The Isley Brothers were best described by Rickey Vincent in his 1996 guidebook Funk: The Music,The People And The Rhythm Of The One as being the embodiment of funky manhood. Everything from their musical rodeo image to the intense power of their sound. Throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s,they were unique among funk bands as having come out of a R&B era vocal trio into the funk era. Their 3+3 era line up kept their hard driving,uptempo sound updated throughout their years together. And were capable of utilizing the new instrumental form to fashion sexy,thickly rhythmic ballads.
During the first year and a half of the 80’s,the Isley’s were actually very successful as album artists. The R&B community and record charts never stopped viewing them as straight up musical icons. In the pop world however even their hard rocking,often guitar shredding funk grooves were having trouble landing them any major singles. In 1981,this all changed because of an album that…I found a beat up$1.99 vinyl copy of in a record store about 20 years ago. It even got to be a Soul Train line dance song too. The name of this song and it’s accompanying album was “Inside You”.
The drums come at you with a pounding 4/4 beat from Everett Collins-surrounded by the percussion of the Isley’s , the conga drums of Kevin Jones and Marvin Isley’s thundering bass. All showcasing Ernie Isley strumming on liquid rhythm guitar. A string section dart into the mix with brittle precision similar to Chic. They sustain themselves behind Ron’s first and second vocal refrain-the latter of which takes the song into a melodic major chord. The bridge reduces the song to it’s string/ rhythm guitar/synth bass pulse before the Isley’s back up Ron’s leads with some powerful gospel harmonies to the fade out.
One of the understandings that came from this song for me is that it really added a new rhythmic element to the 3+3 Isley Brothers sound. During the late 70’s,the disco era found Afro-Latin percussion becoming more prominent in dance music such as that of Barry White and Michael Jackson songs such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. The Isley’s had primarily utilized basic rock and funk oriented back beats at that time. As the 80’s sound settled in,I find it interesting that the Isley Brothers began integrating that Afro-Latin rhythm so heavily into their steely funk/rock sound.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Everett Collins, Funk, Isley Brothers, Kevin Jones, Marvin Isley, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, strings, synth bass
The Isley Brothers embodied something that is generally more common among jazz artists. They’ve been around long enough and through so many changes in music that their sound has a number of distinct periods. In each of these,they’ve provided popular music that was also on the cutting edge instrumentally somehow. Of course my personal favorite of these periods is known as the 3+3 years,when the Isley’s had two generations of brothers performing and playing together as a monster funk ensemble. They remained massively popular throughout the 70’s in this configuration.
In 1980 this format of the band released their 18th studio album entitled Go All The Way. Generally speaking, most literary discourse on the Isley’s praise their 70’s work up until roughly 1978’s “Take Me To The Next Phase” and then pick up with 1983’s Between The Sheets song and album. Between that time however,their sound evolved towards their mid 80’s electro friendly sound even more than it had even with Chris Jasper’s synthesizer washes. One song from this 1980 album really pulled that together beautifully. And the name of it was “The Belly Dancer”.
Ron Isley begins panting song lyrics over a pumping drum line-within which Jasper begins playing two synth parts-one an ethereal string like part in the back round,plus a revving guitar like one on every other beat. He doubles up the synths as the song segues into the first chorus-finding Ernie Isley’s train-like guitar chug with Ron playing call and response to his backing vocal. It’s punctuated by Jasper’s popping synth bass. Most of the song is built around this chorus-with only a brief refrain featuring a melodic passage focusing on Ernie’s rhythm guitar. After a heavy percussion bridge,the song is all chorus to the fade.
In my own opinion,this is one of the thickest funk splatters that the Isley’s turned out within the first few years of the 80’s. It really does a lot to showcase how much their steely funk/rock hybrid of the mid/late 70’s was on the naked/electro funk to come in the 80’s. This song not only adds sleeker melodic elements. But it’s full of rhythm. Henrique and myself were discussing the ultra rhythmic piano of Duke Ellington tonight. And with Chris Jasper and Ernie Isley really pumping up the beat on this song,it’s solid proof of players in the Isley’s known for soloing could also rhythmically throw down the heavy funk.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, naked funk, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, synth bass, synthesizers
The Isley Brothers embody a very special quality for me. They have and continued to function positively as a bi-generational family soul/funk group. Due to changes in music from the 50’s to the 70’s,this quality didn’t always make for personal harmony between the elder and younger sets of Isley brothers. But it did make for some amazing hybrids of soulful harmonies,rocking solos and funky rhythms during their 70’s period. By the time of the bands 1977 release Go For Your Guns,Ron Isley’s focus was geared more towards singing the groups ballad material. As for younger members Ernie Isley and cousin Chris Jasper,they continued to innovate the bands funk/rock hybrid as time marched along.
