Friday, August 3, 2012

40 Year Itch: Blades Are Long, Clenched Tight

Give it up for Canton, Ohio --home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and birthplace of Boz Scaggs, Macy Gray and The O'Jays, one of the most popular black vocal groups of the 70's thanks , in large part , to their association with the production and songwriting talents of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Until they met Gamble and Huff in the late 60's, The O'Jays--made up of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Bobby Massey-- were on their way to giving it all up. But the combination of The O'Jays's harmonies and Gamble and Huff's social commentary and production skills led to eight #1 R-and-B singles from 1972 to 1978, including two huge hits from the first album on Philadelphia International, Backstabbers (released in August of 1972)

The title cut, which digs into the same barrel of paranoia as The Undisputed Truth's 1971 Top 5 hit "Smiling Faces Sometimes" ( and even quotes the song in the fade out), was the first big hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Among the lyrics:

 Somebody's out to get your lady
A few of your buddies they sure look shady 
Blades are long, clenched tight in their fist
Aimin' straight at your back
And I don't think they'll miss 

Robert Christgau called "Back Stabbers" the best song of the year, writing "A smooth, hard-rocking concoction, it mixes dozens of elements--Latin rhythms and faintly jazzy singing, mellifluous back-up and harsh lead, even strings and brass--into what can only be called the rock and roll of the seventies. The most musically compelling version of the smiling faces phase of an old black-music theme: Trust your brother, but not too damn much." 
The second single was "992 Arguments". 
The third was "Love Train" which hit #1  on March 24, 1973 displacing Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song".

Backstabbers is probably the best of the O'Jays's albums ( though there's a strong argument for the follow-up Ship Ahoy, featuring "For The Love of Money"). 

When Blues And Soul Magazine  put together their Top 10 of 1972 Backstabbers came in Number 8, but look at the company The O'Jays kept: 

 Favourite Albums Of 1972 Blues and Soul Magazine
 1. The Stylistics 
 2. Superfly (soundtrack) – Curtis Mayfield 
 3. Best Of – Otis Redding 
 4. All Directions – The Temptations 
 5. Still Bill – Bill Withers 
 6. A Lonely Man – The Chi-Lites 
 7. Understanding – Bobby Womack 
 8. Back Stabbers – The O’Jays 
 9. I’m Still In Love With You – Al Green 
 10. Be Altitude – The Staple Singers
(Albums in Yellow have already been covered this year on 1001Songs)

 Our deep cut is another piercing social commentary Gamble,Huff and Whitehead number called "Shifty, Shady, Jealous Kind of People". 
Sure it's  "Back Stabbers Part 2" but it's also bad ass.

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