The Isley Brothers – Go For Your Guns
(T-Neck /CBS – 1977)
by A. Scott Galloway (Special to RFFocus )
When The Isley Brothers began working on the 5th album of their 3+3 incarnation, they knew they had to come with something next level. This album would be given the growling, stance-taking title Go For Your Guns – an epic set of six songs (plus one “slight return,” as their kindred soul brother Jimi Hendrix would have dubbed the title track) conceived in a boiling cauldron of creativity – molten lava bass and keys under midnight sky crying guitars meeting haunting, elliptical lyrics and the ever-yearning ache of Ronald Isley’s soul-searing voice.
Ronald had been the focus of The Isley Brothers since the group first started as a trio with his older brothers O’Kelly and Rudolph. From Gospel in church and Doo Wop on Cincinnati street corners, the brothers’ destiny for Rhythm & Blues domination was cast when – after a move to New Jersey and chitlin circuit training that led them to the Apollo in Harlem – the threesome set souls on fire in`59 with an unbridled cry called “Shout!” Through the `60s, they sang string-laden ballads, fiery Soul, Rock `N Roll, raw Funk, straight-up Blues and even spent a few years at Motown where they leapt over many homegrown Detroit acts to score a hit in their first month there via the Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” in 1966. Taking all they learned and funneling it into their own T-Neck Records label, they left almighty Motown and scored a #1-charting Grammy-winning smash with the sexy stomp-down “It’s Your Thing.”
As the `60s turned into the `70s, the older brothers ushered younger siblings Ernie (guitar) and Marvin (bass) as well as brother-in-law Chris Jasper (keyboards) into the group – first as instrumentalists then songwriters. Their contributions became so identifiable with the Isley’s sound that they were brought in as full-fledged members before they’d even graduated from Long Island University. This shifted the dynamic from a singing group into a band prepared to throw down with that decade’s mighty warriors, which included the Commodores, Average White Band, Earth Wind & Fire, Ohio Players, Rufus and Parliament-Funkadelic. This incarnation of The Isley Brothers was affectionately referred to as 3+3, the title of the first album to depict the full sextet on its cover. That 1973 LP (featuring the electrifying “That Lady” and a cover of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze”) followed by Live It Up in 1974 (highlighted by a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me”) re-introduced the music world to a group that would uncannily continue to reinvent itself into the second decade of the next millennium! Their first hallmark album of the `70s, however, arrived in `75: The Heat Is On.
The Heat Is On is an exquisitely balanced Soul album, Side 1 comprised of three funk-rock message missives of life and love (set off by the anthem “Fight the Power”) while Side 2 swirls in a slipstream of sensuous romance for a mellower ménage a trois (illuminated by the Quiet Storm classic “For the Love of You”). It was the first album for which all material was composed solely by the group and the first album on which they were completely self-contained thanks to Ernie doubling on guitars and drums, and Chris playing all keyboards and synthesizers. The Heat Is On became The Isley Brothers’ first double-platinum seller (over two million copies), peaking at #1 R&B / #6 Pop.
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