THE O’JAYS-IDENTIFY YOURSELF.
THE O’JAYS-IDENTIFY YOURSELF.
The O’Jays 1979 album Identify Yourself was the last in a series of eight albums the group released on Philadelphia International Records that was either certified gold or platinum. This remarkable sequence of hugely commercial and critically acclaimed albums started in November 1972, with their debut album for Philadelphia International Back Stabbers, which reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. This lead to the group receiving what would be the first of four gold discs. Back Stabbers also featured the groups first two number one singles, Back Stabbers and Love Train. However, things got even better the following year, 1973.
Ship Ahoy, released in November 1973, fared even better reaching number eleven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Not only did this result in the first of their four platinum discs, but the first of four number one US R&B albums. Now eight years after their debut album Comin’ Through The O’Jays patience and persistence had been rewarded, and little did they know that this would continue and that they were entering one of the most successful periods of their career.
1975 proved to be the biggest year of The O’Jays career, releasing two critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums. When Survival was released in April 1975, it gave The O’Jays their second number one US R&B album, which reaching number eleven in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in gold disc number two. By now, the Gamble and Huff partnership with The O’Jays was proving extremely fruitful, with Survival featuring the group’s third number US R&B single Give the People What They Want. Later in 1975, The O’Jays released Family Reunion, which became their most successful album to date, reaching number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Having sold over a million copies, the album was certified platinum. Adding to this success were two US R&B number one singles, the joyful I Love Music and Living For the Weekend. By now The O’Jays were one of the jewels in the Philadelphia international crown, with 1975 being the group’s most successful year.
After the huge success of 1975, it was always going to be difficult to replicate that success. The O’Jays only released one album that year, Message In the Music, which reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 and number three in US R&B Charts. It was certified gold, and one of the songs on the album not only gave the group another number one, but became one of the group’s most popular songs. This was Darlin, Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love). However, during this year, tragedy struck for The O’Jays. William Powell, one of the original members died of cancer, in May 1975.
Having lost William Powell, the group Sammy Strain was brought onboard to replace him, and Travellin’ At the Speed of Thought was the first album to feature his vocals. Released in May 1977, the album reached number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in another gold disc for The O’Jays, the fourth of their career. Although the loss of William Powell had been a huge blow, new member Sammy Strain had fitted in well and his first album with the group had been well received and a commercial success. However, the next two albums would see The O’Jays receive two further platinum discs.
The first of these albums was So Full of Love, released in 1978. It became the group’s most successful album, reaching number six in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. With their third number one US R&B album and platinum disc, things got even better when Use Ta Be My Girl gave The O’Jays their eighth number one US R&B single. This success continued to their next album Identify Yourself, which this article is about.
Identify Yourself was recorded during 1978 and 1979 at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many of the great records of The Philly Sound era were recorded. With four songs written and produced by Gamble and Huff, one written and produced by Thom Bell and three by two of The O’Jays Eddie Lever and Walter Williams, Identify Yourself was full of some great music. Also working on Identify Yourself were some of the most creative and talented people at Philadelphia International. This included arrangers John R Faith, John Usry Jr and Dexter Wansell, it seemed that Gamble and Huff were determined that The O’Jays incredible run of success would continue. Their gamble paid off, with the album well received by critics and reaching number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts, resulting in platinum disc number four. Two singles were released from the album Sing A Happy Song and Forever Mine. Sing A Happy Song only reached a disappointing 102 in the US Billboard 100, but fared better in the US R&B Charts reaching number seven. Forever Mine reached number four in the US R&B Charts and number forty-nine in the US Billboard 100, becoming the last of The O’Jays singles to reach the top fifty.
Sadly, after Identify Yourself, The O’Jays never reached the same heights commercially on Philadelphia International, and their only album to match their earlier success was Emotionally Yours, on EMI America which reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, and was certified gold. However, when The O’Jays released Identify Yourself they’d no idea that this remarkable run of hugely successful albums was ending. It seems almost fitting that this run ended with such as good an album as Identify Yourself, which I’ll now tell you about.