The last two tracks on the Go For Your Guns album were somewhat companion pieces. The first was called “Livin’ In The Life”. It featured Ron Isley on lead vocals-singing in the lower end of his range. The last song on the album was the instrumental title track of the album. This featured the guitar solo of Ernie Isley. Ernie was the composer of both tracks and played drums on each of them as well. The song was actually a huge success for them as a top 10 R&B hit and landing directly into the pop Top 40. When I first heard this song during the frightening Maine ice storm of 1998,it made a huge impact on me across a number of levels. And it’s an Isley’s song I’ve always wanted to break down musically.
The groove gets going with Chris Jasper playing a brittle guitar like riff on his ARP synthesizer-multi tracking with himself on the first couple chords while Ernie’s drumming clips along at 125-130 BPM. After a brief three beat hi hat call off,the clapping snare drums kick into gear along with Ron Isley’s lead vocals and Marvin bass line,which functions in an equally brittle manner to the lead synthesizer riff. On the gospel powered melody of the chorus,Jasper’s synth solo becomes more solid and orchestral before going back to main them of the song. As the song fades out,Jasper adds deeply bassy bursts of synth along with Marvin’s line adding that abruptly closes out the song.
Even 18 years after first hearing it,there’s no denying the power of this song on this end. In terms of composition,it takes the bluesy refrains and testifying gospel soul choruses and amps it all up. The echo plex and heavy steeliness of the production gives this the 70’s arena rock equivalent to what Rick James would soon be doing with his “punk funk” sound. In a lot of ways,this finds the Isley Brothers pretty much perfecting their funk/rock hybrid. The reason for that is finding where the blues can intersect those two rhythmic ideas. And that makes Ron’s assertive,empowering lyrics all the more appropriate to Ernie’s hard driving instrumentation and production.
Sentimental as this may seem the recent passing (as of this review) of Marvin Isley set me to bring out this CD that I bought twelve years ago and have listened to maybe twice since that time. Having been used to the some of the Isley’s 70’s music and having not heard their transitional material up to this point,this albums sound was a little shocking at the time. And it was actually something of a new sound for them. Any of those familiar with their often forgotten previous album The Real Deal had actually dabbled in some new production elements while staying true to their 70’s 3+3 sound the same as their first few 80’s recordings had. Chris Jasper had a very strong play in this album in general and the result,being a keyboardist all too familiar with the world of electronics he basically just bumps that element in the music a great deal. In fact if it weren’t for the strong presence of Ernie Isley’s guitar solos this album would’ve actually sound mostly like the work of a multi-instrumentalist even though it wasn’t. Overall this album has a pretty contemporary flavor for it’s era but there are some elements and even distinct songs that still maintain their distinctive 3+3 sound.
Basically Chris Jasper and the two elder Isley’s Kelly and Rudy weren’t exactly getting along as it seemed their presence in the recording process was somewhat relegated to back round vocals as Ron took the main leads. Well this album didn’t change that but all the same the vocal back rounds are important to this album,as is the fact Chris Jasper and Ron share a good number of the leads as well. The album starts out with two ballads in “Choosy Lover” and “Touch Me”. Not bad slow jams but the REAL meat comes with the title track,”I Need Your Body” and “Let’s Make Love Tonight”,three seductive electronic soul/funk in the vein of Sexual Healing with the mild Calypso flavored rhythm of the song as well. Even still Jasper’s distinct touch on synthesizer on these tunes,which kind of flow together like a mini funk suite make them very distinctly Isley Brothers. After that the album,on what would’ve been Side B on the original vinyl or cassette tape really takes on a more diverse tone. “Ballad For The Fallen Solider” is one of the most powerful tunes on the album,a well produced rock n soul tune that tells the tale of a man recounting how his father went missing in action whilst fighting in Vietnam and even calling his congressman gets him nowhere.
“Slow Down Children” is the one tune on this album with a decidedly Isley 70’s flavor,with that big bubbly synthesizer of Jasper,the slow crawling funk rhythm and the Isley’s throaty harmonies dominating the production. The last three cuts in contrast are the most modern. “Way Out Love” and the near instrumental,Vocoder heavy “Rock You Good” both strongly showcase the early hip-hop/electro funk sound and although I am not sure I’d bet along with the title track these songs are probably very heavily sampled by hip-hop/scratch/electronic samplers. If they aren’t they probably should be because their sound was influential on much of that. “Gettin Over” is more of a new wave styled electro/dance tune which showcases the Isley’s moving forward into the 80’s with rock and not just R&B because,considering their place in the music’s history they just saw how rock,R&B,soul,blues,funk and hip-hop all kind of bled together after a point. Even if this album marked the end of the Isley’s acclaimed 3+3 lineup this found them on something of a commercial upswing. Not only that but they did so by continuing their long tradition of adapting their own sound to the new musical generation without losing their identity.
Originally posted on June 7th,2010
Link to original review here*