LegenDARy Artists: The Isley Brothers

By @SpeedontheBeat

Quick, name me one of your favorite songs. Is it "Ignorant Shit" by Jay Z and Beanie Sigel? Is it "Today Was a Good Day" by Ice Cube? Maybe it's "Hip Hop Hooray" from Naughty by Nature. Do you love yourself like Kendrick Lamar? Or maybe you're holding on to your "Receipt" like Wayne did in 2005 just to redeem a woman's love, since that's exactly what you need. But, whatever the case may be, all these songs have one thing in common: they're flipped from classics from today's LegenDARy artists, The Isley Brothers.

Founded in 1954 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the group had, as many supergroups of the past did, humble beginnings. After a few performances in the area and an Amateur Hour performance on The Original Amateur Hour, the group was on their way to stardom. They traveled throughout the East Coast, performing at churches and similar venues. However, a year into their plight, blight struck the group, as brother and lead singer Vernon was killed when he was struck by a driver while riding his bike.

In 1957, the group, after disbanding because of Vernon's death, reformed, with Ronald Isley on lead vocals. Their sound was a mix of doo-wop and gospel, as seem in one of their first releases, "The Cow Jumped Over the Moon."

In 1959, the group released one of its standards, "Shout!," a track initially devised as a response to Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops." Between 1959 and 1961, the group achieved modest success, eventually leaving RCA for Scepter Records. Their Scepter era included the song "Twist and Shout," but not that much more. So, in 1964, they founded their own label, T-Neck Records. In the mid-1960s, Jimi Hendrix played guitar for the group, resulting in one of my favorite Isley songs, "Move Over and Let Me Dance."

It's one of my personal favorites because it shows the Isleys' versatility. Ronald Isley channeled Jimi before Jimi got the chance to channel Jimi. It's funky and pretty before its time. Plus, Ronald Isley and Jimi Hendrix on the same song? It's a bonafide classic...even if, upon its release, it didn't do so well. 

After Jimi Hendrix left the group, The Isleys signed with Motown. They, once again, struggled. They were a group that weren't as polished as the Temptations. They had a bit more of that rebellious spirit and rawness than Otis's boys did--at least at that time. So, after a few DITC gems, such as "Behind a Painted Smile," the Isley Brothers found themselves re-evaluating their approach. The group toured for a bit in Europe, before finally finding long-term footing in the States with their 1969 release It's Our Thing.

Things were going well for the group. They found success and were, once again, ahead of the curve with the sexually-charged "Pop that Thang," from their 1972 album Brother, Brother, Brother. In 1973, Epic Records stepped up to be the next label to sign the group and their T-Neck imprint. The rest is pretty much history from there on out. The group stepped up to the plate and delivered an incredible run of albums from 1973's 3+3 to 1983's Between the Sheets.

1983 also saw the rise of the Isleys splinter group Isley-Jasper-Isley, made up of Chris Jasper, Ernie Isley and Marvin Isley (the three members of the group who were brought on officially through the Epic deal). Isley-Jasper-Isley released three albums before disbanding in 1988. However, they managed to release the now-classic "Caravan of Love" from the album of the same name. 

Meanwhile, the main group was dealt another major blow with the death of O'Kelly Isley in 1986. However, 1987's Smooth Sailing sent Ronald and Rudolph Isley back into the foreground of music, eventually leading to the solo career of Ronald Isley (yes, let's go ahead and get our laughs out over his Mister Biggs character in the R. Kelly songs), who still performed under the Isley Brothers banner. And even through the Isleys' troubles, tragedies, and rejections, the group has stood tall against the test of time. They are, indeed, legenDARy.



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