The Heat Is On

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Listening to the reissued editions of the Isley Brothers classics The Heat Is On and Harvest for the World, brings to mind a comment made by Professor Griff of Public Enemy during a recent African World Festival panel discussion.

According to Griff, contemporary music has grown dull because of two issues. The first is sampling, which carries fees so high that artists have reverted to creating their own music. However, an entire generation of music makers has relied so much on drum machines and simulated keyboard sounds that most artists can only play basic melodies on real instruments. As a result, the complexity of the musical scores on Heat and Harvest are nonexistent in most music today. By comparison, Griff says, the quality of music is weaker.

You may agree or disagree. But one thing’s clear: Rarely in this day and age does one group pack the vocal dexterity of Ronald Isley, the electric fervor of Ernie Isley or the steel presence of Chris Jasper. Along with brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph and Marvin, the Isleys gave the world a sound that remains timeless.

No wonder I recently saw two teenaged girls singing “Summer Breeze” — a live version is recorded on the reissued Harvest — word for word in a fast-food restaurant. Though classics such as “Harvest for the World” and “Fight the Power” deal with social issues, the Isley Brothers have always been known for their impact on lovers, more so than for their comments on race and politics. And these two releases gather a few of their best in quintessential ballads — e.g. “For the Love of You.”

The Isleys have been fortunate enough to remain current for more than 40 years. And pulling off the unthinkable by appealing to a younger audience under the guise of the R. Kelly-created Mr. Biggs can’t hurt. But before there were the images of jewels, furs and henchmen, there were sequined outfits, solid arrangements and Ron’s first tenor. Never forget: These were the songs that serenaded you under blue lights and helped you make those pretty babies.

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