The early 1970’s was a great time for soul music, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were being innovative at Motown and many soul artists were crossing over into the pop charts with smooth, soulful records – artists like Al Green, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Womack, The Chi-lites, The Stylistics, Curtis Mayfield and more.
Around the same time a new soul record label was launched called Philadelphia International. Obviously based in Philly – the company brought together the best musicians and record producers and signed some top soul artists to headline the launch of the label. Artists like Bunny Sigler, Billy Paul, Bobby Taylor, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and the brilliant O’Jays.
With top writers and producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff they engaged in a drive to become the “New Motown”. Crucial to this was catchy, soulful songs that the roster of stars could make them hit records.
The O’Jays had been around for years – paid their dues and now it was their turn for the big time.
They took their name as a tribute to radio disc jockey Eddie O’Jay in 1963, Cleveland, Ohio was the place it all started with Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell and Levert and Williams remain in the group today.
With The O’Jays at Philadelphia International the hits began to mount…….”Backstabbers”, “Love Train” among many, when they released the album “Ship Ahoy” the group joined the small band of acts that have made an album of such importance, joining Stevie, Marvin and Curtis as well as a few more on the soul scene. “Ship Ahoy” spawned amazing tracks throughout the album like the atmospheric title track, the finger pointing “For the love of money”, “The air I breathe” and the featured track lamenting we will never have a better world unless we pray. The record has many hallmarks of a joyous church gathering sang from the heart.
I have continued to play this record for over 40 years and I never tire of hearing it or singing along to it. The O’Jays are assured of their place in the history of soul music and I really hope that one day artists like The O’Jays will be recognised by a wider audience. ….they deserve that.