The O'Jays

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The O'Jays

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The O'Jays were one of Philadelphia soul's most popular and long-lived outfits, rivaled only by the Spinners as soul's greatest vocal group of the '70s. In their prime, the O'Jays' recordings epitomized the Philly soul sound; smooth, rich harmonies backed by elaborate arrangements, lush strings, and a touch of contemporary funk. They worked extensively with the legendary production/songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, becoming the flagship artist of the duo's Philadelphia International label. The O'Jays were equally at home singing sweet love ballads or up-tempo dance tunes, the latter of which were often mouthpieces for Gamble & Huff's social concerns. Although the O'Jays couldn't sustain their widespread popularity in the post-disco age, they continued to record steadily all the way up to the present day, modifying their production to keep up with the times.

The O'Jays were formed in 1958 in Canton, OH, where all five original members, Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bill Isles, and Bobby Massey,  attended McKinley High School. Inspired to start a singing group after seeing a performance by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, they first called themselves the Triumphs, then switched to the Mascots in 1960. The Mascots made their recording debut in 1961 with the single "Miracles," issued on the Cincinnati-based King label. It earned them a fan in the influential Cleveland DJ Eddie O'Jay, who gave them some airplay and career advice; in turn, the group renamed themselves the O'Jays in 1963, after having recorded for Apollo Records with producer Don Davis. Under their new name, the O'Jays signed with Imperial and hooked up with producer H.B. Barnum, who would helm their first charting single, 1963's "Lonely Drifter," plus several more singles that followed. Isles left the group in 1965 and was not replaced, leaving them a quartet; late in the year, they released their first-ever album, Comin' Through. In 1967, the O'Jays left Imperial for Bell, where they landed their first Top Ten single on the R&B charts, "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)." Discouraged by the difficulty of following that success, the group considered throwing in the towel until they met Gamble & Huff, then working as a production team for the Neptune label , in 1968. Gamble & Huff took an interest in the group, and they recorded several successful R&B singles together; however, Neptune folded in 1971, leaving the O'Jays in limbo, and Massey decided to exit the group.

Fortunately, Gamble & Huff formed their own label, Philadelphia International, and made the O'Jays , now a trio , one of their first signings. The O'Jays' label debut, Back Stabbers, released in 1972, became a classic landmark of Philly soul, and finally made the group stars; the paranoid title track hit the pop Top Five, and the utopian "Love Train" went all the way to number one (both singles topped the R&B charts). It was the beginning of a remarkable run that produced nearly 30 chart singles over the course of the '70s, plus a series of best-selling albums and a bevy of number-one hits on the R&B charts. The O'Jays followed up their breakthrough with another classic LP, Ship Ahoy, in 1973; it featured the number one R&B hit "For the Love of Money," a funky protest number that still ranks as one of their signature songs, as well as the ten-minute title track, an ambitious suite recounting the ocean journeys of African slaves. 1975's Survival was another hit, spinning off the hits "Let Me Make Love to You" and the R&B number one "Give the People What They Want." Family Reunion found the group making concessions to the emerging disco sound, which got them their third Top Five pop hit in "I Love Music, Pt. 1." Unfortunately, William Powell was diagnosed with cancer that year, and although he continued to record with the group for a time (appearing on 1976's Message in Our Music), he was forced to retire from live performing, and passed away on May 26, 1977.

Powell's replacement was Sammy Strain, a 12-year veteran of Little Anthony & the Imperials. The O'Jays regrouped on the albums Travelin' at the Speed of Thought (1977) and So Full of Love (1978), the latter of which produced their final Top Five pop hit, "Use Ta Be My Girl." 1979's Identify Yourself began to show signs of wear and tear in the group's successful formula, and often consciously attempted to follow disco trends. Although it sold respectably, it marked the beginning of a decline in the O'Jays' commercial fortunes. Undaunted by the increasingly diminished returns of their early-'80s LPs, the group kept plugging away, and never completely disappeared from the R&B charts. They finally left Philadelphia International and signed with EMI for 1987's Let Me Touch You, which melded their classic sound with up-to-date urban-R&B production. Powered by the Gamble & Huff-penned R&B number-one "Lovin' You," as well as the increased visibility of Eddie Levert's sons Gerald and Sean (two-thirds of the hit urban group LeVert), the album gave their career a much-needed shot in the arm. 1989's Serious supplied another big R&B hit in "Have You Had Your Love Today?"; with Nathaniel Best replacing Sammy Strain, 1991's Emotionally Yours and 1993's Heartbreaker also placed very well on the R&B charts. The O'Jays' comeback didn't really extend to the pop side, and didn't attract the sort of critical praise earned by their '70s classics; as the new jack swing craze subsided, so did the group's recording activity, though they remained consistent draws on the live circuit. In 1997, now with Eric Grant joining Levert and Williams, they returned with Love You to Tears. A recording layoff followed, during which the group signed with MCA; they debuted for the label with For the Love..., which was released in 2001. , Steve Huey


