Creatively, commercially, and conceptually, Pain was a major step forward for the Ohio Players. This 1971 album was quite a departure from their previous work -- in the late-'60s, the Midwesterners' forte had been raw, hard-edged Southern-style soul along the lines of Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, and Wilson Picket. But with Pain, they became a lot more experimental and unveiled an interesting, distinctive brand of funk that incorporated elements of jazz and blues as well as rock. The jazz influence is especially strong on "Never Had a Dream," "Singing in the Morning," and the hit title song, while "The Reds" is a progressive blues number that draws on jazz as well as psychedelic rock. It was with Pain, the Players' first album for Westbound, that they unveiled their goofy Granny character, which the funksters continued to have fun with on their subsequent Westbound releases but discontinued when they moved to Mercury with 1974's Skin Tight. And it was with Pain that they became famous (some would say infamous) for their erotic LP covers. Employing S&M/bondage imagery, Pain's front cover was considered shocking in 1971. Although the Velvet Underground had written songs about S&M, and the British spy thriller The Avengers frequently hinted at kinky sex -- Diana Rigg's Emma Peel character often dressed like a dominatrix -- S&M and fetishism were very taboo subjects for Middle America in 1971. And not surprisingly, some retailers refused to carry Pain. But the album, although not huge, was a decent seller. With Pain, the Ohio Players' Westbound period was off to an impressive and creative start. ~ Alex Henderson
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