O’Jays ‘In Philadelphia’ (BBR) 4/5

ojays-in-philadelphiaAlthough not the first album the O’Jays ever recorded (that honour belongs to an earlier 1965 album on Liberty), this first recording for Gamble and Huff’s Neptune label in 1970 was a clear indication that a soul music revolution was about to take place and that was in fact the creation of Philadelphia International records, the brainchild of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. By 1968 both the O’Jays and the Intruders were establishing themselves on the circuit scene and had indeed performed at the legendary Apollo theatre in Harlem during that tumultuous year politically. The two groups would pair up with the songwriting duo (who were in strong form writing the ‘Ice man cometh’ album for Jerry Butler – he would later join the Philly stable) and eventually be among the first artists to record for Philly International as it affectionately known. What is important to stress is that the album before you is no mere hors d’oeuvre to the later classic recordings. It is a bona fide Philly sound album in it’s own right and will be a major (re-)discovery for any lover of quality soul music. Virtually all the songs were penned by the ace duo of Gamble and Huff (who for many are the soul equivalent of Lennon and McCartney, though there are some other distinguished candidates out there vying for that particular mantle) and the distinctive and instantly recognisable Philly instrumentation was already in place. Furthermore, the O’Jays had honed their vocal harmonies when performing live and were fully formed in the studio by the time this album was recorded. The results is a glorious set of uptempo, characteristic classy mid-tempo and heartwarming ballads that so typifies the O’Jays sound as we now know it. No less than four singles were released off the album and this was probably an indication of how confident Gamble and Huff were in their new singing to the fledgling label. A first single, the mid-tempo number ‘One night affair’ was released and it is easy with the benefit of hindsight to see and hear why. It is classic O’Jays material that could easily fit into any of their greatest recorded albums and the call and response harmonies are present with Eddie Levert delivering some rasping lead vocals into the bargain. For inspirational gospel-infused voicings, ‘Just can’t get enough’ is a stunning number while the expansive film soundtrack sounding ‘Deeper (in love with you)’ has something of a northern soul beat to it. As always the O’Jays impress in the mid-tempo range and this album is no exception with ‘I’ve got the groove’ and the shuffling ‘Looky Looky (Look at me girl)’ complete with Leon Huff piano-led intro. Quality ballads abound and they include ‘Let me into your world’ and the guitar riff plus vibes of ‘You’re the best thing since candy’. A truly inspired choice of what have now become all-time standards, but at the time were brand new compositions comes in the shape of an intriguing medley that segues ‘Little green apples’ into George Harrison’s ‘Something’. The O’Jays ‘In Philadelphia’ is music from the city of brotherly love par excellence and one cannot say more than that. Rounding off an outstanding re-issue are detailed inner sleeve notes which chart the development of the group during the mid-late 1960s. Tim Stenhouse

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