Producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971 to rival the Berry Gordy Motown empire, and the sound of Philly Soul, which had been bubbling for some time, was solidified. “Backstabbers,” from the album of the same name was performed by The O’Jays, but it was written by Huff and the songwriting team of Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, with a string arrangement by Thom Bell.
“Backstabbers,” which reached #3 on Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart in 1972, is a perfect example of this style of music, with it’s huge horn stings and lush strings. The stable of studio musicians used by Gamble and Huff to achieve this signature sound eventually put out a string of instrumental soul albums as MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother).
I love the way this song builds. The beat starts as a series of rim shots, the strings and guitar creep in with a darker tone, and all of a sudden the horns burst through. An alarm has been sounded and The O’Jays are here to warn you: “They smile in your face/All the time they wanna take your place/The backstabbers!”
The verses feature lead vocalist Eddie Levert crooning a strong and angry melody, with powerful backup and support from William Powell and Walter Williams. It’s cautious and paranoid–light years away from the song that the group is best known for (which appears on the same album and has been overused to the point of nausea in commercials and the like), “Love Train.”
This is the song that turned me on to Philly Soul and its the one I go back to in a pinch to get any dance party started. Enjoy!