It is absolutely no reflection on the quality of the music produced, but by and large, Ohio Players are mainly known for three things in the UK. The single ‘Who’d She Coo’ which reached no.43 in 1976, the song ‘Love Rollercoaster’ (which became a top ten hit in Britain for the Red Hot Chili Peppers), and the fact that their song ‘Fopp’ gave the record chain their name. All three tracks are here – but there’s so much more.
This 46-track compilation is pretty comprehensive, divided into three chapters: ‘The Early Years,’ ‘The Golden Years’ and ‘The Later & Solo Years.’ As you would hope, there are excellent and comprehensive sleevenotes. The band were hugely successful in the mid seventies in the US – but even that had been a long time coming.
The first disc starts with the fabulous ‘Here Today and Gone Tomorrow’ (later covered by David Bowie on his Diamond Dogs tour). This track, with its echoes of Smokey Robinson and Sam Cooke, came from the band’s debut album, Observations In Time, released in 1969. This was a decade after the group had formed in Dayton, Ohio. A series of singles (not included here were issued throughout the sixties, and over the course of their lifetime the band were signed to a number of labels. Amongst other things they backed Wilson Pickett on ‘I Found A Love.’
Observations was only a regional hit, and it was a couple of label changes later before the band had their first hit single and album Pain. The first disc also includes ‘Funky Worm’ – a big US hit that was later sampled numerous times by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube and Snoop Doggy Dogg, amongst many others.
Dubbing the second disc ‘The Golden Years’ is accurate in terms of both American commercial success and just how essential they’d become – these are tracks that hold their own against the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Funkadelic who were all firing on all creative cylinders at this time. As well as the aforementioned likes of ‘Fire,’ ‘Coo’ and ‘Rollercoaster’ there’s the gorgeous ‘Sweet Sticky Thing’ – taken from the album Honey (but of course!) and ‘O-H-I-O.’
The final disc may sound like it’s preparing you for a let down – but it doesn’t. The band were evolving, even if their commercial fortunes may have been on the wane – and two noteworthy cover versions of Otis Redding-popularised numbers -‘Try A Little Tenderness’ and ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ are radically reworked from the way you think you know them.
Though the music on this compilation ends in 1985, the band continue to tour to this day. What this compilation shows is how great the recorded output of the Ohio Players was in these years. Drawing on soul, funk, rock, jazz and disco – and paving the way for hip-hop – it’s time their story was more widely known, not just the edited highlights. If you haven’t heard them before, take this as your starting point – and then go and track down those studio albums.