Throughout the 1970s, the Ohio Players were famous (or infamous) for their erotic album covers. But there are major differences between the covers of Mercury albums like Skin Tight, Fire, Honey, and Contradiction and the covers of such Westbound releases as Pleasure and Pain. At Mercury, the Players' album covers favored softcore erotica … la Playboy or Penthouse, whereas the covers of their Westbound LPs were more bizarre and offered kinky bondage/S&M imagery. Those covers came under attack from different parts of the political spectrum; some of the more radical feminists accused the Players of objectifying women, while Republicans and Christian fundamentalists accused them of promoting moral decline. And the Players were laughing all the way to the bank -- at least from 1974 on. When their third Westbound album, Ecstasy, came out in 1973, they were still a year away from signing with Mercury and becoming really huge. But they did have a small cult following, which found that Ecstasy fell short of the excellence of Pain and Pleasure. Nonetheless, the material is respectable and generally decent. Serious Players fans will find sweaty funk items like "Spinning," "Black Cat," and the title song to be enjoyable even though they aren't among the band's essential recordings. While Ecstasy isn't recommended to casual listeners, it isn't a bad album to have in your collection if you fancy yourself a hardcore Players addict. ~ Alex Henderson
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