What does it sound like?:
Five facts about the Ohio Players I knew before listening to these CDs:
They had a series of album covers featuring ladies in states of undress and/or S & M gear
They did that Fire song that is on absolutely every funk compilation
Sly and Robbie did a cover of Fire
I wonder whether Woollies or Boots stocked those saucy covers
So what have I learned from 3 CD’s worth of OP funk (this is a pun that no-one who doesn’t game will get, answer if you need it at the end of the review)?
If the 3-CD retrospective were a movie it would have three acts: the rise, the glory years and fall from grace. Redemption very rarely comes along in musical careers, as the Stone Roses comeback demonstrates. The Ohio Players story might not have the universal relevance of a Hollywood classic, but if conforms to this template pretty well. The first CD starts in the sixties with a Stax soul sound: heavy on the organ and horns. These tracks, particularly Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, are pleasant enough without being in any way essential.
Then we get the glory tracks from the early to mid seventies: Fire, Love Rollercoaster (which was murdered by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) and so on – but did you really know that their third biggest hit was a novelty record called Funky Worm? It’s pretty bizarre, featuring a singing grandma. St Winifred’s School Choir it’s not. Granny was such a big hit she even comes back for a sequel as chart success had got her a Funky Rolls Royce. As it would have fitted right into seventies TOTP alongside Joy Sarney I can’t believe granny wasn’t anything like a hit over here. This was an era before globalised charts, when The Jam could be the biggest band in the UK (circa 1980) and couldn’t get arrested in the US; and the OP’s could have number one hits in the US that barely made the racks of Our Price and Virgin.
They have a CD and a half full of pretty good pop-funk. Not as way out or messy as Funkadelic/Parliament, but a bit less near the middle of the road than Earth, Wind and Fire. At their best they can lay down a commanding groove, and from midway through CD1 to midway through CD2 it’s all good stuff. Who’d She Coo, Susie Thundertussy, O-H-I-O are all belters. Funk-O-Nots is possibly the best funk/Shakespeare crossover (‘to funk or not to funk’) of the seventies. Their guitar licks and baselines have been deeply mined for samples.
However, like many funk or soul bands the rise of disco was a phenomenon that could not be ignored – and from Feel The Beat (Everybody Disco) there’s a pretty sharp dropping off in quality as we head into CD3. some weak covers (Try A Little Tenderness, Sitting on the Dock of the bay). A bad ’85 remix’ of Fire. The gated drums, synths and keytars all come in in a search for more hits. Half of the tracks are solo ones by players. It doesn’t really work.
Those covers are backed up in the music. There’s a girl called ‘Susie Thundertussy’, they like skinny girls and go running after girls to French kiss them, because French kissing is the best. You have to feel my ‘good body vibrations’. It’s all a bit tame now post-2 Live Crew but no doubt the good record buyers of WH Smiths got a bit hot under the collar.
They have a track called Fopp. Doesn’t seem to be about the much-loved discount media stores, if it was it would be in with a shout as the Afterword theme song.
They all have a good nickname: Sugarfoot, Junie (a man), Rock, and less exciting ‘Satch’
OP: a weapon or power that is ‘overpowered’ – ie ridiculously powerful – see also my children’s frequent use of the meme ‘It’s over 9000!!!’ from Dragon Ball Z.
What does it all *mean*?
There’s room for a championship funk band in your record collection.
The three CD’s tell the story of the band better than a single compilation. But not every chapter is stuffed full of amazing music. I think a double might have done it. But glad to have heard it. And top afros guys.
Goes well with…
Good working stuff, propulsive but not too distracting.
Might suit people who like…
Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, grandmas.
Full disclosure – mp3’s provided by @bargepole