Formed in the 1950s by brothers O’Kelly Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley, the Isley Brothers have enjoyed a remarkable career with a length, breadth, and success that few, if any, bands can compete with. Over a recording history that spans seven decades, they’re weathered lineup changes, deaths, and cultural shifts to emerge as one of the most influential groups in pop history. Here, we take a look back at their finest moments as we rank the 10 best Isley Brothers albums of all time.
10. Live it Up!
The Isley Brothers have released several classic live albums over the years, with Live it Up! ranking among the most essential. Released in September 1974, it’s an electrifying set, with the soulful funk of the titular track standing out as a particular highlight. Other tracks worth taking for a spin include the beautifully romantic ballad Hello It’s Me and the equally edifying dance number, Midnight Sky.
9. Harvest For The World
Harvest For The World has all the funk and love you’d expect from the Isley Brothers, along with a generous dollop of social consciousness you might not. Regardless of whether they’re regaling the listener with the disco twang of Who Love You Better or pleading for world peace on the earnest title track, the performances are dazzling, with Ernie Isley’s hugely underrated guitar playing deserving a round of applause in its own right.
Sixteen albums into their career, and the Isley Brother had lost none of their freshness. On 1978’s Showdown, the group sound as passionate and energized as ever. While it might not be in quite the same league as its direct predecessor, Go For Your Guns, it’s still a fabulous effort, brimming with funky goodness like Rockin’ With Fire and the number one hit, Take Me to the Next Phase. Even the slower numbers like Groove With You and Ain’t Givin’ Up No Love burn with a passionate intensity.
7. Go For Your Guns
In 1977, the Isley Brothers scored one of their biggest commercial successes with their sixteenth studio album, Go For Your Guns. The album spent a massive 40 weeks on the charts, peaking at number one and certifying platinum within just a few months of its release. It’s since gone double platinum after selling over 2 million records. It spawned several hit singles, along with the hugely popular Footsteps in the Dark, which, despite never being released as a single, remains of the group’s most enduringly popular songs.
6. The Brothers: Isley
Leaving Motown and setting up their own label clearly left the Isley Brothers feeling a little giddy. To celebrate their independence, they released two albums almost back to back. Their second release of 1969, The Brothers: Isley, is a deliciously funky affair crammed with catchy tunes, rich vocals, and pulsating rhythms. Key tracks to revisit include Was It Good to You and The Blacker the Berry the Sweeter Juice.
5. This Old Heart of Mine
The Isley Brothers’ relationship with Motown would eventually sour, but there’s no hint of the future tensions on their 1966 debut with the label. The irresistible titular track became the album’s breakout success, but the deep cuts are equally excellent. Take Some Time Out For Love and the dazzling cover of the Supremes’ Stop in the Name of Love are particularly sensational, with the latter coming within a whisker of bettering the original.
4. It’s Our Thing
Released from the confines of Motown, the Isley Brothers went wild on their sixth album. The James Brown/ Sly and the Family Stone influences are obvious, but It’s Our Thing is no copycat album, with a flair and a style unique to the brothers. Standout tracks include the smash hit, It’s Your Thing (which Return of Rock calls “a defining moment for early funk”), I Know Who You Been Socking It To, and Give the Women What They Want. Released in April 1969, it became the group’s first top 40 LP, peaking at number 22 on the Billboard pop albums chart.
3. The Heat is On
The Heat is On was a massive commercial success. Released in June 1974, it became the band’s first number one in the US after shifting half a million copies its first month alone. It’s since been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, while its singles all hit the top ten. Not every album deserves its success: this deserves every ounce of it. Described by All Music as “superb from start to finish,” it’s a must-listen.
2. The Isleys Live
If you want to hear one of the finest, funkiest live soul albums ever made, take the Isleys Live for a spin. Comprising of a mixture of tracks recorded from clubs gigs in 1971 and 1972 along with three songs recorded at a 1969 show at Yankee Stadium, it showcases the band at the very top of their game. There’s not a bad apple to be found, but the covers (which include Carol King’s It’s Too Late, Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay, and Neil Young’s Ohio) are particularly inspired. Special mention has to go to guitarist Ernie Isley, whose standout performance on Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun would give even Hendrix a run for his money.
1. 3 + 3
Described by BBC Music as “the gateway to the Isley Brothers’ golden, shimmering 70s period,” 3 + 3 represented a major turning point for the band. Not only did they move their T-Neck label from Buddah to Epic/CBS, but they also expanded from a trio to a sextet with the addition of younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, along with Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper. The changes revitalized their output, pushing them to a more overtly rock-influenced sound while still retaining enough elements of their signature soul to please their R&B fanbase. The result was pure gold: released in August 7, 1973, the album soared to number 8 on the US Billboard Pop Albums chart and number 2 on the Billboard Black Albums chart. Almost half a century later, it still ranks as the band’s very finest moment.