Forever Mine | Elements of Soul in the Music of the O’Jays


With sweeping violins and scratch guitar, soul music is the product of the vulnerable expression of the black experience. Romance, hardship, heartache, and deep desire are the staples of soul. Hot soul, featured in the 1970’s, laid the foundation for it later in the 1980’s. In addition, influences of funk and disco are also found in the genre. An exemplary band for the early stages of soul was the O’Jays. R&B, Philadelphia soul, progressive soul, and contemporary soul are the different labels attributed to the band. Spanning over a dozen albums throughout the decades, nearly all of the O’Jays discography feature introductory orchestral strings and horns, repetitious wah-wah guitar, and themes of love and pain.


Orchestral String & Horn Introductions

Some of the most beautiful song introductions are featured in the O’Jays music. A very early example is their 1968 song “You’re Too Sweet.” “Stairway to Heaven” on their 1975 album Family Reunion has an ethereal arrangement of instruments like cello, viola, violin, and piano. The slow horns in “We’re All In This Thing Together” from 1977 compliment the fast-tempo drums, offering a contrast that creates an uplifting tone.

Wah-Wah Guitar

No doubt an influence of funk, the wah-wah guitar is present in many of this soul band’s songs. A later work in 1982 called “I Like to See Us Get Down” is a prime example. Of all their songs, this work comparatively has one of the fastest paces, screaming dance music as they instruct the audience to “Get Down!” The introduction in “For the Love of Money” features a control technique of rhythmic guitaring that sounds like Mo-Wah. Its sound is consistent throughout the song.

Themes of Love and Pain

Most of their songs are addressed to an unidentified woman, and their album and song titles reflect this. “You’re the Best Things Since Candy” in 1970 was an earlier example of this message of desire. The romantic classic “Forever Mine” in the 1979 album Identify Yourself features the lyrics, “I got what you want, you got what I want, We were made for each other.” The desire and desperation for the subject in question is palpable, as they beg, “Don’t you ever think about leaving.” On the other side of pleasure and romance of soul is despair and heartache. The 1978 album So Full of Love features two songs of failed romances, “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “Cry Together.” The latter is much more somber and aching, despite the relationship not being over like in the former piece. “I felt a tear roll down my face, Last night, me and my woman, We cried, cried together” are the lyrics as the couple in the song work through their seemingly perilous romantic struggles.


Orchestral openings, rhythmic guitar and wah-wah, and themes of love and heartbreak are throughout all of the O’Jays songs. All of the elements of soul are present in their music, and they serve as an early standard for the genre.

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