Sunday, December 26, 2010

Love Train, O'Jays (1973)

The older I get, the more I realize dancing is an antidote to aging. If you can muster up enough initial energy to shake a tail feather for even 5 minutes, those minutes will extend to an hour and nothing but good will come of it. In that vein, I've come to realize that some songs from my youth strike a bigger chord with me now than they did when they were released.

Example: the O'Jays' Love Train. In the current decade, anything that helps me overcome my natural lethargy gets a thumbs up with me, although in 1973, this song barely registered on my radar screen. Let's just say that I wasn't really doing that much dancing in college, being a disaffected hippie chick at that point. Plus, I didn't live in one of those cities where Soul Train was in first-run syndication (although I do now and would love to turn back the clock to see all of the eps). My view of soul was 60's music out of Detroit and Memphis, not 70's music out of Philadelphia and Cleveland.

If I had lived in 1973 where I do now, in Akron, Ohio, anything that the O'Jays did might have been a bigger deal to me. That's because they were from the city just south, Canton, and broke out in Cleveland, where WABQ DJ Eddie O'Jay was their first prime advocate (and later, manager) when they were still known as the Mascots.

But it was Love Train, the O'Jays only #1 crossover hit, and Back Stabbers, which put them on the map after more than 10 years of toiling in the trenches to scattered acclaim, mostly local/regional. (Lonely Drifter from 1963 was a major exception.) Opening at New York's Apollo Theater for the Intruders, one of the groups in Philadelphia's Kenny Gamble-Leon Huff stable, Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell got their lucky break. The Intruders (best known for the fabulous Cowboys to Girls), put a bug in the ear of Gamble and Huff, they recorded One Night Affair, and although its lyrics got it banned from some AM radio play, thus began a career where they were firmly at the vanguard of the Philly soul explosion for years and years.

A famous Soul Train line features the kids going ballistic over Love Train, and I wish I could post it here; it is a riot of uncontrolled exuberance. Unfortunately, Don Cornelius seems to have rooted out and taken down all of the decent clips that once existed.  But the Love Train is still considered a train worth getting on - Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert invited the O'Jays to perform the song at the October Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington; here is some clippage of that.  But this clip from a relatively recent Letterman performance is my favorite live one - they look and sound just great all these years later.

1 comment:

Holly A Hughes said...

I couldn't agree more. This is one of those songs that it's just impossible to sit through without at least chair-dancing.