Thursday, 31 May 2018

The O' Jays - Ship Ahoy (1973)

 

Released November 1973

Recorded at Sigma Studios, Philadelphia

This, along with its predecessor from the previous year, is part of the two best O’Jays albums on the Philadelphia International label.

It ploughs the same furrow as “Backstabbers” - a mix of social comment and upbeat, melodic Philly soul. “Put Your Hands Together” is an almost Northern Soul-ish pulsating danceable opener, with more than a hint of Chairmen Of The Board about it, while the extended nine minutes of “Ship Ahoy” sees a slower, more soulful  pace featuring the group’s excellent harmonies over a tight, bassy backing. However, it is one of the tracks that show that it is possible to combine socially meaningful lyrics without losing the soul or funk. The “ship” in question is a slave ship and references in the lyrics to “cracking of whips” leave the listener in no doubt as to the meaning of the song. The album’s cover reiterates that sad message. This was some five years before “Roots”, remember. Dig deep into this album and its layers reveal a darkness not immediately apparent.

“The Air I Breathe” is a return to the commercial, soul pop sound that featured on some of the previous album’s material, but again, the song conveys a message about pollution and the erosion of air quality. While the previous album contained some social comment, there is more on here. Underneath the lush soul sound and the disco/funk rhythms the O’Jays and the songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff are angry and are going to use the vehicle of soul music to both preach and educate simultaneously.

“You Got Your Hooks In Me” is unquestionably a soul smoocher, though. Great vocals. It has a seductive saxophone and bass backing too. Then there is the much sampled “For The Love Of Money” with its pulsating bass line played by Anthony Jackson and earthy lead vocal from Eddie Levert. Not forgetting the brass section breaks. Peerless. “Now That We’ve Found Love” is the original of the hit single for reggae band Third World from 1978. Theirs was a truly iconic cover version, but this original version has a sweet soul groove that stimulates too. I was only familiar with the Third World version so it was good to hear this. I was unaware that it was originally a Philly/O’Jays song.

The cynical, lengthy soul blues of “Don’t Call Me Brother” drifts on just a little bit too long, however heartfelt and soulful it undoubtedly is, but the closer “People Keep Tellin’ Me” kicks off with a classic Philly intro and a Harold Melvin-style vocal to reaffirm that even on what is essentially a dark album, albeit with a honey veneer, The O’Jays were still a life-affirming soul combo of the highest order.

As a vital piece of 70s African/American social comment, it is up there with “What’s Going On”, “Curtis”, “There’s Something About America Today”, and “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. It is never mentioned in such exalted company, which is a shame.

B+

No comments:

Post a Comment