The Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” and its notorious murder myth

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Ohio Players Love Rollercoaster

I can only imagine what would have happened if The Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” was released after the advent of the Internet. Reddit would have a field day with it. Podcasters would sleuth the hell out of it. God only knows what kind of rumors and disinformation would spread once it got around social media. You’re reading about its strange history on a website right now!

Then again, maybe nothing would have happened at all. Back in 1975, when The Ohio Players released “Love Rollercoaster,” featured on their album Honey, myths had legs because you couldn’t simply debunk something instantly by looking it up on your phone. You had to live with the mystery, maybe deduce via Occam’s razor that the outlandish rumor you heard about some famous musician—that they had to find some creative new way to take drugs internally, or that they underwent surgery to better facilitate autofellatio—probably wasn’t true. Maybe. Probably. Could happen, buuuuut… then again, maybe it did? Nahhh…

“Love Rollercoaster” became the subject of a particularly ghoulish rumor upon its release: that someone was murdered in the adjacent studio while they were recording the song. Or, alternately, that someone was simply very badly burned while they were recording. But depending on which version of the rumor you’ve heard, something very bad happened during the session, and that Very Bad Thing might have been the best thing that could have happened to the song.

It all stems from a scream. In the middle of the track—at 1:24 on the single edit, or 2:32 of the album version—someone lets out a scream. It’s not a piercing scream, in fact it’s pretty low in the mix; you almost wouldn’t notice it on first listen if you’re not paying close attention. And that makes all the difference. Were a singer to just let out a shriek in the middle of a song, we might think nothing of it, but take that shriek and muffle it and turn the volume down and bury it a little deeper and what happens is it begins to sound a little like something that maybe wasn’t intended to be caught on tape. Just maybe.

Now, a scream is just a scream, and by 1975 there were plenty of screams on records, but something about this one just seemed peculiar enough to start the rumor mill turning. Per the legend that arose from The Scream, the details and mechanics of the “Love Rollercoaster” murder varies from unreliable source to unreliable source, but the most common version is that someone was killed inside the studio—in an adjoining room, or possibly the control room, or perhaps just a neighboring apartment. The victim might have been someone’s girlfriend, or possibly a cleaning woman.

There are other variations of this legend, like for instance Ester Cordet—the model who posed nude on the album cover—was caught on tape being badly burned by a hot batch of honey, or that the scream was actually pre-recorded from an unrelated event, like a 911 call, and the band merely sampled it. None of these is really any more unbelievable than the original story, and there’s a reason it’s captivating: There isn’t a person among us that won’t get drawn into a good murder mystery every now and then.

“Love Rollercoaster” would have been a hit regardless; it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January of 1976, and its undeniably catchy groove has everything to do with it. Well, almost everything—the benefit of having a grisly piece of folklore attached to it is that it gives the song something beyond a good hook, something intangible. Something people are going to talk about.

The truth, however, is far more mundane. Nobody murdered anyone while The Ohio Players were in the studio that day, and it certainly didn’t get caught on tape. The owner of that muffled scream is in fact Ohio Players keyboardist Billy Beck (note: not a woman), simply adding a bit more flavor to the track via some joyful noise. It should be noted that there are a number of other yelps and screams from other members of the band before that happens, a bit of context that might have prevented the viral spread of the story, were it not for some overzealous DJs and an audience that couldn’t help but get caught up in the mayhem.

The Ohio Players, for their part, didn’t bother correcting anyone—at least not for a little while. Drummer Jimmy “Diamond” Williams later clarified that nothing so sinister or violent actually happened during the recording of the song, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. “The DJ made this crack and it swept the country. People were asking us, ‘Did you kill this girl in the studio?'” Williams said, noting that the mystique the legend circulated was actually pretty good for business. “The band took a vow of silence because you sell more records that way.”

So, no, “Love Rollercoaster” isn’t a forensic file, or a cold case, or even really that plausible of a legend. In hindsight there’s something sort of quaint about the fact that a pretty easy-to-explain vocal screech turned into such a widespread urban legend, though it certainly supports the case that most of us can’t get enough of a good, creepy story. Come to think of it, nobody’s made a slasher flick set in the ’70s during a funk recording session yet. I’d watch that.

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