February 2018: Reissue Reviews

February 2018: Reissue Reviews

Here’s the next anthology in this much respected series from SoulMusic Records and instantly I zoned into a pair of major titles which elevated the group onto the international platform. The first, of course, is the beautifully crafted “Everybody Plays The Fool”, nominated for a Grammy award in the Best R&B category, shifting sales exceeding gold status, and their biggest selling single. With sweet, cool vocals, the song is high in melody and chorus: just beautiful. And the second, “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, in much the same stylish vein. Originally recorded by Ronnie Dyson, this single marked their only UK chart entry, peaking in the top thirty. Previously recording under the name The Poets – a trio comprising Tony Silvester, Donald McPherson and Luther Simmons – for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label, and later as The Insiders for RCA Records, the group underwent a further name change to The Main Ingredient, having seen the phrase on the side of a Coco Cola bottle. The opening track here, “You’ve Been My Inspiration” was the first to hit the US R&B top thirty, and a year later “I’m So Proud” (the group’s take on The Impressions’ song) and “Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)” hit the top ten.

During 1971, Donald McPherson died from leukemia, to be replaced by Cuba Gooding Snr who, incidentally, already performed with the group when Donald was too ill to appear. With Cuba in the membership, the guys enjoyed their first serious hit with “Everybody Plays The Fool”. When, in 1973, the group felt they were ignoring their R&B audience, their fifth album “Afrodisiac” was deliberately aimed at the funk/soul music market. To further push home their intention, they recorded a trio of Stevie Wonder compositions, “Superwoman”, “Where Were You When I Needed You” and “Something About Love”, and with Syreeta Wright, “I Am Yours”, “Girl Blue” and “Something Lovely”. This current release from a group that was probably overlooked in the grand scheme of musical things, is a welcome reminder of just how talented they were.
Rating: 8

According to the accompanying blurb, this is the very first time fans can purchase such a comprehensive collection of songs from the Ohio Players, taking in as it does, releases spanning their first company, Capitol, through to Arista and Boardwalk. In other words, an entire overview of this funk band who, for a time, secured a successful niche in this particular market, which later haemorrhaged groups playing this musical genre. Anyway, this is a three CD package, where the first, “Early Years” visits their Capitol stay, before moving to Westbound and the group’s first R&B charttopper “Funky Worm” was released. With its blending of early hip hop and synthesiser solos, it was hard to ignore. “Pleasure”, “Pain” and “Ecstasy” likewise carry this company’s logo. The last two titles were lifted from their debut Mercury album “Skin Tight”, namely, the album’s title and “Jive Turkey”, which indicated their future musical path.

Onto the second CD, “The Golden Years” where the highlight “Fire” was considered to be the group’s signature song, with the catchy “Love Rollercoaster” following. The former track, liked by Stevie Wonder, includes an authentic fire engine siren and a guitar solo that’s been ‘borrowed’ numerous times over the years, while the latter, uses the fairground attraction to describe the yo-yo effect of relationships, with the sliding guitar funk riff neatly sewing up the song. A wah wah guitar (bring on Shaft!) leads into the jumpy “Body Vibes”, until tight vocals take over, then the beat changes level, making the voices looser. Hah, caught out with “Happy Holidays”, a seasonal ditty, complete with spoken words to enhance the Christmas message. OK: why not. “Who’d She Coo?”, naturally, is the highlight, representing as it does, the Ohio Player’s only UK hit at number 43 in July 1976.

Finally, the third CD, “The Later & Solo Years” covers the group’s Arista and Broadwalk Records period. Stand out tracks here include “Everybody Up” in its full length version, together with Junie Morrison solo outings, like “Love Has Taken Me Over (Be My Baby)”, and Sugerfoot’s 1985 take on “Fire”. The Ohio Players weren’t a group I’d taken much notice of at the time, and while I enjoyed a fair percentage of this trio of CDs, cannot say I was overwhelmed.
Rating: 6

I didn’t know how I was going to cope with this – four CDs crammed with heavy funk. How wrong I was. Sure there’s a lot of the weighty hitting sounds, but, hey, there’s also some compelling ballads to break the beat – like a welcome oasis in a blistering hot desert. A little background first though. Formed during 1966, the Bar-Kays were a studio session group, supporting Stax acts, until Otis Redding grabbed them as his own. As an independent musical unit, their first single “Soul Finger” in 1967 was a crossover US hit. The success was shortlived when, tragically, Otis and two thirds of the group died in December 1967 when their plane crashed into Lake Monona, near Madison, Wisconsin. In time, the band reformed to play on sessions with several Stax artists including Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” album, and when the Stax/Volt label folded during 1975, the Bar-Kays joined Mercury Records to forge a different, and this time more successful, career playing their own brand of funk music. Now, this heavyweight package of four CDs span 1980 and 1984 while under Mercury’s umbrella.

Starting with “As One”, a top ten US R&B title, it holds the pattern used in all four albums here with a mixture of dance and smooch; the latter being typified by “Take The Time To Love Somebody” which is both powerful and gentle. For dancing, the opening track “Boogie Body Land” fits the bill, with its mellow funk positive beat. I can’t move on without mentioning the final cut “Deliver Us” with its climaxing lush chorus of voices. Quite exceptional, and surprisingly exciting. A year following the release of “As One”, “Nightcruising” hit the shops in 1981 to earn the accolade as their best album yet. Not only did it also peak in the R&B top ten but passed gold status, thanks in part to their changing musical approach into a more current funk styling with the prolific use of synthesisers, so loved by artists like Stevie Wonder. Here the outstanding track for me was the unexpected “Feels Like I’m Falling In Love”, a gentle mover, so engaging with a full vocalled styling. Does it for me every time!

The third (and first on the second CD) “Propositions” from 1982, featured three hits, namely, the stomping funker “Do It (Let Me See You Shake)”, “She Talks To Me With Her Body” with its techno-funk feeling, and the gloriously touching, late night grooved ballad, “Anticipation”. However, one track irritated me beyond words – “(Busted)”, far too busy and cluttered – so moved on to the last CD in this package, “Dangerous” released in 1984, and my least liked. Having said that, “Freakshow On The Dance Floor” with its fast driving beat interrupted by splashes of sweet funk, rightly deserved its top two placing in the R&B chart, and top eighty crossover hit. Or, it could be that being featured in the 1984 movie “Breakdance:The Movie” (“Breakin’” – its American title) gave it a massive heave up. Calming down the pace, a pair of credible cuts ease and weave through the music, “Lovers Should Never Fall In Love” and “Make Believe Lover”. This is a fabulously priced package from a group that rose from the ashes of tragedy to keep their music alive.
Rating: 7