Identify Yourself opens with the first of four Gamble and Huff penned tracks Sing A Happy Song, one of the singles released from the album. A combination of fast pounding drums and keyboards open the track before The O’Jays combine to contribute joyous harmonies. These give way to a combination of rhythm section, guitars and percussion, before Eddie’s vocal soars, a mixture of joy and power. Behind him, Walter and Sammy sing backing vocals, while strings sweep, horns rasp and flourishes of piano add to what’s a fast, joyous and catchy track, where as usual with a Gamble and Huff penned and produced track, hooks are certainly not in short supply. One things that’s noticeable is the drum sound, and how many house producers have either deliberately or inadvertently used the drum sound on tracks like this for inspiration. They all owe the many drummers, including Earl Young who played on many early Philadelphia International albums, a huge debt of gratitude.
Although Get On Out and Party isn’t as quick as the opening track, it’s still one of the many dance-floor friendly tracks on the album. Co-written by Walter Williams with Terry Stubbs, Leroy Simmons and Mike Jackson, it’s a track that gives no indication of it direction or intention when it begins. After a combination of rhythm section and guitars combine before the vocal enters, you get the idea that something special is about to unfold. You’re not disappointed when a combination of sweeping, swirling strings, blazing horns, chiming guitars and punchy, driving rhythm section combine with The O’Jays. The lead vocal changes hands several time, with Eddie, Walter and Sammy combining well, the contrast in their voices working well. With punchy drums, rasping horns and handclaps accompanying them, they provide some good time party music, that combines elements of soul, funk and disco. This combination works well, resulting in a track that not only sounds great, but is so catchy it’s almost infectious.
Identify is the second Gamble and Huff penned and produced track, featuring a great arrangement from one of the best arrangers at Philadelphia International, John Usry Jr. His stomping arrangement features the rhythm section, braying horns and sweeping strings at its heart, while a searing guitar solo cuts through the track. Meanwhile flourishes of piano add contrast as the drums are fast and punchy, and key to the arrangement. Meanwhile, the song features some clever interplay between The O’Jays, with them singing the song in a call and response style. Eddie sings one line, with Walter and Sammy replying in the next. As their powerful, emotive voices sing about identity, and how there’s no middle ground, with friendship and conflict, peace and war, the right and left politically all examples of this. Perfect for these almost angry lyrics is the stomping drumbeat that plays such a vital part throughout this thoughtful and intelligent song.
Closing side one of Identify Yourself is So Nice I Tried It Twice, a love song. The tempo remains the same as the previous track, with lush, swirling strings playing an important role in the arrangement. They combine with a funk drenched bass and soaring guitar before Eddie’s joyful vocal enters, with Walter and Sammy singing harmonies. With percussion augmenting the sound, the sings sweeps and flows along, with a rocky sounding guitar drifting in and out of the track, while keyboards and that funky bass contribute towards this fast, furious and funky track. Like Get On Out and Party, this track merges the best of soul and funk with elements of disco, resulting in another joyful, uptempo track from The O’Jays, that must have filled many a dance-floor back in 1979.
Side two of Identify Yourself sees O’Jays Eddie Levert and Walter Williams combine with Mike Jackson to write the beautiful Hurry Up and Come Back. When the track opens, a hesitant combination of chiming guitars and rhythm section give no indication of what will unfold. Against a backdrop of lush strings, rhythm section, chiming guitars and keyboard Eddie gives a heartfelt and sad vocal, as he pleads for his lover to come back. Behind him, Walter and Sammy contribute some of the best harmonies on the album, that matches the emotion and beauty of Eddie’s lead vocal. Like the vocal, the arrangement has a really emotive and sometimes, dramatic sound, which builds and builds. By the end of the what’s one of the best tracks on the album, Eddie and Walter deserve credit not just for their songwriting ability, but for their production skills, as they co-produced the album. Credit must also be given to Dunn Pearson, for his stunning arrangement.
