out sounding pretty good.  

 

(side 2)
1.) You Won't Fail   (Walter Williams - Reggie Mason - Terry Stubs - Mike Jackson) -     rating: *** stars

With a nice Gospel edge and an uplifting lyric 'You Won't Fail ' opened side two with a typical O'Jays ballad.  Certainly not the album's most original offering, the song at least showcased their wonderful harmony vocals and another nice hook.    

2.) Girl, Don't Let It Get You Down   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) -     rating: *** stars

With an easy-going slinky chorus ('oh-ah, oh-ah, oh-ah') and some nice bass, 'Girl, Don't Let It Get You Down' was one of the more commercial songs on the set; explaining why it was tapped as one of the singles.     

3.) The Answer's In You   (Kenny Gamble - Leon Huff) -      rating: **** stars

In part due to the fact it was so different from the rest of the album, 'The Answer's In You' was easily the standout track.  A throwback to the group's true soul roots, this one was a pounding slice of old school soul.  Instantly likeable and should have been tapped as a single.    

4.) Once Is Not Enough   (Bunny Sigler - Harvey Scales) -  rating: ** stars 

The Bunny Sigler-penned ballad 'Once Is Not Enough' was the track that attracted the most attention, but to my ears it was a perfect example of the group at their worst.  A big, seemingly endless grinder, to my ears the performance came off as simply ponderous and dull.      

 

TSOP released three singles off the album, but none matched their earlier commercial successes:

 

- 1980's 'Girl, Don't Let It Get You Down' b/w 'You're the Girl of My Dreams (Sho Nuff Real' (TSOP catalog number ZS9 4790) # 55 pop; # 3 R&B

- 1980's 'Once Is Not Enough' b/w 'To Prove I Love You'' (TSOP catalog number ZS9 4791) # 44 R&B

- 1981's 'You Won't Fail' b/w 'You'll Never Know'  (TSOP catalog number ZS6 70050)

 

Even though it was one of their weaker collection, sales of the parent album weren't terrible; the set peaking at # 36.

 

 

 

SRB 09/2009

 

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