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Ohio Players — Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of "Pain"

Ohio Players are Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “Pain” - February 1, 1972, was their first album

Following the sessions of their 1969-released debut Observations in TimeOhio Players disbanded, leaving behind one vastly underrated LP. Shortly thereafter, several former members decided to bite the bullet and reunite, signing with Detroit-based label Westbound (best known as being the initial home base of Funkadelic), and recording their sophomore effort Pain. Diverging from the style of its predecessor, Pain saw the Dayton-founded group leaning deeper into progressive soul, their incorporation of jazz arrangements and a heavier funk-inflected style resulting in a tighter, more ardent sound.


Released on February 1, 1972, Pain peaked at number 21 on the U.S. Billboard Top Soul LPs chart, with its title track reaching number 35 on the U.S. R&B chart. While still several years out from the commercial success of Skin Tight and their ultimate artistic achievement HoneyPain allowed for Ohio Players to reinvent themselves from their ’60s incarnation, placing more lyrical emphasis on themes of longing, passion, and sensuality. With iconic model Patricia Evans on its cover, Pain became the first Ohio Players release to feature the group’s signature erotic album artwork. Sonically, too, the thicker sound of Pain and subsequent releases was far more tailored to the new decade than was the often lighter quasi-psychedelic Southern soul of years prior.


The brassy swagger of Pain’s classic opening title track provides a sleek wall of sound across its six-minute span, practically having destined it for early-’70s soul radio rotation, while the subsequent “Never Had a Dream” sees keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison guiding the group through a blue-cast tunnel of love lost, upon a wave of jazzy synth riffs. Morrison, who had joined Ohio Players in 1970, served as a prime innovator within the group until his departure four years later, after which he eventually joined George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic ensemble as a musical director, his major contributions to the outfit perhaps most remarkable on Funkadelic’s monumental 1978 release One Nation Under a Groove. Elsewhere, funk number “Players Ballin’ (Players Doin’ Their Own Thing)” livens the atmosphere, eventually culminating in the big band bombast of standout track “I Wanna Hear from You,” which manages to offer a bit of Motown charm in seizing one’s heart and nervous system in its undeniable grasp. Progressive blues number “The Reds” balances clever lyricism with solid performances from Morrison and Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, whose wailing guitar maintains a glimmering edge within the track’s smokey stomp. Closing track “Singing in the Morning”—significant for its introduction of Morrison’s infamous “Granny” character, an elderly fan of the band whose presence would resurface on Morrison-era Ohio Players recordings—winds the album down on a smooth note, creating a perfect balance between Pain’s persuasion toward both introspective soul and livewire, anthemic funk.

Like its companion piece Pleasure, released the same year, Pain remains a timeless work, and one of the finest recordings of its genre. Here, the listener is offered an intimate glimpse into the creative process and development of one of the era’s key groups, their collective vision expanding in the years leading up to their mainstream breakthrough. Ultimately, the album represented to Ohio Players what they represented to the genre—a major step forward in sonic and stylistic innovation. The high standard set on Pain cannot be denied, the album’s indigo relevance and masterful composition still shaking the listener 50 years on.

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