OHIO PLAYERS / “Ohio Players Mixtape”

ohio players 04.jpg Quiet as it's kept, Ohio was a funk center back in the day and, other than Bootsy, nobody exemplified the Ohio funk sensibility better than The Ohio Players. So here is a Mixtape featuring a combination of some of their major hits and some of my favorite tracks. I had planned to do a regular BoL background write-up on the band but their bios are available all over the internet. Two of the better bios are here and here. ohio players 05.jpg The best summation of their style of funk comes from one of their members. Drummer James “Diamond” Williams dropped this assessment: "There's not enough light heartedness in the music world today. Nothing serious or heavy, just good dance records that everybody relates to. Silly, even! People can relate to silly all day long!" That’s all I’m gonna say about the music, right now I want to talk about male privilege and females viewed primarily or solely as sexual objects.

* * *
We were marching in formation around the Southern University Baton Rouge campus. I was participating in a program called Bayou Boys’ State. I believe it was the summer of my tenth grade year, and one of the adults was leading us in a chant: “I don’t want no woman with her hair cut shorter than mine.” And don’t get me started talking about the chants we marched to in the good old U.S. Army when I took basic training up at Fort Lee outside of Shreveport, Louisiana. None of this was in anyway unusual or abnormal. All of this was sexist to the core. In the late sixties, bald heads became popular among young black men who were what was often called cultural nationalists. Then in the early seventies, Isaac Hayes forever altered the general perception of hairstyles for black males. Sure the big afro was a popular style but so was the bald head. There were two ways to fight against the male style of wearing processed hair known as “the conk”: you could wear a big afro or you could shave it all off, neither style was beholden to aesthetics of white supremacy. And then there was this amazing development (I hope yall are listening to the Ohio Players Mixtape while reading this), for a brief period the bald head was an accepted style for women. I know, I know, that’s hard to believe in this era of the weave, the extensions, the this and the that. ohio players climax cover.jpg And once again, nobody better exemplified this genre-gender redefining of hair than did the Ohio Players with their album covers featuring a baldheaded model. It wasn't just about no hair, it was also about the hyper-eroticization of the female figure. They went far, far beyond mere lust by employing images of bondage and sadism. The covers were striking and utterly unforgettable. One look and the image was burned into your brain. ohio players  honey cover.jpgohio players honey 2 cover.jpg An interesting twist is that went The Ohio Players signed to a major label, Mercury, the bald-headed model was dropped and a Miss Playboy Bunny was hired for the uber-controversial cover of Honey. By today’s standards, the sexual content may be tame but it was more than nudity. The art design was expertly done. Conceptual art and raw sex rolled into one funky package (and, of course, the music was slamming, further cementing the suggestive power of the image in the emotional make-up of the viewer. By the eighties, the creative run of the Ohio Players was essentially over even though members of the band continued to perform into the new millennium, and feminist criticism of sexual exploitation via imagery was both widespread and widely acknowledged. One tenant of feminism critique was organized around the male penchant for making a fetish of the female figure. In film criticism, the incisive question was: “is the gaze male?” Is the popular act of looking at the female figure and that figure being put on display in all the popular media, is that act essentially a male activity and by extension both patriarchal and sexist? My answer: in the context of American capitalism, which uses sex to sell everything, anything, I believe the “gaze” is specifically patriarchal and not specifically male. Generally speaking, women like to look at men as much as men like to look at women but women don’t control how male figures are created and how that representation is used to sell items. The Ohio Players created not only music they also associated themselves with album covers that were sexist to the core. I can hear my man Diamond tapping out the refrain that I’m taking it all too seriously they were just funking around. The problem is that this "funking around" too often reinforces some of the more negative of male sexist behavior. Frankly I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to those Ohio Players album covers, mainly because I wasn’t that deep into their music. When I began putting this Mixtape together I was surprised by how much of their music I liked and was familiar with. That’s the thing about popular culture, it gets to you even when you’re not directly paying attention. ohio players  mean cover.jpg One of the last Ohio Players albums from back in the seventies was called Mr. Mean. What is suggested by this cover? The exploitation of women is an ongoing problem. I don’t think it will be solved in my lifetime but I do know one thing for sure—I’m not going to be silent about the negative impact all of this can have on us. On the other hand, I’m not going to become a puritan about eroticism, nudity and sexual representation. It’s a complex issue. I believe it is far, far healthier for us to openly discuss these issues than to have well over half of our population suffering in silence while we males continue to blithely go about our business of figuratively and sometimes literally consuming women with total impunity. For those who are interested, I wrote a speculative fiction story (published in the anthology Dark Matter that came out in 2000) built around the theme of what happens to a man who has an operation and has his wife’s eyes put into his head. Go here to read Could You Wear My Eyes? —Kalamu ya Salaam Ohio Players Mixtape Playlist ohio players gold cover.jpg All of the tracks are from the Gold album except where noted. 01 “Fire” 02 “Love Rollercoaster” 03 “Good Luck Charm” 04 “Skin Tight” 05 “Let's Love” 06 “Sweet Sticky Thing” 07 “Time Slips Away” 08 “What The Hell” - Fire 09 “O-H-I-O” 10 “Funky Worm” - Pleasure 11 “Angel” - Angel 12 “Heaven Must Be Like This” 13 “Together/Feelings” - Fire 14 “Time Slips Away/Shoot Yer Shot” - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee 15 “Varee Is Love” - Pleasure 16 “It's All Over” 17 “Pride And Vanity” - Pleasure 18 “Alone (Live)” 19 “Together” - Fire 20 “I Want To Be Free”

This entry was posted on Monday, January 4th, 2010 at 7:54 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “OHIO PLAYERS / “Ohio Players Mixtape””

Clément Says:
January 5th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Still a pleasure reading you… I have a question, if you are a guest lecturer and a teacher, and such a good writer… and If you write about music and singing, I mean, this warmth that passes on with human expression … would you consider SPEAKING your articles as podcast or other technology ? I am sure you, like me, appreciate the orality, and going back to the oral traditions… that way I would listen to your post every morning, while stuck in the stupidity of our modern congestion of (no) speed in the (no places of the) freeways. Peace to you, brother. Clément

     kalamu sez:    

yeah, it’s possible but impractical at the moment. in addition to writing, i would need to set up to do a podcast–and for sure i would not want to just give a dry reading, i’d want appropriate music in the background–it would require a whole production mode. i barely have time to get this done.

the technology exists for you to copy/paste the text to your computer and have the computer read it back, record the computer reading and burn to a cd or onto your ipod (or whatever you use). i know that’s another extra step for you but in this case, it’s an extra step i’m not in a position to take.

that said, thanks much for the suggestion and thanks for checking out breath of life.

Ohio Players Lover Says:
February 2nd, 2013 at 1:02 am

I loved the Ohio Players. Growing up to their music was incredible. They were and still are the bomb. Black folk loved those album covers, we did not see it that way. not really. Anyway, don’t hate the players, long live forever more The Ohio Players.

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