It seems that album is on a roll now, with Forever Mine, another of the Gamble and Huff songs another of the album’s highlights. John R Faith’s arrangement and Gamble and Huff’s production, combined with some beautiful, tender and thoughtful vocals from The O’Jays all play their part in the song’s success. The arrangement has an almost understated sound for much of the track, developing into a more powerful, dramatic sound later. For much of the track, it meanders along with chiming, shimmering guitars, sweeping strings and rhythm section combining beautifully. Later, blazing horns and the rhythm section combine powerfully, adding a dramatic element to the arrangement. However, what really makes the track are some lovely, gentle vocals from Eddie, Walter and Sammy, as they swear undying love to the woman they love and want to spend their lives with. When they’re combined with the arrangement, the result is one of the best songs on Identify Yourself.
After a brilliant Gamble and Huff penned and produced track, they provide yet another fantastic track, I Want You Here With Me. With John R Faith arranging the track, another great track reveals itself and reveals how prolific Gamble and Huff were when it came to writing and producing quality songs. A punchy and hooky combination of rhythm section and guitars, gives way to Eddie’s lovestruck, emotive vocal WWalter and Sammy accompany him, as he pleads for his partner to return to him, as he can’t stand being so far away from her. Adding to the emotion and beauty of the track are slow, lush strings, percussion, keyboards and organ. Later horns punctuate the track, as the arrangement takes a dramatic turn, matching the heartache and longing in Eddie’s vocal. This masterful combination results in the third great track in a row, with the Gamble and Huff and Jack R Faith partnership demonstrating just how to produce and arrange a track properly.
Identify Yourself closes with a track written by Thom Bell and Joseph Ericksen, One In A Million (Girl). This is the only Thom Bell produced track on the album, and was arranged by Anthony Bell. It’s a mid-tempo track that opens brightly with strings swirling dramatically, a powerful rhythm section and guitars giving way to Eddie’s dramatic and emotional vocal as he sings about having found a girl who he loves so much and how she’s one in a million. Behind him, William and Sammy contribute subtle harmonies, allowing a heartfelt vocal from Eddie to take centre-stage. As the strings sweep and swirl, rasping horns and punchy drums dramatically punctuate the arrangement, adding to the emotion of the vocal and song. After such a beautiful, dramatic and emotive song, you realize that this is the perfect song to end the album. It would be a hard track to better, and it’s always best to finish an album on a positive note. This is the case here, a great song to end what’s been an excellent album.
Little did The O’Jays know it at the time, but Identify Yourself was the last of their Philadelphia International albums to result in either a gold or platinum disc. Although their next two albums 1980s The Year 2000 and My Favorite Person released in 1982, both sold well, reaching numbers six and seven respectively in the US R&B Charts, their hugely successful commercial period had ended. However, a total of four gold discs, four platinum discs and four number one US R&B albums between 1972 and 1979 made The O’Jays one of the most successful soul groups in musical history, In fact, records show that they’re the sixteenth most successful artist or group in the history of soul music. During that period however, they were fortunate to be on one the greatest labels in America, Philadelphia International Records. With Gamble and Huff guiding their career, The O’Jays went from a group who previously, had never had a hit album, to a group who released eight critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in a seven year period. They became one of Philadelphia International’s most successful acts, recording music which is not only stunning, but timeless. Over thirty years later, their music sounds just as good as it did when it was released. This includes Identify Yourself, an album crammed full of some fantastic music, including four great tracks from Gamble and Huff, who must go down in musical history as one of the greatest and most prolific songwriting and production partnerships ever. Along with Thom Bell they gave the world The Philly Sound. One of these groups were The O’Jays who produced so many fantastic albums for Philadelphia International, including Identify Yourself, which features some wonderful joyous and emotive music, sung by Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Sammy Strain. Together they were The O’Jays, one of the finest purveyors of The Philly Sound. Standout Tracks: Sing A Happy Song, So Nice I Tried It Twice, Hurry Up and Come Back and Forever Mine.
THE O’JAYS-IDENTIFY YOURSELF.