Ohio Players – Sleeve dreams are made of these

The death, or perhaps long drawn out death throes, of vinyl is of course a sad and tragic thing for too many reasons to go into here. But we make absolutely no apology for being slightly obsessed with classic album cover art. It is like a virtually bottomless treasure trove of inspiration, motivation and excitement. There is still a visceral thrill to be had from dusting off the vinyl shelves and delving in for a musical expedition, with the sight of a memorable cover as indelibly marked in our heads as a favourite chorus, intro or melody, and the unveiling as thrilling as the crackle of the needle itself. See how wistful we get! And while we could wax lyrical about graphics, typefaces, concepts and illustrations, sometimes we have to just appeal to our baser instincts. And in this regard there is perhaps no better album cover art than that provided by the funkiest of groups, the Ohio Players.

I’d wager that there is barely a hip-hop fan alive who doesn’t have a vinyl copy of “Honey”, the archetypal Ohio Players sleeve which actually won the cover art Grammy on release in 1975. But their lascivious, lustful and downright sexy artwork is consistently brilliant for their entire output. And while it may appear to be flagrantly objectifying of the female form, a cheap excuse to flash some flesh, there is often much more too it. Yes the sleeves are suggestive and overtly sexual, downright sexist to some especially when dropped at the heights of popular feminism, the sleeves were also about fun, about seeing the sex in the music itself, but also about black empowerment and identity. The clearest example of this is in the bald-headed model who adorns the “Pain” or “Climax” albums.

Is it objectifying these beautiful black women or idolising them? Is it innocent fun, or reinforcing the chains of inequality? Is the power in these images with the model or the fetishist art director or viewer? In these times of sexual saturation and no real line in popular culture and imagery between suggestion and outright explicitness it is easy to forget how striking these images would have been, and perhaps that is their point.

They make people think, discuss, question. Or perhaps. Like us, you just love seeing carefully constructed, beautifully produced images of near naked women, wrapped around music of pure bump and grind. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut reaction, and I don’t care how much porn and nudity there is around us, these album covers are amongst the sexiest images I know. It’s almost a reassuring thought, no?

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Twelve Bar on July 15th 2010 in Music

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