Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Black family group from Cincinnati, Ohio: they began in the late '50s in R&B, had crossover success in pop, went disco in late '70s: had 36 Hot 100 entries '59-81 and the second generation carried on. The Isleys covered white rock (Neil Young, Bob Dylan) for an important soul/rock synthesis, influencing Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson and others.

Brothers O'Kelly (b 25 December 1937; later dropped the 'O'; d 31 March 1986, Alpine NY), Rudolph (b 1 April 1939), Ronald (b 21 May 1941) with brother Vernon, killed in an accident in the 1950s, were encouraged by their father, a professional singer, and went to NYC as a vocal group, tenor Ronnie singing lead. They were unsuccessful '57-9 (album The Isley Brothers And Marvin And Johnny later issued on Crown); but then were signed by RCA and produced by Hugo and Luigi: 'Shout' in gospel call-and-response style made the top 50 and became an R&B classic, since covered many times (album Shout '59), re-entered the chart '62, same year as their next hit, 'Twist And Shout' on Wand (covered by the Beatles on their first album). Album Twist And Shout was on Wand '62; with the money from the hit they had moved the entire family to Teaneck NJ. They toured the R&B circuit with a band including young Jimi Hendrix '64; signed to Tamla/Motown and worked with Holland/Dozier/Holland, but only the first single 'This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)' made the top 40 (at no. 12 '66), and re-entered the UK chart at no. 3 '68: they continued popular in UK, with 15 chart entries there '63-83. Other albums included Take Some Time Out on Sceptor, Twisting And Shouting '64 on UA, This Old Heart Of Mine '66 and Soul On The Rocks '68 on Tamla.

Back in the USA '69 they revived their own T-Neck label, which they'd started earlier in the decade; their first release 'It's Your Thing' made no. 2 and won a Grammy. That year they added a new generation of young brothers Ernie and Marvin on various instruments, brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards, non-related Everett Collins on drums. (Bassist Marvin b 18 August 1953, Cincinnati; d 6 June 2010 of diabetes, having lost his legs in 1997.) Twenty T-Neck LPs charted '69-83 beginning with It's Our Thing '68, Brothers Isley '69. Two-disc Live At Yankee Stadium included one side each by the Isleys, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Brooklyn Bridge, various artists. Get Into Something, In The Beginning (reissues with Hendrix) and Givin' It Back were all issued '71; the first two are the only Isley/T-Neck LPs not to chart. Other hit albums included Brother, Brother, Brother '72; two-disc The Isleys Live, Greatest Hits, 3 + 3 (helped to no. 8 by no. 6 hit single 'That Lady'), all '73; Live It Up '74, The Heat Is On '75 (no. 1 LP with no. 4 single 'Fight The Power'), Harvest For The World '76, Go For Your Guns '77, compilation Forever Gold '77, Showdown '78, two-disc Winner Takes All '79, Go All The Way '80, Grand Slam and Inside You '81, The Real Deal '82, Between The Sheets '83.

Their phenomenal list of hits included 45 top 40s in the soul chart '62-87 and six top ten LPs in the white album chart, and wasn't over yet: switching to WB Masterpiece '85, Smooth Sailin' '87, Spend The Night '89, Tracks Of Life '92 all charted, and they came back to the top 40 on Island with Mission To Please '96, making nearly 35 years of hits in the pop album chart. Meanwhile the younger generation as Isley, Jasper, Isley (Marvin, Chris and Ernie) hit with Broadway's Closer To Sunset Blvd and Caravan Of Love, both '85 on CBS.