A straight-up split between sassy stomps and ultra-mellow grooves.
Daryl Easlea 2009
Greasy funk was hardly scarce in the US in the mid 1970s. After its originator, James Brown, and its innovator, George Clinton, there were myriad followers such as the Commodores (before the ballads), Cameo (before the codpieces) and perhaps the slinkiest of them all, the Ohio Players.
The group had been around in various guises since 1959, but it was when they signed to Mercury in 1974 that they hit their stride, incorporating soul, blues, jazz and even splashes of country into their funk. They also became notorious for their album sleeves, fully utilising the 12” gatefold format to depict girls in various states of undress.
Honey, their most accomplished album, had possibly the most outrageous cover of the lot, with a woman covered in the sweet, sticky substance of the album’s title. The group are pictured, dwarfed by her. It may suggest that it was all ironic, but as it was 1975, the jury is still out.
There are few question marks about the music. It is a straight-up split between sassy stomps and ultra mellow grooves. We have standout moments like the huge international hit, Love Rollercoaster (covered in 1997 by the Red Hot Chili Peppers), a track so vibrantly funky that it provided the name for a chain of UK record retailers (Fopp), and the brief, chaotic Ain’t Giving Up No Ground. It is the ballads, however, where the band excels: the title track and ‘quiet storm’ staple Sweet Sticky Thing convey all that was soulful in the Ohio Players’ world.
There is a strong sense of play in their work, from their aforementioned rollercoaster to the kids-style chorus in Sweet Sticky Thing, or the referencing of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It in their (different) song of the same name.
Honey’s seven tracks clock in at a little over half an hour, but they leave you wanting much more, especially after Larry ‘Sugarfoot’ Bonner’s impassioned vocal on Alone, which is so languorously-paced and peaceful that it brings the album to a dead stop. With all its light-hearted musical schizophrenia, Honey remains the Ohio Players’ greatest album.