Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Albums of 1972: The O'Jays: Backstabbers

Release Date: August 1, 1972

Band Members: Eddie Levert; Walter Williams; William Powell

Produced by Gambie & Huff, Bunny Sigler

Track List: Side One: When the World's At Peace; Back Stabbers; Who Am I; (They Call Me) Mr. Lucky; Time to Get Down

Side Two: 992 Arguments; Listen to the Clock on the Wall; Shiftless, Shady, Jealous Kind of People; Sunshine; Love Train

The O'Jays got their start in Canton, Ohio, performing and recording steadily through the 1960s. By the early '70s only three of the core members remained and were considering disbanding. In 1972 Philadelphia International signed them and they recorded what would become their most successful record Backstabbers, producing two massive hits in "Backstabbers" and "Love Train."

The O'Jays years with Philadelphia International Records produced some of their greatest hits, exemplars of the "Philly Soul" sound. The lavish production style incorporated horns and strings, influenced by funk and Motown. 

Side One opens with the forward looking "When the World's at Peace." A plea for love and peace, the staccato horns and overlapping vocals (which hauntingly fade to echo by the end) in the production make for a powerful start to the record. Rife with paranoia and distrust, "Backstabbers" sounds as fresh and relevant as ever 50 years later, an empowering song with a message.

"Who Am I" slows the pace of the album, a mournful love ballad. "(They Call Me) Mr. Lucky" features more harmony, a jaunty track with a catchy chorus. "Time to Get Down" ends the first side on a positive note.

"992 Arguments" is about a stormy relationship, once again the vocals, piano, strings, and horns make for a magnificent production. "Listen to the Clock on the Wall" deals with an affair, both suspenseful and quietly suggesting emotional turmoil. "Shiftless, Shady, Kind of People" could be a sequel to "Backstabbers", another warning about people waiting to take advantage. "Sunshine" is a quiet, tender ballad.

"Love Train" hit number one on the R&B and Billboard Top 100 charts. Its call for universal tranquility and peace will put good vibes into any room then or now. It's been used in many commercials and films, notably as the credits played on the 1998 film The Last Days of Disco, evoking the hopes and dreams of an era.

One of the best albums of 1972, Backstabber holds up to repeated plays at any time of the year. Do yourself a favor and give it a spin.  

REM #2: Reckoning (1984)

Release Date: April 9, 1984

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Michael Mills (bass, keyboards); Bill Berry (percussion)

Produced by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter

Track List: Harborcoat; 7 Chinese Bros; So. Central Rain; Pretty Persuasion; Time After Time (Annelise)

Side Two: Second Guessing; Letter Never Sent; Camera; (Don't Go To) Rockville); Little America

Anticipation for REM's second album was high after the glowing critical response to their debut record Murmur. Their follow-up Reckoning more than lived up to the promise of Murmur, offering ten tracks of modern pop that would influence alternative music in the decades to come.

"Harborcoat" opens the record with Strip's catchy inane lyrics combined with cryptic imagery and Peter Buck's swinging guitar riffs. Cavalier in its disdain for what passed as mainstream pop, then sidles into covert punk.  The melodic "Seven Chinese Bros" was based on a children's book and according to Stipe a relationship that went wrong. Lyrics aside, the sound has an epic quality. "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" became a minor hit and remains a popular track in REM's catalog, Stipe's impassioned vocal marked a shift to a more direct approach.

"Pretty Persuasion" is a moody, hard driving pop song with Peter Buck's versatile guitar playing. Bill Berry's drumming on "Time After Time (Annelise)" provides a martial cadence in a retro folk rock song. "Second Guessing" feels a bit tossed off, but the harmonies sound great. "Letter Never Sent" utilizes more vocal harmonies and suggests spiritual longing. "Camera" feels inspired by the first Big Star record with Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, heavy weeping guitars and emotive vocals.

("Don't Go Back To) Rockville" shifts to a more Americana sound, written about a former girlfriend of Mike Mills deciding to back to her hometown, including cheeky lyrics like "You'll wind up in some factory/that's full of filth and nowhere left to go." Stipe sings the song on the record but Mills usually sang when played live. "Little America" references Roman and American history, surreal imagery of an agrarian past one sees when driving through rural country. 

Reckoning marked REM as a band evolving with ever more ideas, versatile in both style and approach. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #2: You're Gonna Get It

Release Date: May 2, 1978 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass); Stan...