This post is intended as supplemental material for the course “Sounds of Laughter: Musical Comedy in the United States”
The Ohio Players were one of the great funk bands of the 1970s [see Week 5]. I would not classify funk as an inherently comedic form, but it incorporates humor as part of its aesthetic of fun, joy, dance, eccentricity, and celebration. This live performance of “Fire” (on the TV series Midnight Special in 1975) uses a great deal of musical comedy (particularly in the last minute – it’s worth watching the whole thing).
In addition, they represent some of the contradictions of The Funk discussed by Vincent (1996) [see Week 5] – the blend of hope and despair, fantasy and harsh reality. In particular, the Ohio Players were associated with both sex (emphasized in their beats and album covers) and death: their song “Love Rollercoaster” (1975) gave rise to an urban legend that the scream heard between 2:32 and 2:36 (actually performed by keyboardist Billy Beck) was in fact a woman being murdered during the recording process. While funk is often treated as insignificant and trivial, this example reveals the ways in which its humor masked darker realities of racial tensions and fears in 1970s America. As a side note, the Red Hot Chili Peppers covered “Love Rollercoaster” in 1996 as part of the Beavis and Butt-head Do America soundtrack (including humorous elements such as use of kazoos to play the horn lines).