The O'Jays

We'll Never Forget You: Imperial Years 1963-66

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The O'Jays had an extensive recording career, taking in stints for several labels before they become big stars with their Philadelphia International hits in the 1970s. A large chunk of their pre-'70s discography was on Imperial, and this compilation contains 28 tracks they put out with the company between 1963 and 1966. Although some of these were low- to moderate-charting singles, the group really didn't hit either a commercial or artistic stride during this period. A lot of that was due to failing to find much of a musical identity. Some of the songs bridge doo wop with early soul; some are a little in an early New Orleans soul style, like their version of Allen Toussaint's "Lipstick Traces"; some are, like much soul of the time, very Motown-influenced, and some of the more orchestrated arrangements show the influence of hitmakers like the Righteous Brothers and the Drifters (whose "On Broadway" is heavily echoed by "I'm Gonna Make It"). But despite contributions from illustrious songwriters like Toussaint, Van McCoy, Phil Medley, Pam Sayer, Lori Burton, Jack Nitzsche, and even Randy Newman, things weren't clicking in a major way, though it's competent and in some aspects pleasing. Some of the tunes are on the over-elaborate side, like Newman's unusual "Friday Night," in the fashion of some of the pre-Motown sides Gladys Knight & the Pips did in the mid-'60s, though those Knight tracks were better. And the two best compositions, "Lipstick Traces" and Van McCoy's "Let It All Out," were done better by Benny Spellman and Nina Simone respectively. The O'Jays' own material is average, though one such track, Eddie Levert's "Stand in for Love" gave them their biggest Imperial hit, reaching number 12 in the R&B charts. It's a well-annotated compilation that's an interesting look at where the group came from, but not outstanding on its own merits. Note that due to licensing and time considerations, this doesn't include some Imperial tracks that were issued on the EMI compilation Working on Your Case.

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