The 1970s were an interesting time. The sexual 'liberation' of the hippie era led to porn chic and a new era of 'openness'. Well, in a way. In the USA and most English-speaking countries, this new dynamic occurred behind walls that still carried a 1950s-era sense of morality. So you could give the impression of sexual licence, but not much more than an impression. The Ohio Players were a black funk band from the USA who today are known for two things: One, their music (slightly). Two, very sexy album covers. Let's be honest: that was the calling-card of the band, album covers that had teenage boys flipping through record racks and, perhaps, even buying the album just to take it into the bathroom with them.
A genius idea, really. When it worked... which was far from 'always', unfortunately. Winess the following skull-thing.
First Impressions: The Ohio Players didn't always feature sexy lay-dees on their covers... These rather unknown early days seem very much like a different era, and a different band. Nothing wrong with this skull-with-nose cover, mind you - it's attractive in its own way. But we know what you're really looking for...
Observations in Time: And it's not this horrid squiggly mess, certainly. Why didn't they reissue this a few years later with some random half-naked girl? Were they that uninterested in a few extra record sales?
Pain: Phase two of the Ohio Players' career is the slightly-better-known 'bald S&M chick' era. This is an interesting era, if the covers somehow fail at sheer titillation. There's something dangerous and strange here: in this four-part series, we see the same not-unattractive hairless woman in a variety of settings. Here its studded leather bondage gear, a bullwhip and an attention-grabbing armpit.
Pleasure: Part two after 'Pain', and it seems the Ohio Players are well into high concept. This is actually an impressive piece of work, one that's lost here, since the punchline is on the back of the gatefold. Here, our bald lady has her arms sensuously aloft, facial expression one of the titular pleasure. Unfold the pachage to reveal the other half, though, and you can see her arms aren't raised in pleasure but are tied over her head in chains. Kinky.
Ecstasy: More of the same bald woman, more of the same S&M leather, more of the same chains. The difference this time is there's a dude as well - or, as the back side reveals, two. Still, nothing especially impressive. And the theme is getting a bit old...
Climax: One last kick at the can for baldy, though, in what brings Stage Two to a close with an appropriate title, Climax. Baldy is looking sensuous pressed flesh-to-flesh with her man, but again there's a punchline on the back cover - but a rather more gauche punchline this time, so I'm not upset I'm not including it. The back side of the gatefold shows that the lovely lady has actually stabbed her man in the back - cheesy gush of blood and all.
Skin Tight: Onto phase three, the one so beloved of high school boys worldwide. The following albums have no real S&M sense of 'danger' or 'menace' to them. The women are conventionally beautiful and unchallengingly sexy in a way that Baldy, bless her heart, isn't. And they're all creatively and carefully posed to evoke a sleek and sophisticated kind of soft-core. After all, there may be no 'naughty bits' on these covers, but they're not far off photo shoots for Playboy - which, in its own way, is a compliment. Just knees and thighs this time. But... sexy knees and thighs.
Fire: One of the absolute classics. Our hottie is a firefighter, naked but for her fire helmet and a strategically-placed fire hose. Yes, this is mere titillation. But it's really, really well done titillation. There's even a helpfully smoky ambiance. Well done, all.
Honey: This edition's hottie uses the titular condiment in ways Winnie the Pooh never dreamed of. She's pouring honey into her mouth, and it's dripping... you know what? I'll just stop talking. The back of the gatefold features, of course, the lower half of her naked body, and it's all good and pretty, but for no clear reason someone's stuck a superfluous photo of the band above her leg. Way to spoil the mood, eh?
Rattlesnake: A bit of a regression, it would seem - but this is actually a cash-in by the Ohio Players' previous label that quite deftly melds the two eras of OP history. The logo and the photographic skill seem brand-new, but that turban is black leather and the snake brings back a kind of kinkiness that is not overly welcome. The result is not as sexy as it hopes to be but still sexier than it might have been. She's playing a snake charmer's flute, and has charmed the snake to the point that it's wrapped all around her. Sexy? Or zoophilic?
Contradiction: And speaking of zoophilia, we're back on the OPs' home territory now, their own label. But it's naked woman meets animal again, a horse this time in a cover that's rather difficult to understand and more difficult to fathom. Still has that fashion-magazine-shoot feel, but it's... I don't know. Just weird instead of sexy.
Angel: While on the one hand, this is the absolute Ohio Players masterpiece, a smouldering black and white of a gorgeous nude woman, her 'modesty' tastefully hidden by shadows. It's beautiful. But... it looks airbrushed. I don't think shadows work that way, somehow. Not that there's anything wrong with airbrushing. But it kind of falls outside the oeuvre. Still, I'm sure it looks great on teen boys' walls. Or, well, under their beds.
Mr. Mean: It's starting to fall apart for the the OP... this isn't sexy. It's just awkward. The Ohio Players themselves are standing around looking suave and sophisticated. But the completely naked woman doesn't seem suave at all. She seems tense and edgy. She's probably cold. And so is this rather misogynistic cover.
Lass-Ay-Lay-Dee: A slight return to form as we're back to fashion-magazine photography. A lighter-skinned than normal girl, not quite erotic but attractive still, in a limousine. I guess; I'm not really a car person. Oh, and by the way... god-awful album name.
Everybody Up: This one is just... so wrong. For so many reasons. Okay, the seventies became the eighties. New era. But this is a strangely sporty cover where the others have been about sophistication, and the logo is hideous. I mean the one in the corner, not the one on her chest - but that one's not much better, really. There's no fantasy here. Her nipples are quite plainly visible, and she's some girl you could meet down at the park, not a creature from the catwalks of Paris. Boo.
Tenderness: By now, the Ohio Players clearly have no idea what they're doing beyond 'girl on the cover'. This is a nice enough cover, a retro vibe all done up in white. She might be a 'flapper', if I had any idea what that word meant. But it's like it belongs to another band. Or maybe this is like an album filled with Rodgers and Hart covers.
Ouch!: All in all, the number of unattractive Ohio Players album covers is actually larger than the number of classics. I needn't have gotten 'comprehensive', right? Anyway, this woman is naked but for some red shiny thing, and she's removing a band-aid from her ass.. And I'm sorry that sentence was so vulgar. But it's merely a blunt description of the horribly vulgar cover above, with a woman clearly saying 'oooh' as opposed to 'ouch', and not even the tiniest bit sexy.
Graduation: A slight return to form, in that it has that 'vintage' feel, but it's still not alluring. She's got her mortarboard. And a bullhorn? Wait, is that the girl from Everybody Up? Took her long enough to graduate. Kanye West's bear was sexier.
Back: 'Back' as in 'a return after a four-year absence', and 'back' as in the part of a woman you can see above. She's covered in spools and spools of magnetic tape. And yet this is probably the most attractive Ohio Players cover since Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee, ten years before. I wonder if it's Baldy, perchance?