THE O’JAYS – BACK STABBERS
Released August, 1972- 44 years ago
Fusing ’60s pop vocal styles with funky R&B rhythms and jazz-inspired arrangements that feature complex melodies, sweeping strings, and dynamic horns, The O’Jays fifth studio release, produced by the iconic songwriting team of Gable & Huff, helped establish the “Philly Sound.” One of the group’s most commercially and critically successful, it is a classic in every sense.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4 p.m. Monday-Friday on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4 p.m. Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3 FM and KXCI.org.
The O’Jays formed in Canton OH in 1958 as a quintet. They first called themselves The Triumphs and then in 1960 renamed their group The Mascots. As the Mascots, they made their recording debut in 1961 with the single “Miracles” released on the Cincinnati-based King label. This single earned them a fan base throughout Ohio that included influential Cleveland DJ, Eddie O’Jay. O’Jay was one of the band’s earliest advocates, giving them significant airplay and career advice. In turn, the group renamed itself The O’Jays in 1963.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, The O’Jays recorded on various different labels and had some minor radio hits. During this time two of the original members left the group and were not replaced, leaving the group a trio featuring Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and Eric Grant. By 1971, the group considering throwing in the towel until they were introduced to the songwriting/production team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
Gamble & Huff, as they became to be known, were the co-founders and in-house creative team for Philadelphia based label, Philadelphia International. They were responsible for writing and producing numerous gold and platinum albums as well as a slew of top-charting singles during the 1970s. Along with The O’Jays, other artists on the Philadelphia International label include Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Patty LaBelle, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and even a couple of releases by The Jacksons.
The Philadelphia International label and The O’Jays were synonymous with what became known as “Philadelphia (or Philly) Soul.” Philly Soul was one of the most popular forms of R&B/soul in the early 70s, developing out Motown-styled R&B and the Southern/Memphis soul sound championed by Hi Records and the Stax/Volt label. Philly Soul was slicker than late 60s R&B, adding sweeping strings, horn sections, funk-infused bass lines, and lush arrangements. This more produced sound help pave the way for late 70s disco and 70s-80s urban contemporary R&B.
Back Stabbers represented a major turning point for The O’Jays, launching the group into the stratosphere with five top-charting singles, including “992 Arguments,” “Sunshine,” “Time To Get Down,” the title track, and the #1 smash hit “Love Train.” The album reached the top 10 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart as well as #3 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was the group’s first gold release, selling over 500,000 units by 1973, eventually becoming platinum. Back Stabbers remains one of the most influential R&B releases of the early 1970s, and is included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Back Stabbers was recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. From it’s founding in 1968, Sigma Sound was associated with Philly Soul and hosted the recording of numerous Philadelphia International and Gamble &Huff projects. Later on the studio became home to artists of all stripes, including Aretha Franklin, ZZ Top, Madonna, and David Bowie among others. Closing it’s doors as an active studio in 2014, the building was dedicated as a historic site by the City of Philadelphia in 2015.
Gamble & Huff not only produced Back Stabbers, one or both of them get songwriting credit on nearly every song on the album.
During the remainder of the 1970s The O’Jays continued releasing hit singles, including “For the Love of Money,” “Give the People What They Want,” and “Livin’ for the Weekend” among others. The group has continued to release albums and tour throughout the ‘80s, 90s, and 2000s, but never attained the success seen in the early-mid 70s.
In 2005, The O’Jays were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of fame. Gamble & Huff were inducted also inducted in 2008 in the non-performer category for their contributions to R&B and soul.