The brothers' first case for certification is 'Shout,' cut in New York City when lead tenor Ronald Isley was merely 18. He sounds like a man twice his age, going over the edge and taking everyone else with him. The sensation is the same three years later when the Isleys deliver another message from hell 'Twist And Shout' and a further five years on, when they record 'Got To Have You Back' in Motown's Studio A in Detroit.
And in the late 1960s, when the Isleys finally became self-sufficient with their own successful record label, T-Neck, they continued to spread their deranged gospel with the likes of 'It's Your Thing.' Of course, where there's a hit, there's also a writ, but more of that later.
The Isleys' story began innocently enough. On April 17, 1956, Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley made a career move. Aged 15, 17 and 18, respectively, they left their hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, aboard a Greyhound bus, bound for New York. As youngsters, the Isleys had grown up with gospel music, performing as a quartet in churches in Ohio and Kentucky. In 1954, the fourth brother, Vernon, was killed in a car accident.
In New York, the brothers hustled for the big time, recording for such independent companies as Teenage, Cindy and George Goldner's Gone and Mark-X imprints. Coincidentally, the last of these was where a young Detroit songwriter, Berry Gordy Jr., also placed his early work: 'Ooh Shucks' by the Five Stars. Gordy composed that tune with Tyran Carlo; this was the partnership behind several of Jackie Wilson's biggest hits, including 'Lonely Teardrops.'
And it was an improvisation from 'Lonely Teardrops' which gave the Isleys their breakthrough. By 1959, the trio had developed a reputation for powerful live performances, and signed for booking with General Artists Corporation. In concert that summer at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, the brothers sang 'Lonely Teardrops' and extemporised a line ("You know you make me want to shout") for a gospel-charged climax that drove the audience wild. RCA Records' A&R man Howard Bloom suggested they put it on disc, and when released as a single that August, 'Shout' became their first hit.
"Our parents created the climate for us to learn about music when we were all very young. They wanted us to have a complete musical education and they exposed us to everything, classical to country, standards to show tunes." Ronald Isley
The Isleys continued to build on that success, cutting further material for RCA, then for Wand, United Artists and Atlantic Records. Only the uninhibited 'Twist And Shout' really connected with music fans, including four young British musicians busy shaping their first LP at London's Abbey Road studios. For that, the Beatles recorded 'Twist And Shout.'
By the summer of '65, after waxing their last sides for Atlantic, the Isley Brothers needed some new investment in their future and signed to Motown Records. "I was always impressed with Ronnie Isley," Eddie Holland told Mix magazine years later. "When he came to Motown, just to work with him was very exciting. He was always such a phenomenal singer, and to listen to his voice with our songs was probably even more of a pleasure for me than it was for him."
In track-by-track annotations for The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 6, Bill Dahl and Keith Hughes reveal that 'This Old Heart Of Mine' was earmarked in the studio log for Kim Weston, but intended by the song's creators Eddie and Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Sylvia Moy for the Four Tops. "Ronnie and them had practically been begging for songs," said Lamont. "It was an exercise song that I used to play on the piano all the time. Eddie finished it, and then we took it to [the Isleys] to stop them from bugging us without knowing whether the key was right. But Ronnie could adapt for keys, and that's how it happened."
With the track cut in September '65, the Isleys recorded their vocals on December 1. When issued on Tamla Records the following month, the result was tagged by Billboard as the "powerhouse comeback of the wailing, rocking trio, who should fast find their way up the R&B and pop charts."
'This Old Heart Of Mine' enjoyed spring in the Top 20 of the trade magazine's Hot 100, and the Top 10 of the R&B best-sellers. What's more, it became one of the milestones of the Motown sound, as timeless as any contemporaneous track by the Four Tops, the Supremes or the Temptations. "The songs were about love, despair and heartbreak, and we always took the girls' point of view," explained Dozier, "because they were the ones buying the records. We had the male groups accent their female side, their vulnerable side, begging for a response from the girl. Or forgiveness - take me back."
That's a masterclass in popular music, absorbed by many others in the years since. Rod Stewart adored the Isleys' 'Heart' so much that he recorded it twice: for his 1975 Top 10 album, Atlantic Crossing (the track also charted as a Top 5 single in the UK,) and again for 1989's Storyteller with Ronald Isley himself. That time, the duet even peaked higher than the original, reaching the US Top 10 and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts.
Ron, Rudy and O'Kelly Isley were busy in the studio during their first few months at Motown, which judiciously assembled and sold an album, entitled after the hit, with high-gloss versions of 'Nowhere To Run,' 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' and 'I Hear A Symphony,' among others. Equally intriguing from that period: an early version of an anthem forever associated with Jimmy Ruffin: 'What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.'
Motown A&R supremo Mickey Stevenson produced Ruffin's 'Brokenhearted' in late 1965, but it appears to have been conceived (or did it co-exist?) as another song, 'Smile,' performed by the Isleys. The instrumental track is the self-same as on Ruffin's masterpiece, but the lyrics are entirely different, and 'Smile' remained unissued for almost 40 years.
In the UK, Tamla-Motown marketing executives at EMI struggled to get traction. 'This Old Heart Of Mine' was simply not a hit until re-released and re-promoted in late '68, when British music buyers opened their ears to Motown artists beyond the Supremes and the Four Tops. 'Heart' became a Top 3 barnstormer, followed by a successful reissue of 'I Guess I'll Always Love You,' which was an earlier American 45 also contained in the Isleys' sophomore Tamla LP, Soul On The Rocks. EMI completed the hat trick by extracting the demonic 'Behind A Painted Smile' (Satan on drums!) from the album. It raced into the Top 5.
