They’re not played out, these Ohio Players, despite being sampled at least 1000 times the number of members of the band.
I would venture to say that the Ohio Players are unjustly dismissed as a novelty act for songs like “Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster” and “Funky Worm.” The fetishistic soft porn and tasteful S&M images on their album covers didn’t do them any favors, either.
In the hierarchy of 1970s funk bands, the Ohio Players are what Lester Bangs would have called a “mid-level band” – good, yes, but never destined to reach the critical and commercial heights of Parliament, Funkadelic, or even the Commodores.
A dirty shame. The Ohio Players are more interesting than the Commodores, often more listenable than Parliament OR Funkadelic. They rocked a little harder than either band, being more guitar-based than either, and their penchant for bizarre lyrics, often sung in cartoonish voices, wedded to jazz-influenced music, made for a surprisingly accessible listen. The Ohio Players are the soundtrack to parties where you expect the guests to break into a brawl on the dance floor. The Ohio Players are sex music for the partner whose name you don’t know and don’t want to know.
Enjoy the samples below, but check out the Ohio Players’ albums, which are highly recommended, both for the porny covers and the fact that they are themed, the funk equivalent of a “concept album,” but much less pretentious. Without further ado, the Ohio Players:
What the Hell: What the hell, indeed. This one would have been at home on the “Superfly” soundtrack, except for it’s jerky rhythm, extended drum licks and lyrics like “it’s a lovely world – it’s hell.” There’s also something in there about dope dealers, the president not being able to pay his rent, and the dollar not being worth something or other. It’s dystopian and scary. This would be the point where I add that several Ohio Players’ songs were used to great effect on the first few seasons of “Nip/Tuck.” Before it was “Rip/Suck” or something like that.
O-H-I-O: In this slightly more light-hearted romp, the Players pay tribute to their eponymous state. Not unlike Atlanta Rhythm Section, of all people, the Players manage to make a song with lyrics that are limited to spelling out O-H-I-O sound musically somewhat dark and menacing. Still, it’s great party music, no matter how you feel about O-H-I-O.
Funky Worm: Unlike ARS, the Players could make some good clean fun music. Part of their problem, since songs like “Funky Worm,” which is all about a worm that plays guitar without any hands (pretty good I might add) and is managed by a Greedy Granny (gonna make a million dollars, she gets it all, too, since he can’t spend it), gave them a reputation not unlike the Jimmy Castor Bunch. But who can deny the charms of the Funky Worm? Not the 352 rappers who sampled it. Or my niece, Bad Hair, who once made me listen to this song on repeat during the entirety of a 45-minute car trip…