With all the talk of the US debt crisis, what better time is there to listen to the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money"? The track remains one of the funkiest warnings about greed ever recorded on vinyl.
The epic-length track (over seven minutes) epitomizes the Philadelphia Sound with its horns and lush production as well as its socially conscious lyrics. Composed by the legendary songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song proved a perfect showcase for the O'Jays' close harmonies and raspy vocals. Singers Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and William Powell attacked the lyrics with vigor, snarling lines like "For the love of money/A woman will sell her precious body/For a small piece of paper it carries a lot of weight." Indeed, they argue, money is "the root of all evil," that "Money can change people sometimes/Don't let, don't let, don't let money fool you." All the while, Anthony Jackson's echoing bass riff constantly resounds, adding a funky but dark edge to the entire song.
"For the Love of Money" became yet another hit for Gamble and Huff as well as the O'Jays, reaching number three on the Billboard R&B charts, and number nine on Billboard's Pop Singles chart in 1974. It served as the perfect followup for the O'Jays, who had previously scored hits (courtesy of Gamble and Huff as well as songwriters Gene McFadden and John Whitehead) with tunes such as "Back Stabbers" and "Love Train" in 1972. Hoping to repeat that success, the band recorded their second album for Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label, 1973's Ship Ahoy. Now considered one of the O'Jays' finest works, the album addressed red-button issues like racism, poverty, and greed, eventually peaking at number one on the R&B charts. While the album contains many strong tracks (particularly the ambitious title song), "For the Love of Money" remains a staple in the O'Jays catalog.
The over seven-minute album version allows you to experience the gradual climbing to the crescendo, where the tempo seems to slightly increase, and the singers chant the line "People don't let money, don't let money change you." Obviously the lyrics derive from the Bible, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10, King James Version: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Never is such advice given over a funky, bass-popping beat. Listen through headphones to fully experience how the "swooshing" sound of the bass swirls from one side to the other, the result of Gamble and Huff's skilled production.
"Listen to me y'all, do things, do things, do bad things with it/You wanna do things, do things, do things, good things with it" The O'Jays sing, accurately describing money's complex meanings and roles. If you're looking for soul with a conscience, "For the Love of Money" will dare you to dance—and think.
Below is a sped up, live version of the tune from Soul Train: