Sunday, 4 September 2011

"Back Stabbers" by O'JAYS (2011 Big Break Records (BBR) 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Please Don't Miss This Train..."

Reissued by Big Break Records of the UK (also known as BBR) – their Internet blurb claims to have 'lovingly remastered' the O’JAYS famous album “Back Stabbers” for a new audience. And one minute into this amazing remaster and I know they're right. I've loved this fabulous Soul platter to distraction for decades and what a blast it is to finally hear it sound 'so' good. Let's get to the 'people all over the world' details right away...

UK released in June 2011 – "Back Stabbers" by O’JAYS on Big Break Records CDBBR 0051 (Barcode 5013929035126) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of their 1972 album with Two Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (49:07 minutes):

1. When The World’s At Peace
2. Back Stabbers
3. Who Am I
4. (They Call Me) Mr. Lucky
5. Time To Get Down
6. 992 Arguments [Side 2]
7. Listen To The Clock On The Wall
8. Shiftless, Shady, Jealous Kind Of People
9. Sunshine
10. Love Train
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Back Stabbers" - originally released September 1972 in the USA on Philadelphia International KZ 31712 and October 1972 in the UK on CBS Records S 65257 (it peaked at Number 3 on the US R&B charts in October 1972). It was reissued March 1973 in the UK on Philadelphia International S PIR 65932.

11. 992 Arguments (7" Single Edit) - 2:24 minutes (the full album version is 6:10 minutes)
12. Love Train (Tom Moulton Mix) - a remix from 1977 running to 6:15 minutes (the album version is 3:03 minutes).

Housed in one those 'Deluxe' rounded jewel cases, the superlative 16-page booklet has a knowledgeable and hugely affection essay on the Group, Philly and the album's making by CHRISTIAN JOHN WIKANE. It includes interviews with surviving members of the group (Eddie Levert), shows Foreign picture sleeves, UK and US trade adverts, 7" single labels and other promo photos - it's very well done and a lovely read. But the really great news is the sound...

Remastered from the first generation master tapes by WAYNE A. DICKSON at the BBR Mastering Studios - the sound quality is mindblowingly good. To put this into a context - I've had the 1996 Columbia 'Legacy' CD of this album to have the music, but I've always found their issues to be very hit and miss. Take the criminally forgotten beautiful ballad "Who Am I". The sound upgrade from 1996 to this is vast - the song has HUGE feeling to it now and isn't trebled up the nines for effect either. It's warm, present and a joy to listen to. The same apples to the big singles we've probably all heard one-to-many times - "Back Stabbers" and "Love Train" (lyrics above). It comes as a genuine shock to hear them here - how good they sound - it's like meeting old friends you've missed. I can't praise this remaster enough. 

Content - for most people "Back Stabbers" is the beginning of the Philly Sound - both on 7" single and LP. Nearly 40 years after the event - even its front sleeve portraying the 3 Canton, Ohio Soul boys (Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell) has become iconic and instantly recognisable. Musically the LP was an embarrassment of riches too featuring a lethal crew of staff writers penning all the ace dancers and ballads - Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, Bunny Sigler, Phil Hurst and of course the dynamic duo themselves - Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (who also produced). Loaded with hits, 8 of its 10 tracks made it onto 45s and this CD reissue will allow you to sequence all of them as follows:

1. Back Stabbers b/w Sunshine (June 1972 USA, September 1972 UK)
2. 992 Arguments b/w Listen To The Clock On The Wall (October 1972 USA, November 1972 UK)
3. Love Train b/w Who Am I (December 1972 USA, February 1973 UK)
4. Time To Get Down b/w Shiftless, Shady, Jealous Kind Of People (April 1973 USA, May 1973 UK)

Other highlights are the funky opener "When The World's At Peace" - reflecting the political and social turmoil of the time - and the vibes and strings mellowness of the lovely "Sunshine" - boasting an aching heartfelt vocal.

To sum up - BBR dedicate this reissue to songwriters McFadden & Whitehead and William Powell - one of the original group members who sadly died of cancer in 1977 aged only 35. Well - in my books - they've done the absolute business by him and opened up The O'Jays recorded legacy for a new generation. Is this an upgrade you must own – absolutely…

Along with the launch of "Stax Remasters" (see review for "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself" by The Staple Singers) - this is one my Soul Reissues Of 2011.

PS: I’ve reviewed these Big Break Records (BBR) CDs – all quality remasters:
1. Is It Still Good To Ya – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1978)
2. Stay Free – ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1979)
3. Central Heating – HEATWAVE (1977)
4. Hot Property - HEATWAVE (1979)
5. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
6. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY (1977)
7. Harvest For The World - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1976)
8. Go For Your Guns - THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1977)
9. In The Heart – KOOL & THE GANG (1983)
10. I Hope We Get To Love On Time - MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS (1976)
11. I Miss You - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1972) [known as "Harold Melvin The Blue Notes" in the UK]
12. Black & Blue - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1973)
13. Love Is The Message - MFSB (1973)
14. Universal Love – MFSB (1975)
15. All The Faces Of... - BUDDY MILES (1974)
16. For The First Time – STEPHANIE MILLS (1975)
17. I Can See Clearly Now - JOHNNY NASH (1972)
18. In Philadelphia - O'JAYS (1969)
19. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS (1972)
20. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS (1973)
21. Down To Love Town – THE ORIGINALS (1977)
22. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL (1970 and 1973)
23. 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
24. War Of The Gods - BILLY PAUL (1973)
25. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM HOOK (1978)
26. Love For What It Is - ANITA POINTER (of The Pointer Sisters) (1987)
27. Live: Stompin’ At The Savoy – RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (1983)
28. Summernights – SILVER CONVENTION (1977)
29. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED SUGAR (1975)
30. Spinners – SPINNERS (1973)
31. Soul Master – EDWIN STARR (1968)
32. Involved - EDWIN STARR (1971)
33. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
34. Watercolors – THE WATERS (1980)
35. Just As I Am - BILL WITHERS (1971)

36. Heartbeats – YARBROUGH & PEOPLES (1983)

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