Occasionally you run across a song so unutterably strange you’re left speechless. Such is the case with the 1973 single “Funky Worm” by the great Ohio Players, who bequeathed us such fabulously funky tunes as “Love Rollercoaster” (“Say what?”) and “Fire.” “Funky Worm” inexplicably rose to No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, despite it’s, er, rather odd vocals and subject matter. But if I’m surprised it was a big hit I have no doubt it’s a fantastic song, infused with high humor and featuring several high-pitched Moog synthesizer solos that have been sampled, at last count by one source, by some 183 artists including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and N.W.A.
The Ohio Players were formed way back in 1959 as the Ohio Untouchables, but broke up and reformed several times. But talk about your perseverance; they were still together (having changed their name to Ohio Players) in 1973, when the band finally scored a hit with “Funky Worm” off their Pleasure LP. The song was written by the band’s then keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison, who split in 1974 and went on to record several solo albums before joining Parliament-Funkadelic.
“Funky Worm” is odd for the simple reason that it’s basically a conversation between a member of the band and “Granny,” who I suspect is another member of the band, although I’ve had zero luck in finding out who delivered her lines. Granny is introduced to a Mr. Johnson by his secretary while a funky groove plays in the background, and she delivers her introductory lines (“Me and the Ohio Players gonna tell you about a worm/He’s the funkiest worm in the world/Okay, sing it, fellas”), at which point the guys in the band sing about the worm, who lives six feet down and “who only comes around/When he wants to get down.”
Those six feet are odd, being grave-deep and all, but I don’t think the song has anything whatsoever to do with death, although the following tune, “Our Live Has Died” reprises the “six feet down” trope in a more meaningful setting. Nor is the worm a metaphor for a cock. No, it’s a worm she’s talking about, who “when he comes out of his hole sounds something like this,” at which point Morrison plays a freaky solo.