Saturday, October 25, 2014
Track of the Week: The O'Jays "For The Love Of Money"
I recently heard the sad news that the building that housed Philadelphia International Records is soon to be demolished. That label put out some of the very best soul music of the 1970s and many of my own favorite tracks. The O'Jays are my favorite of the group's labels, and I keep coming back to the 1973 smash "For The Love Of Money."
It's a song I heard a lot as a kid in the 1980s, used in soundtracks and incidental music, usually with the implicit approval of money-making activities. It's funky effects-laden bass intro with the "money money money" chant was easily one of the most recognizable snippets of pop music out there, but I didn't know the name of the group or of the song until years later during the midst of my classic soul obsession. (This began during my time in Chicago, where multiple stations played the great R&B of yore.) I just thought of the song as "the money song."
When I actually listened to it as a complete song I heard the lyrics that were never included in all of the soundtracks and incidental music. The song's title references a Biblical verse from Timothy that deems the love of money to be "the root of all evil." I soon realized that this song was not a celebration of raking in the dough at any cost, but a denunciation of it. In that regard it fits well with a lot of other socially-conscious soul music of the early 1970s, from Edwin Starr's "War" to the Chi-Lites "For God's Sake Give More Power To The People."
It is a testament to the demonic powers of late capitalism's culture industry that a song dedicated to warning people against pursuing riches over preserving one's soul has been twisted to mean the exact opposite. I hear this song today as a very prescient warning, coming as it did right before the neo-liberal onslaught started gaining traction in the mid-1970s. For forty years we have been living in a society where the "almighty dollar" takes precedence over all else, where everything has its price and anything can be bought and sold. The results speak for themselves.