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For the LoveFor The Love2001
Love You to TearsLove You to Tears1997
Let Me Make Love to YouLet Me Make Love to You1996
Back on TopBack on Top1996
Emotionally YoursEmotionally Yours 1991
Let Me Touch You Let Me Touch You 1987
Love and MoreLove and More1984
My Favorite PersonMy Favorite Person 1982
The Year 2000 The Year 2000 1980
Identify YourselfIdentify Yourself 1979
So Full of LoveSo Full of Love 1978
Traveling at the Speed of ThoughtTravelin' At The Speed of Thought 1977
Message in the MusicMessage in the Music 1976
Family ReunionFamily Reunion 1975
SurvivalSurvival 1975
Ship AhoyShip Ahoy 1973

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2001 For the Love

1. Long Distance Lover
2. Let's Ride
3. Don't Break My Heart
4. Put Out The Fire
5. Come Over To My House
6. I'm Ready Now
7. Searching For The Love I Lost
8. I Don't Know
9. Latin Lover
10. Baby Making Love
11. Sounds Like Me

Love You to Tears

01. Pay The Bills
02. Turned Out
03. I Want My Cake
04. What's Stopping You
05. Serious Affair
06. You Can Make Me Fall In Love Again
07. Baby You Know
08. Another Lonely Night (Did You Forget About Me)
09. Getting Along Much Better
10. Love You To Tears

Back On Top

01. I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow
02. I'm So Glad I Found You
03. Going, Going, Gone
04. That's Alright
05. I Dig Your Act
06. Look Over Your Shoulder
07. You're Too Sweet
08. Just Another Guy
09. Four for the Price of One
10. Love Is Everywhere
11. Now That I've Found You
12. I'll Be Seeing You
13. The Choice
14. I Miss You


Emotionally Yours

01. Don't Let Me Down
02. Something For Nothing
03. Emotionally Yours (R and B version)
04. Respect (with The Jaz)
05. Keep On Lovin' Me
06. Love And Trust
07. Don't You Know True Love
08. Emotionally Yours (gospel version)
09. That's How Love Is
10. Closer To You
11. If I Find Love Again (with Najee)
12. Keep On Pleasin' Me
13. Lies
14. Make It Feel Good

Let Me Touch You

01. Don't Take Your Love Away
02. Lovin' You
03. True Love Never Dies
04. Still Missing
05. I Just Want Somebody to Love Me
06. Let Me Touch You
07. Undercover Lover
08. No Lies To Cloud My Eyes
09. Don't Let the Dream Get Away
10. 'Cause I Want You Back Again

Love and More

01. I've Got to Fall in Love
02. Extraordinary Girl
03. I'm the Kind of Man
04. Everybody's Dance Krazy
05. Summer Fling
06. I Really Need You Now
07. Love You Direct
08. Let Me Show You
09. Give My Love to the Ladies


My Favorite Person

01. I Just Want Satisfy You
02. Your Body Here's With Me
03. My Favorite Person
04. One on One
05. I Like To See Us Get Down
06. Your True Heart (and Shining Star)
07. Out in The Real World
08. Don't Walk Away Mad

The Year 2000

01. The Year 2000
02. To Prove I Love You
03. You'll Never Know
04. You're the Girl of my Dreams
05. You Won't Fail
06. Girl, Don't Let It Get You Down
07. The Answer's in You
08. Once is Not Enough

Identify Yourself

01. Sing a Happy Song
02. Get on out and Party
03. Identify
04. So Nice, I Tried it Twice
05. Hurry Up & Come Back
06. Forever Mine
07. I Want You Here With Me
08. One in a Million (Girl)


So Full of Love

01. Sing My Heart Out
02. Use Ta Be My Girl
03. Cry Together
04. This Time Baby
05. Brandy
06. Take Me to the Stars
07. Help (Somebody Please)
08. Strokety Stroke

Traveling at the Speed of Thought

01. Travelin' At The Speed of Thought
02. We're All in this Thing Together
03. So Glad I got You, Girl
04. Stand Up
05. Those Lies (Done Caught Up With You This Time)
06. Feelings
07. Work On Me
08. Let's Spend Some Time Together

Message in the Music

01. Message In The Music
02. Prayer, A
03. Paradise
04. Make A Joyful Noise
05. Desire Me
06. Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender Love)
07. I Swear, I Love No One But You
08. Let Life Flow


Family Reunion

01. Unity
02. Family Reunion
03. You And Me
04. She's Only A Woman
05. Livin' For The Weekend
06. Stairway To Heaven
07. I Love Music


01. Give The People What They Want
02. Let Me Make Love To You
03. Survival
04. Where Did We Go Wrong
05. Rich Get Richer
06. How Time Flies
07. What Am I Waiting For
08. Never Break Us Up


Ship Ahoy

01. Put Your Hands Together
02. Ship Ahoy
03. This Air I Breathe
04. You Got Your Hooks In Me
05. For The Love Of Money
06. Now That We Found Love
07. Don't Call Me Brother
08. People Keep Tellin' Me

"Let Me Make Love to You" [Compilation Album]

01. Let Me Make Love To You
02. Stairway To Heaven
03. Now That We Found Love
04. You Got Your Hooks In Me
05. You And Me
06. Listen To The Clock On The Wall
07. What Am I Waiting For
08. Where Did We Go Wrong
09. Family Reunion
10. Never Break Us Up
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graphics by YSM

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