I love music, you love music (or else you probably wouldn’t be reading this) and the O’Jays love music too. Or at least their 1975 hit tells us that. “I Love Music” peaked at #5 on Billboard this day 48 years ago.
The O’Jays are one of the longest-running vocal groups around, having being formed by a group of high school friends in Ohio in 1958. Their lineup’s changed through the years, as one would expect, but remarkably has had Eddie Levert and Walter Williams as constants through the decades; Levert’s in his 80s now! They put out their first single in 1960, and had minor success during the ’60s on the R&B charts, but never made it big until they looked east and signed with Philadelphia International records, home to the Philly soul sound and home to artists like Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Billy Paul and Patti Labelle. Their first single on that label, “Backstabbers” went to #3 and earned them their first gold single. By the time this single came around in the middle of the decade, it was their fifth top 10 hit and fourth gold single – besides “Backstabbers” they also had “Love Train” and “For the Love of Money”. Their popularity on the R&B charts jumped as well – after having just one top 10 on that specialty list before Philadelphia, they’d score eight in a little over three years!
Like most of their other hit songs (and in fact, most of the hits found on that record label), it was written and produced by the under-rated duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who ran the company. And like most hits on Philadelphia International, the artists sang while the music was created by a somewhat anonymous group of session players known as “MFSB”. That outfit had their own hit a year before “I Love Music” with the instrumental disco hit “TSOP” – short for The Sound of Philadelphia.
They’d go on to have one more major hit three years later, 1978’s “Useta Be My Girl” but while hits dried up somewhat in the ’80s, they kept on singing and have had a bit of an uptick in their popularity this century. They were named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 , and the Vocal Group Hall of fame before that. As well, their 1974 gold single “For the Love of Money” was used as the theme for the TV reality show The Apprentice featuring a pre-presidential Donald Trump. They got to appear on the show and sing it one time; we don’t know if the host was aware the song was derived from the Biblical reference to the love of money being the root of all evil. But we do have an idea of how the O’Jays feel about it now… in 2016 they sent a “cease and desist” order to Trump to try and prevent him from using their music at his rallies or in ads.
If you’d like to see if they still have what it takes, you’re in luck. They plan to tour later this year, although they have titled that tour “the Last Stop”, saying it will be their final go-round.