Another week gone by, and welcome back to the funkiest space on the Internetz. Unfortunately, this week we’re going to have to postpone our regularly scheduled programming in order to give a shoutout to the worm, the filthiest worm, the baddest worm, the sauciest worm, that bumptastic, groovalicious, rump-bumpin’, honey-drippin worm himself, Sugarfoot Bonner. The Ohio Players frontman died Monday from an undisclosed cause. Let us pause now for a moment of funk:
Let’s let that one ride for a minute (Worth pointing out here that without “Funky Worm,” West Coast hip-hop — particularly in L.A. — would sound vastly different. This shit’s been sampled by everyone from N.W.A. to Kendrick Lamar).
The Ohio Players were early funk pioneers, kicking in some of the first pure funk records in the early-to-mid-sixties before linking up with Sugarfoot and ringing in the seventies with some of the most bombastic, up-tempo songs of the era, while also easily being able to slide into the slower, more ballad-y tunes that cropped up a few times a record. But in addition to being one of the more high-profile ensembles of the era, they also led the way into one of the more celebrated art forms of the Seventies as a whole, and the genre in particular: sexually suggestive, racy, or just all-out graphic album covers. Spinal Tap’s Smell The Glove wouldn’t have had a chance if not for the boundaries the players shoved out of the way with their four-album run that included Pleasure; Pain; Ecstasy; and Climax.
With that in mind — and as a shoutout to the late, great Sugarfoot — here’s a rundown of the band’s five most ridiculous album covers, compiled from earliest to latest. Collectively, they’re like nine cans of shaving powder. That’s that funk.
1. Pain, 1972
I’m going to take this moment to inform you all that I am writing this in a very busy coffee shop in which there are at least 20-25 people who have a direct view of my screen, so might as well not hold back at all here. Okay, so first of all, woah. This is the first in that aforementioned quartet of S&M-themed albums, and it cuts right to the heart of the matter. This model (Pat Evans, now an adorable old woman who was nonetheless pretty freaky back in her day) sets the stage for what was to come in the next three years largely by being so VERBOSE. Just look into her eyes. Look again. That is fierce, that look, like she’s piercing you with an almost jaded indifference, cutting right to the core of you because she knows she’s got you right where she wants you. And that’s where the whip comes in. No, wait — that’s when you open the album sleeve. Suddenly, the album becomes less about the lack of clothing, or hair, or the presence of the whip, or the intentions of Ms. Evans, but rather about how the hell do you bend that way? I mean, come on! You can have not an ounce of fat on you, but after you hit the age of 11 I feel like the human body just resists any and all provocation to bend in that direction. Is that man okay? Can we send somebody to check on him? I hope he had a safe word, because it seems like he might be in for a hell of a ride here.
2. Honey, 1975
This, along with Angel, is the quintessential Ohio Players album cover: it’s just all right there for you. This is one of those albums where you know as soon as you pick it up that before it’s even halfway done you’re going to be oozing hot sticky funk from every pore. Separating yourself from the obvious in-your-face sexual overtones here, I’d like to know what exactly is in that jar. I know, I know, the album title indicates the honey, but have you ever seen honey glow with that kind of ethereal presence? I mean that sucker is straight up heavenly! Either that, or someone got their hands on some of that slime from Ghostbusters II, even though that movie came out in 1989. Did the Ohio Players somehow already know about the river of slime flowing underneath New York City even before Bill Murray uncovered it? Impossible, right? No one has ever one-upped Bill Murray in his entire existence. I don’t see it as possible. And yet… Sidenote: the full pullout (no pun intended?) shows our cover girl as rockin’ some of that belly jewelry that everyone flipped out about with Beyonce on the recent GQ cover. Yet more evidence that the funk is the backbone of modern day booty society.
3. Mr. Mean, 1977
Okay, all things being equal, this is probably my favorite of their album covers, if we’re talking about pure ridiculousness. First of all, let’s talk about this table: are they all sitting on a piano? Is that what this is? I’m immediately reminded of Prince’s Paisley Park (which we partially went over last week), due to both the piano and the background. But you know what overrides both of those? The style points on each band member. This is the type of flashy shirt that could get you anything you wanted at the snap of your fingers in the mid-70s. Cocaine? Check. Large stylish diamond ring? Coming right up. Woman after woman delivered directly to your piano? You didn’t even have to ask. This cover also showcases Sugarfoot’s just out of this world afro on the far left. And we haven’t even gotten to that bow tie yet! He’s almost suffocating from the weight of how incredibly badass that baby is. A classy hat to boot. Oh yeah, and since we were talking about eyes earlier… that woman’s stare is mesmerizing. I can’t look away. Someone needs to physically pull my eyes away from hers; this is getting uncomfortable.
4. Everybody Up, 1979
Two very obvious talking points here, which I’m going to step around, because they speak for themselves. The real question I have here is, what the hell is even going on? Seems like a recurring theme at this point, but this particular cover is the most action-packed of the bunch. I picture this as some sort of field day setup, where all the members of the Ohio Players got all dressed up, divided into teams (Getuplicans vs. Getdownocrats?), and played tug of war and water balloon tosses and had bucket relays. This sounds like the most fun day-drinking party of all time. I’m picturing everyone in loud, hugely flaired bell bottoms with massive hair, platform shoes, and color-coordinated outfits with as many sequins as humanly possible. Oh, and gold chains. Many, many gold chains. Our cover girl here may have served as a referee, judging by the megaphone in her hand. I mean, who hasn’t gotten a little irrationally angry at a referee and hurled a water balloon at their chest? I’m not saying I’ve never done that, but I’m not exactly admitting to it, either.
5. Ouch! 1981
This is definitely the group’s most bizarre cover. Actually, that’s false, but it’s the most bizarre one in this list. Our model here has unfortunately sustained some sort of minor wound on her ass that required a band aid, yet even though she is a very different type of model than our Pain cover girl, she also seems to enjoy some sort of masochism. Important distinction here: Ms. Evans is fully in charge on the Pain cover, while this model is more of a passive character. But I mean, this is kinda hot. Right? Isn’t it? Every second I look at it, I change my mind. Band aids are fuckin’ gross, man. You never know what’s going on underneath a band aid. There’s also something about HER eyes, too, though: she’s gotta be fucking with us here. There’s no one in the world who relishes peeling off a band aid as much as that. Or is there? Is that some sort of fetish thing? Is it okay? Is it some sort of secret of the funk that has yet to be uncovered? Like I said, back and forth on this one. There may never be a right answer, completely. Compelling, though. Wait, look again into her eyes. Okay we have to move on.