Today's artists has been cited as having enjoyed one of the "longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music". . ... N'joy . ... N'joy
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First formed in the early '50s, the Isley Brothers enjoyed one of the longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music -- over the course of nearly a half century of performing, the group's distinguished history spanned not only two generations of Isley siblings but also massive cultural shifts which heralded their music's transformation from gritty R&B to Motown soul to blistering funk. The first generation of Isley siblings was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, where they were encouraged to begin a singing career by their father, himself a professional vocalist, and their mother, a church pianist who provided musical accompaniment at their early performances. Initially a gospel quartet, the group was comprised of Ronald, Rudolph, O'Kelly, and Vernon Isley; after Vernon's 1955 death in a bicycling accident, tenor Ronald was tapped as the remaining trio's lead vocalist. In 1957, the brothers went to New York City to record a string of failed doo wop singles; while performing a spirited reading of the song "Lonely Teardrops" in Washington, D.C., two years later, they interjected the line "You know you make me want to shout," which inspired frenzied audience feedback. An RCA executive in the audience saw the concert, and when he signed the Isleys soon after, he instructed that their first single be constructed around their crowd-pleasing catch phrase; while the call-and-response classic "Shout" failed to reach the pop Top 40 on its initial release, it eventually became a frequently covered classic.
Still, success eluded the Isleys, and only after they left RCA in 1962 did they again have another hit, this time with their seminal cover of the Top Notes' "Twist and Shout." Like so many of the brothers' early R&B records, "Twist and Shout" earned greater commercial success when later rendered by a white group -- in this case, the Beatles; other acts who notched hits by closely following the Isleys' blueprint were the Yardbirds ("Respectable," also covered by the Outsiders), the Human Beinz ("Nobody but Me"), and Lulu ("Shout"). During a 1964 tour, they recruited a young guitarist named Jimmy James to play in their backing band; James -- who later shot to fame under his given name, Jimi Hendrix -- made his first recordings with the Isleys, including the single "Testify," issued on the brothers' own T-Neck label. They signed to the Motown subsidiary Tamla in 1965, where they joined forces with the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team. Their first single, the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," was their finest moment yet, and barely missed the pop Top Ten.
"This Old Heart of Mine" was their only hit on Motown, however, and when the song hit number three in Britain in 1967, the Isleys relocated to England in order to sustain their flagging career; after years of writing their own material, they felt straitjacketed by the Motown assembly-line production formula, and by the time they returned stateside in 1969, they had exited Tamla to resuscitate the T-Neck label. Their next release, the muscular and funky "It's Your Thing," hit number two on the U.S. charts in 1969, and became their most successful record. That year, the Isleys also welcomed a number of new members as younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, brother-in-law Chris Jasper, and family friend Everett Collins became the trio's new backing unit. Spearheaded by Ernie's hard-edged guitar leads, the group began incorporating more and more rock material into its repertoire as the 1970s dawned, and scored hits with covers of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," Eric Burdon & War's "Spill the Wine," and Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay."
In 1973, the Isleys scored a massive hit with their rock-funk fusion cover of their own earlier single "Who's That Lady," retitled "That Lady, Pt. 1"; the album 3 + 3 also proved highly successful, as did 1975's The Heat Is On, which spawned the smash "Fight the Power, Pt. 1." As the decade wore on, the group again altered its sound to fit into the booming disco market; while their success on pop radio ran dry, they frequently topped the R&B charts with singles like 1977's "The Pride," 1978's "Take Me to the Next Phase, Pt. 1," 1979's "I Wanna Be With You, Pt. 1," and 1980's "Don't Say Goodnight." While the Isleys' popularity continued into the 1980s, Ernie and Marvin, along with Chris Jasper, defected in 1984 to form their own group, Isley Jasper Isley; a year later, they topped the R&B charts with "Caravan of Love." On March 31, 1986, O'Kelly died of a heart attack; Rudolph soon left to join the ministry, but the group reunited in 1990.
Although the individual members continued with solo work and side projects, and also experienced misfortune along the way, the Isley Brothers forged on in one form or another throughout the '90s and into the 21st century. In 1996, now consisting of Ronald, Marvin, and Ernie, they released the album Mission to Please; however, Marvin developed diabetes and left the band the following year -- the disease later necessitated the amputation of both his legs. Ronald and Ernie hooked up for the release of 2001's Eternal, a brand-new selection of R&B cuts featuring collaborative efforts with Jill Scott, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Raphael Saadiq. On that particular release, Ronald also introduced the alter ego Mr. Biggs. Body Kiss was released in 2003, followed by Baby Makin' Music in 2006, the year after Ronald was convicted of tax evasion charges. Experiencing his own set of serious health issues, Ronald was sentenced to prison and served the latter portion of his sentence at a halfway house in St. Louis, MO before being released in April 2010. On June 6 of that year, Marvin died of complications from diabetes at the age of 56.
