The Isley Brothers started out in the 1950s as a vocal trio of brothers consisting of O’Kelly Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley, and Ronald Isley. In 1973, younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joined, as did Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The new additions marked the start of a new period of success. Over the next decade, they ruled the charts. Departures, deaths, and lineup changes came to test the group in the years that followed, but Ronald and Ernie are still keeping the flame burning to this day. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Isley Brothers songs of all time.
10. Between the Sheets
Described by Return of Rock as “83 shade of excellent,” Between the Sheets is a languid piece of sultry funk soul. It’s impossible not to chuckle behind your hand at the lyrics, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. Just be warned – the song was made in 1983 and sounds like it.
9. Get Into Something
After leaving Motown in 1968, the brothers signed a distribution deal with Buddah Records and promptly released It’s Our Things, a Grammy award-winning, multi-million selling album that produced some of their most enduringly popular hits. They followed it up with the equally praise-worthy Get Into Something, a punchy piece of soulful funk with a titular track that’s blessed with one of the most famous drum breaks on record. Described by societyofrock.com as ‘over 7 minutes of funky music goodness,’ Get Into Something is the kind of song that’s impossible not to shake a leg too.
8. That Lady (Parts 1 & 2)
Who can resist a song with a cowbell? Not many, especially if that cowbell happens to be accompanied with Ron’s creamy vocals and a jaw-dropping solo from Ernie that even Jimi Hendrix would have been proud of. Sultry, smooth, and infused with enough edge from the organ and congas to keep things rocking, it was a huge hit, becoming the group’s first top 10 single since 1969’s It’s Your Thing.
7. Love the One You’re With
Stephen Stills’ paean to free love got a facelift in 1973 when the Isley Brothers toned down the rock and turned up the soul. Their gospel-inflected cover almost beat the original in the charts, climbing to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B chart. For the definitive version, check out the wonderful rendition on 1973’s The Isleys Live, which finds Ron undoing everything he’s about to sing with the introduction “Look girls, when you can’t be with the one you love … just wait?”
6. Ohio/Machine Gun
The Isley Brothers were never ones to sit still for long. Having already mastered gospel, doo-wop, and funk, 1971 was the year they decided to give rock a try. After spending years listening to white dudes with guitars covering their own material, they reversed the tables with Givin’ It Back, an album that, true to its name, sees them playing it back to the like of Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, and Eric Burdon with an exquisite collection of covers. One of the finest is Ohio/Machine Gun, a gospel-tinged slice of social commentary that blends Neil Young with Jimi Hendrix to stunning effect.
5. Harvest for the World
The Isley Brothers never stuck with one genre for long. By 1976, they’d done funk, soul, and R&B, and were now deep into their pop phase. Harvest for the World is an understated piece of pop gold, featuring one of Ron’s very finest vocal performances. Lyrically, it’s masterful, lamenting the loss of the hippie ideals of love and peace while still managing to find enough hope to keep things uplifting. It was a major hit in the UK, peaking at No. 10 on the UK Single Chart. It didn’t fare quite so well in the US, but still managed to reach a respectable No. 9 on the R&B charts and No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4. Testify (Parts 1 & 2)
After Shout sold a million copies in 1959, the band struggled to come up with anything as commercially successful. But even if they weren’t succeeding in the charts, they were still a huge hit at clubs, thanks in no small part to their new guitarist, a certain Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix didn’t stick around for long, but he stayed just long enough to cut a few tracks. One of the most entertaining is Testify, a high energy romp that pitches Hendrix’s churning guitar against the brothers’ best imitations of Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, and the Beatles
3. Twist and Shout
After their fourth single Shout went gold, the brothers tried and failed to come up with something similar. The failure of their follow-ups to chart eventually led to a parting of the ways with RCA in 1961. Down but not out, they signed up with Scepter Records and a year later, released a gospel-fired cover of Bert Bern’s Twist and Shout. Whatever their previous songs had been lacking, this had it in spades, taking them to No. 17 on the Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart,
In 1959, the Isley Brothers scored their biggest hit to date with Shout. It began life as an improvised onstage call and response extension to their cover of Jackie Wilson’s Lonely Teardrops. When they took it to the studio, it morphed into an all-out party anthem that’s still as vibrantly alive today as it ever was. A few years later, it gave Lulu her signature hit, but the original still has the edge.
1. This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)
As The Guardian notes, when the Isleys signed to Motown in 1965, the pop factory was churning out new soul superstars every other week. But for whatever reason, it didn’t click with the brothers. Even with the best of Motown behind them, they struggled to make an impression on the charts. The one time they did, it was with This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You), a stunning composition by hitmakers Holland–Dozier–Holland that blends Ron’s warm vocals with Motown’s elegant pop arrangements. It reached No. 12 on the Billboard 100 and eventually went on to sell over a million copies.