The 888/88/8 Project: Song #002.
Do you have a better chance at musical success if your name is Eugene Record? Things worked out pretty well for the one Mr. Record we know about. The Chi-Lites had scores of successful singles, but his career peak might’ve been writing, singing lead, and playing bass on “Oh, Girl”, the Chicago group’s only Billboard Top 100 #1 single.
Sign O’ The Times
Not only did “Oh, Girl” reach the top, but it dethroned Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, which scored what turned out to be the longest #1 residency of the year at 6 weeks. It was a high-quality, deep-soul melancholy kind of spring on the charts.
What makes this song so good? Most song titles don’t start all the verses, but here you get that plaintive hook early and often. Going by the lyric, Record’s character is in trouble after maybe overplaying the Man Of The House card. Coincidentally (or not), “Oh Girl” was released as a single three weeks before the U.S. Senate ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and it cracked the Top 100 two weeks later.
What’s In The Track
A couple of guitars steer the intro but then basically disappear. Check out that lonely single-note organ line that runs through the first verse before it, too, defers to other elements in the mix.
Those “other elements” served as the song’s hallmark sound: the lonesome and prominent harmonica, the strings joining the harmonica on the left, and the super-smooth backup vocals of “Squirrel” Lester, “Red” Jones, and Marshall Thompson on the right. Floyd Morris plays the upright piano that adds some earthiness and keeps things from getting too smooth.
If the advancing ERA provided some unintentional context for the lyric’s resonance, the harmonica and strings were intentionally right in line with a lot of songs on the charts in those years. Not sure there has been another era where you could hear that sort of orchestration and harmonica in both country and soul/R&B hits.
In the Chi-Lites’ case, they didn’t have to bring in some session player. Thompson handles all those sincerely regretful harmonica fills, plus the melodica you can hear back in the mix later on in the song.
On the songwriting side, the song is in A major. Instead of the well-trod dip down to the relative minor of F# minor for the bridge, Record took it up a major third to C. Alternate between C and G, and then A and E a couple of times each, and boom, nothing fancy, the middle 8 did its job and he’s back where he needed to be.
Heard It Both Ways
In 1999, publishing giant BMI named “Oh, Girl” one of the top 100 songs of the century based on airplay, landing at #36.
Not bad for a song that spent just a single week at #1 in 1972. And yet it’s not that surprising, either: “Oh, Girl” is the rare kind of song that doesn’t ruin a good mood but also makes you feel a little better (for the company, if nothing else) if you’re feeling down. See, you want to play it one more time now, don’t you?