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When Sony/Legacy decided to reassert control of the Isley Brothers' catalog, it sent Rhino's excellent two-volume set The Isley Brothers Story out of print. Unfortunately, thus far, Legacy hasn't done nearly as good a job re-compiling the Isleys' catalog in any coherent fashion, meaning that if you can track down the Rhino anthologies somehow, you'll be much better off. The Isley Brothers Story, Vol. 1: Rockin' Soul is a single-disc overview of their R&B material (20 tracks in all) prior to their metamorphosis into a self-contained funk band. In reality, 1959-1968 were uneven years for the Isleys, who leaped from style to style and label to label, cutting records of variable quality. But their best moments could be positively transcendent, and the neat trick of Vol. 1 is that it makes the group sound as though they could do no wrong, no matter what they tried. Spinning through gospel-drenched call-and-response tunes, twist-craze dance records, smoother Chicago-style soul, and even a stint on Motown, the collection holds together surprisingly well, thanks to the group's own frenzied energy. Ronald Isley's unhinged leads, and the chemistry he and his brothers share, will make you wonder why the Isleys aren't mentioned as early architects of soul music more often. That's especially true on the call-and-response insanity of cuts like "Shout" and "Testify," where the group works itself up into a raucous frenzy of screams, cries, and wails, all taken at a mind-blowingly manic pace. But their chemistry enlivens everything here, even the smoother and more produced Motown material; in fact, that helps make "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" one of the label's all-time greatest moments. Interesting trivia: "Who's That Lady" was later transformed into the funk smash "That Lady," and "Testify" marks one of the earliest recordings by a young Jimi Hendrix.
The Isley Brothers - Vol.1 Rockin' Soul (flac 407mb)
01 Shout - Pts. 1 & 2
03 Rock Around The Clock
04 Open Up Your Heart
05 Your Old Lady
06 Twist And Shout
07 Twistin' With Linda
08 Nobody But Me
09 She's Gone
10 You'll Never Leave Him
11 Who's That Lady
12 Testify - Pts. 1 & 2 (Feat Jimi Hendrix)
13 The Last Girl
14 Move Over And Let Me Dance
15 This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)
16 Take Some Time Out For Love
17 I Guess I'll Always Love You
18 Got To Have You Back
19 Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)
20 Behind A Painted Smile
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A powerful set by the Isley Brothers, who tasted success with "Shout" and "Twist & Shout" before joining Motown. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier produced the lion's share of tracks, and wrote most of them with the aid of Eddie Holland. An infectious "This Old Heart of Mine" took off -- its throbbing beat, memorable melody, and inspired vocals are as irresistible now as they were in 1966. The urgent "Take Some Time Out for Love," with its wailing vocals, made a little R&B noise; a creation of Robert Gordy and Thomas Kemp, it's one of two tracks not handled by Holland-Dozier-Holland. The other is the insightful, biblically titled "Seek and You Shall Find," done magnificently by Ron Isley, who sings the positive lyrics with understated fire. "I Guess I'll Always Love You" is a midtempo gem sung by Ron in his natural register, as he does all these songs; the sweet falsetto he used almost exclusively in the '80s and '90s is nowhere to be found. Isley versions of "Nowhere to Run," "Stop in the Name of Love," "Baby Don't You Do It," and "I Hear a Symphony" are comparable to, if not better than, the originals. The group's final Motown album yielded one good song and hit, but otherwise was a summation of everything that went wrong while they were there. They never got the in-house support or push they needed..
