By 1984, The Isley Brothers had enjoyed three decades of success. Starting back in the Fifties with songs like “Shout” and the original version of “Twist & Shout,” they’d gone from a doo-wop style rock trio to a smooth Motown act to one of the original funk-rock powerhouses. This last incarnation came after joining forces with younger Isleys Marvin and Ernie, as well as cousin Chris Jasper. This “3+3” formation of the group was the most recognizable, scoring hits through the Seventies and early Eighties with jams like “That Lady,” “Fight The Power,” “For The Love of You” and “Between The Sheets.”
After the release of the Between The Sheets album in 1983, the younger three Isleys decided to back out of the band. The divide between the more old-school soul older members and the more experimental younger members had become too much to bear. The three older brothers (Kelly, Ronnie and Rudolph) moved to Warner Brothers, while the three younger members renamed themselves Isley/Jasper/Isley and stayed at CBS Records. They quickly got to work on their debut album, Broadway’s Closer To Sunset Blvd., which was released in late 1984. The album had a distinct flavor that was way more pop/rock than the original Isleys. First single “Kiss & Tell” had a bit of a Michael McDonald vibe, and for the second single, “Look The Other Way,” they went with spare synth-rock.
The video is regrettable, but there’s no denying the chugging, midtempo grind (very reminiscent of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.”) Ernie’s talent as a guitar player (he was a student of Jimi Hendrix, and his axe work is incredibly underrated) also takes a front seat on this song.
Neither “Kiss” nor “Look” was a huge hit, and the trio had to be somewhat put out by their debut effort’s reception. They went back to the drawing board and returned a year later with “Caravan of Love,” a song that sounded a lot like an old Isley Brothers track (minus Ron’s distinctive voice, though.) The track shot to #1 on the Soul charts and earned the trio a Gold album. They couldn’t keep that up, though, and they split for good in the late Eighties. Chris Jasper recorded some solo work, Ernie also recorded a solo album, and both brother rejoined Ron in the Isley Brothers in the mid-Nineties. Health problems forced Marvin to retire (he eventually died from diabetes complications) and Ernie and Ron took the Isleys back to the top of the charts in the mid-’00s with albums like Eternal and Body Kiss, which was their first #1 pop album in three decades.
The Isleys story has more twists and turns than the average soap opera (seriously–someone should write a book,) but the I/J/I projects offer up the most tasty musical offerings of all the side excursions.
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