“Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays (1972)

The O’Jays’ classic “Back Stabbers” was the first Gamble & Huff production to become a major national hit, and kicked off a musical template that served as the sound of Black music for the first half of the Seventies. It’s a fucking mind-blower; a dark* masterpiece.

The piano intro builds tension and leads into that rock-solid groove. Bluesy guitar and conga stroll in, then there’s lush strings–which quickly become staccato, angry strings.

“What’d they do?”.

You know what’s next. Glorious three-part harmonies, the gritty/pained/weary vocals of Eddie LeVert and Walter Williams, and those lyrics. “Back Stabbers” came at a time when soul music lyrics were moving far away from the simplistic love songs that Motown and Stax used as their calling card in the ‘60s. Folks were giving real talk-whether about politics or interpersonal relationships. “Back Stabbers” was as real as any of those songs got. And became the yardstick by which any other song about fake friends would be measured.

*yes, that’s a double meaning.

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