The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart and Soul On The Rocks (flac 457mb)
'This Old Heart Of Mine'
01 Nowhere To Run 2:50
02 Stop! In The Name Of Love 2:58
03 This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) 2:52
04 Take Some Time Out For Love 2:29
05 I Guess I'll Always Love You 2:48
06 Baby Don't You Do It 2:32
07 Who Could Ever Doubt My Love 2:35
08 Put Yourself In My Place 2:39
09 I Hear A Symphony 3:19
10 Just Ain't Enough Love 2:16
11 There's No Love Left 2:59
12 Seek And You Shall Find 3:33
'Soul On The Rocks'
13 Got To Have You Back 2:45
14 That's The Way Love Is 2:17
15 Whispers (Gettin' Louder) 2:09
16 Tell Me It's Just A Rumor Baby 2:56
17 One Too Many Heartaches 2:14
18 It's Out Of The Question 2:44
19 Why When Love Is Gone 2:33
20 Save Me From This Misery 2:26
21 Little Miss Sweetness 2:55
22 Good Things 2:41
23 Catching Up On Time 2:30
24 Behind A Painted Smile 2:45
Bonus Rare Single Mixes
25 Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While) (Original 45 Mix) 2:43
26 All Because I Love You (Original 45 Mix) 2:36
27 My Love Is Your Love (Forever) - Previously Unreleased Single Mix 2:53
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Givin' It Back is as much a time capsule as an album. Not that it can't be enjoyed on its own absolute musical terms by someone just off a boat who wasn't even around in 1971, but to really appreciate how daring it was and how delightful it is, that side of its history should be known. Those who are old enough should recall the time whence it came, an era in which hatred and disunity over the Vietnam War, civil rights, school desegregation, the environment, and a multitude of other issues were threatening what seemed, potentially, like the beginning of a new civil war, this one not between states but between factions and ethnic and racial groups in 1,000 individual neighborhoods. The opening cut of Givin' It Back, "Ohio/Machine Gun," is a slap-in-your-face reminder of just how angry the times and the people were. The track evokes instant memories of the campus bloodshed of 1970, not just at Kent State but also the often-forgotten killings a few days later at Jackson State University in Mississippi, where the victims of a fusillade of sheriff's deputies' bullets were black students. More than that, the track itself is also a reminder of the divisions that existed on the left; to listen to pundits on the right, the anti-war and civil rights movements, along with the counterculture, were all part of one vast, organized, calculated left-wing conspiracy. The truth is that there was nearly as big a split, culturally and politically, between young blacks and young whites on the left and on college campuses as there was anywhere else in the population. Blacks reacting to years of oppression had little use for mostly middle-class white college students, however sympathetic many of them purported to be to their situation, while well-meaning white students and activists couldn't begin to know what privation of the kind experienced by blacks and Hispanics in most American towns and cities was. In music, too, there was a lot of division; blacks usually didn't resonate to the top artists in the white world and, in particular, were oblivious to (and even resentful of) the adoration accorded Jimi Hendrix by the white community. So, when the Isley Brothers -- whose appeal among black audiences was unimpeachable -- opened Givin' It Back with a conflation of Neil Young's "Ohio" and Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun," they were speaking to anger and bloodshed in the streets, but they were also performing an act of outreach that was about as radical as any they could have committed on record in 1971. That they incorporated a prayer into their reformulation of the two songs, amid Ernie Isley's and Chester Woodard's guitar pyrotechnics, turned it into one of the most powerful and personal musical statements of its era, and it's worth the price of the album just for the one cut. Givin' It Back is filled with virtues of that kind, however; it was the first Isley Brothers album to rely entirely on outside material, but the group's reworkings of songs by James Taylor ("Fire and Rain") and Stephen Stills ("Love the One You're With") show no lack of originality. They're unafraid to take the song apart and rebuild it from the ground up, smoothing Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" into a sensual soul ballad, turning the James Taylor number into a sweaty, earnest shouter, and transforming War's "Spill the Wine" into an extended workout for voices, electric guitars (several layers deep), flute, and percussion. The album was also an early showcase for Bill Withers, whose funky blues "Cold Bologna" is covered by the group with the composer -- who was about to emerge as a major star in his own right -- on guitar. And the closer, "Love the One You're With," is sent soaring to heights that the Stephen Stills original could only gaze up at. Givin' It Back is often held at arm's length by soul listeners, who don't regard it as central to what the Isley Brothers or their music are about; on the contrary, the group is so successful at remaking all of the songs here their own in style and approach and sending careful messages (alas, largely lost with the passage of time) in their selection as well as their content, that it really represents a lot of what the Isley Brothers and soul music were about in 1971, and it's still great listening. Reissued in 1997 by Sony with new notes, and worth every cent of its list price.
The Isley Brothers - Givin It Back (flac 278mb)
01 Ohio / Machine Gun 9:12
02 Fire And Rain 5:28
03 Lay Lady Lay 10:21
04 Spill The Wine 6:31
05 Nothing To Do But Today 3:38
06 Cold Bologna 2:58
07 Love The One You're With 3:39
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