Ohio Players - “Honey” (1975)

Honey is widely regarded as the best album by the Ohio Players, and it certainly had the chart success to back up that assertion.  The album itself made it to #2 on the Billboard 200 and the Players got a #1 single with “Love Rollercoaster”.  “Sweet Sticky Thing” also cracked the Top 40 in 1975, landing at #33, and that same year Honey was awarded a Grammy for Best Album Cover Art (the model is Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for October 1974, Ester Cordet… and if you think the cover is risqué you should see what’s inside the gatefold).  All of that would be reason enough for me to have picked up Honey this weekend.  But none of those reasons have anything whatsoever to do with my decision.  No.  I bought it for something that happened a year later, in 1976, specifically the third single from the album peaking at #30.  Because, you see, that single has a tie to Seattle.  A dozen years after it first charted it would be covered by a then obscure band that was part of a blossoming musical scene that would shortly explode out of the Pacific Northwest like a drop-D-tuned comet.  The band was Soundgarden.  The Ohio Players song was “Fopp”, and the band recorded two versions of it, including a dub mix, on their 1988 four-song 12″ also called Fopp.

I bought Fopp on vinyl right when it came out and played the hell out of it, especially the two versions of the title track on the A side.  At that time in my life I wasn’t buying 12″ singles, had no concept of a remix, and had yet to hear of Adrian Sherwood, so I had no idea what to make of “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)”.  “Fucked up” I understood, as well as “heavy”.  But “dub” meant nothing to me.  All I knew was that the way the original track was manipulated, plus the inclusion of samples from Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, blew my teenage mind.

The original version of “Fopp” is some serious funk.  While Soundgarden rocked it up quite a bit, it’s still recognizable both for the underlying groove and the horns.  Even the vocals are familiar sounding, Chris Cornell using his trademark voice and screams to capture the pitch changes on the original (which appears to have multiple vocalists).  The other thing that works well is the speed - the Ohio Players keep things heavy in a funky way, methodically pacing the low end, which was right in Soundgarden’s wheelhouse. (♠)

There’s an urban myth that the song “Love Rollercoaster” captures the scream of a woman being murdered, and one version of the myth indicates that woman was the cover model Ester Cordet.  In later years the band has denied that a murder was involved, attributing the sound to one of their own band members Billy Beck.  Which is, of course, exactly what you’d expect them to say regardless of the facts.  That being said, you can barely hear the alleged scream, so I have no idea what the fuss is about even though I do love me a good urban myth.

Honey is a solid album even without the Soundgarden connection, definitely worth a listen on its own merits.

(♠)  Holly completely disagrees with me on this.  Completely.  Don’t worry though, we’re still together.  

Soundgarden - “Fopp” (1988)

As a teenager sitting in my bedroom in the late 1980s, listening to grunge and wondering if it would ever break nationally like everyone said it would (♠), I dreamed of the music happening on the other side of Lake Washington in the big city.  Seattle was about a 30 minute car ride away, but it may as well have been on the moon.  But fortunately Sub Pop was documenting the scene, giving me 7″ records by Tad and Mudhoney and Skin Yard and some band I wasn’t so sure about called Nirvana.  Quite a few of us thought it was going to be Mudhoney who led the charge out of Seattle (♣), but my favorite of the bunch was Soundgarden.

Soundgarden’s Screaming Life and Fopp EPs were in my vinyl collection when I sold it off sometime around the end of college and are among those that I miss the most from that group of records that defined my teen years.  I’ve got them both on CD, but original vinyl copies are pretty much always more than I’m willing to spend, especially out here in Seattle where early grunge records carry a bit of a premium price.  I also have an unofficial “rule” about not buying something on vinyl if I already have the CD, though I’ve been known to break it from time to time.  And one of those times was last week when I found myself spending yet another night away from home in a Los Angeles hotel room, faced with the prospect of an ever growing work email inbox and a severe lack of motivation.  So I decided to brave the traffic and drove into Hollywood to spend a few hours at Amoeba Music, and within two minutes of arrival I found this moderately worn but acceptable copy of Fopp for ten bucks.  Bam!  All those crackles and pops just make it sound that much more dirty and grungy.

Fopp is a bit of a weird EP.  The four songs include two covers, a dub version of one of the covers, and one original, kind of an odd thing to put out for an up-and-coming band trying to make a breakthrough.  But Soundgarden always did it their own way, so why not cover the 1975 funk classic “Fopp” by the Ohio Players and turn it into a metal funk track.  And while you’re at it, make a dub version that includes dialogue from 1965s Godzilla, King of the Monsters!:

The only thought left was paralyzing fear that it could happen again today, or tomorrow.  I don’t know how many hours went by before an auxiliary hospital unit found me.  I knew it was daylight.  I was surprised to be alive.

That track, “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix),” was probably the first dub track of any kind I’d ever heard, and frankly I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like it sense other than maybe Tackhead.  I didn’t understand what the term meant, and it wasn’t until a few decades later that I actually “discovered” dub.  I always preferred this dub version to the regular one because of all its pure weirdness and sampling, which kind of blew my mind at the time.

The B side give us the only Soundgarden original on Fopp, “Kingdom of Come,” a song that is that odd juxtaposition of styles and riffs that defined the awesomeness of the band’s early material and was lost in the sonic density of their later (and often equally awesome) work.  The final track is a cover of Green River‘s 1985 classic “Swallow My Pride,” and for a long time this was the version of that song I was most familiar with.  Somehow no matter where you turn in the story of grunge, it always comes back to Green River.  Always.

Man I’m glad I was able to score this baby.  I know I’ve got these songs on my iPod already, but there’s something about hearing them in their original, tuned down, low-end-heavy vinyl glory.  If I can find a similar conditioned and priced copy of Screaming Life I might just have to break my rule again…

 

(♠)  In case you’ve been living in a musical cave for the last 30+ years, let me cut to the chase - it did.

(♣)  It wasn’t.