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Thursday, October 4, 2012

O'Jays "For The Love Of Money" Song Analysis

For The Love Of Money - O'Jays image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Reader Phil LoCascio requested a song analysis of a mid-70's r&b hit by The O'Jays called "For The Love Of Money" from their Ship Ahoy album. The song represented some great Philly Soul and is another iconic production by producers and writers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for Philadelphia International Records, an r&b powerhouse in the 70's. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and #9 on the Pop chart. It's title comes from the well-known bible verse "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
The album version of the "For The Love Of Money" is over 7 minutes long, but we'll look at the single edited version here, since that was one that garnered most airplay (although the full album version did get played a lot as well). The form looks like this:

Intro, verse, interlude, chorus, interlude, verse, bridge, chorus, outro

There's not really a lot of sections to the song, yet it seems a lot longer than it actually is. That doesn't mean that you loose interest though. The fact of the matter is that the song continues to evolve as it goes along.

The Arrangement
"For The Love Of Money" is really a mini-masterpiece when you really begin to analyze it. It's built around a simple yet powerful bass riff that continues through most of the song, yet there's always something going on around it that keeps your attention.

The song begins with the bass riff by itself, which is then joined by the drums and percussion after two passages of the riff. A trumpet line is added, which has a harmony added on the second time around.

During the verses, the horns, piano and organ play the chord pattern while a wah guitar pushes the rhythm along with the congas. The lead vocals are traded back and forth between the members of the band. The choruses follow the same chord pattern as the verse, but the background vocals restate the song title. It's only in the bridge that the bass and drums really play anything resembling a typical rhythm section pattern, while the organ plays a pad.

Finally, the outro is basically a chorus with the vocals turned around, with the backgrounds taking the melody and the lead vocals ad libing. The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: congas and wah guitar

  * The Pad: organ in the bridge

  *The Lead: lead and background vocals

  * The Fills: lead and background vocals, horns in the outro

The Sound
The sound of "For The Love Of Money," recorded at Philadelphia's legendary Sigma Sound by its owner Joe Tarsia, is classically 70's clean. A little known fact is that Sigma was the second studio in the US to offer 24 track recording, one of the first to use a DI to record bass, and the first to have console automation!

Perhaps the most compelling part of the song is bassist Anthony Jackson's signature bass line. Take notice that it crosses back and forth between being bathed in reverb and being dry, while also being slightly phased. This is one of the rare times in music where the bass actually benefits from reverb, since it's used as an effect to draw the listeners attention during a section where the bass is playing by itself.

The song also features phasing on the drums and backwards reverb vocals on the background vocal parts. Also take notice that the panning is very wide, with the horns only on the right side (and their echo on the left) along with the B-3 and wah guitar, and the congas only on the left side along with the occasional piano.

Just about everything in the mix has some sort of excellent sounding reverb on it, which really gives it a rich, yet not too distant sound.

The Production
Gamble and Huff were the heart of the Philly Soul era, and their productions have always been sophisticated way beyond what they've been given credit for. The fact that they could take a pretty simple riff and turn it into a top 10 single is a testament to their songwriting and production abilities.

From the backwards phasing on the vocals, the phasing on the drums in the intro, the reverb on the bass, the extreme panning of instruments - any one which might be dubious in most songs, yet all used here - the song is total ear candy. Yet those tricks aren't done just because they're cool, but because they all contribute to the song as they blend in seamlessly to the track.

But the real trick is how they weave instruments together. Listen to how the horns, organ and piano all meld together to become one instrument during the verses and chorus. Listen to the unusual drum beat that compliments the bass line perfectly.

The 3 minute singles version is embedded below, but if you really want a treat, check out the full 7 minute album version as well.

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Ty from BMHQ said...

What a great analysis.

One of the things that any musician or producer should consistently do is to break down music into their fundamental parts, as you have done here...

Once you start to break things down it makes you think "hey, i could do that" or "i understand that now"...

I especially like how you described that the "wah guitar pushes the rhythm along with the congas." - these are the simple yet very important things that people need to be thinking about!

Thanks for the great post!

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