Disappointed by sales at home, the trio sought and obtained a contract release from Motown in December 1968, when they also blueprinted the first release, 'It's Your Thing,' for the next stop: their own, T-Neck Records. Partnered first with Buddah Records, then the mighty CBS machine, the Isleys went on to triumph with a string of huge crossover albums: 3+3, The Heat Is On, Go For Your Guns, Showdown. They shared the limelight with the next generation (younger brothers Ernie and Marvin Isley joined the band) and created a dynamic meld of rock and rhythm, sanctified by Ron's extraordinary, fluid tenor.
In retrospect, though, the Isley Brothers can be proud of their work in Detroit, compiled into Doin' Their Thing (1969) and more comprehensively in 2009's The Motown Anthology. Even when aligned with the company's production line, the trio was unafraid of tough, uncompromising vocals, schooled by years of ups and downs on the charts, and with a subversive slant to material. From Soul On The Rocks, for instance, tracks like 'Why When Love Is Gone,' 'Save Me From This Misery' and 'Good Things' were quasi-deranged. Hooray.
There is a post-script After 'It's Your Thing' soared, Motown sued, claiming the song was recorded before the group left. Later, an American judge concluded that the Isleys made a second version and failed to submit the first to Motown as agreed in the contract. Verdicts went back and forth, and there was another trial, at which the brothers prevailed.
Ernie Isley recalled asking Ronald why they didn't make the record at Motown. "Ronald said, 'Because it would have been done differently, with a different arrangement.' And he said that there was a certain way they wanted the song to go, and a certain direction they wanted their career to go in."
It's their thing.
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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.
Words - Andrew Hamilton
Within seconds of listening to "Move Your Body," the opener to Eternal, the latest by the Isley Brothers, audiences will easily agree -- the forefathers of boudoir faire still have it. Forty years in the business have not chiseled away at the talented brothers: Ronald Isley's falsetto is unwavering and remains inimitable in 2001, when the R&B market is saturated. Ernie Isley soars on guitar -- "Ernie's Jam" showcases the brother playing soulful and tasty solos, a la Jimi Hendrix -- adding further sexiness to this already sensual disc. Cheaters are blatantly busted on the slithering "Contagious," where the rogue-lover is caught in the act. The words coming from the jilted are so vivid and painful. Ronald specifically describes walking toward the bedroom, hearing his lover crying out someone else's name. Ouch.
While it's all about sex and pleasing a lover on the arousing "Just Like This," the disc is not just skin on skin. The album poignantly explores commitment on such romantic slow jams as "You're All I Need," "Settle Down," and the title track. An impressive roster of collaborators -- writers, performers, and producers -- grace Eternal and they span old-school and modern R&B players such as R. Kelly, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jill Scott. There is nothing groundbreaking on this recording, however, the longtime R&B legends prove they're still very much worth their salt and can keep up very well with the Joneses. Indeed, the Isley Brothers are eternal.
Words - Liana Jonas
Ron and Ernie Isley taking the soft soul approach to decidedly urban love songs. Kelly understands the dynamics inherent in the Brothers' approach and has constructed a set of songs that plays to those strengths. While Ron's voice has lost none of its deep emotional expressionism, Ernie's guitar playing is more restrained here, though no less imaginative. There's less Hendrix and more Isley. On the title track, his dovetailing lead lines tie off the ends of Ron's sung lines and open up on to the next one. On "Superstar," his lilting tone is affected just enough to add to the rich textural palette of the vocal and basslines. "What Would You Do?" features his Stratocaster painting the vocal just enough.
If seduction is the M.O. for these tunes, they flower not only in steamy eroticism, but also in honest and deeply moving romanticism. Isley makes even the most suggestive love song seem like a paean to commitment and endurance. Kelly's particular ability to write for the strength of conviction in the grain of his voice also turns back the clock on urban soul tropes but simultaneously brings the Isleys' signature sound into the 21st century. The shimmering, laid-back funk in "Prize Possession," with its tapered flute fills, is the kind of song Aaron Hall would have given his right arm to record. And in Ron Isley's silky tenor, every word is believable, no matter how macho. Body Kiss is a better Isleys record than listeners had any right to expect and it is a signature collaboration between the band and Kelly; given that this is a first outing for the team, one hopes that the creative field that exists between will be further explored.
Words - Thom Jurek
The Motown Anthology is the most definitive collection of The Isley Brothers work during the sixties. A double CD of 52 tracks spans their career with Tamla Motown from 1965 to 1969. Ronald Isley's vocals are superb throughout on this well presented and thorough collection. Their interpretation of Ivy Jo Hunter and Beatrice Verdi's and of course Holland Dozier and Holland's songs are always sublime demonstrating the brothers outstanding versatility.
This 18 track album released in Europe featuring the cream of their Motown repertoire including 'Catching Up On Time' a song co - written by a young Leon Ware. All their Motown hits are here along with 'Leaving Here' and 'One Too Many Heartaches'.
The most recent Isley Brothers compilation which includes several rare and previously unreleased tracks from their Tamla Motown period. These plus all the original classic hits and best of the original selections from The Motown Anthology make it a completist compilation for fans of this remarkable family vocal partnership.