The Isley Brothers : Essential Collection

Rare and unreleased tracks from The Isley Brothers' Motown years...

It’s no secret that The Isley Brothers, long associated with Berry Gordy’s Motown stable, actually recorded the bulk of their finest work after leaving the imprint at the start of the ’70s. While many of their early hits, like ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ and ‘Behind A Painted Smile’, were brilliant, raucous pop-soul stompers, stripping the Motown sound down to the basics of crashing drums and dirty guitar lines, they were too often given Holland-Dozier-Holland cast-offs (like ‘Put Yourself In My Place’, included here), never nurtured in the way that poster-boys The Four Tops were.

Inevitably then, the title of this compilation – collecting rare and unreleased tracks from their Motown years – is misleading. These songs are essential only if you’re a completist.

You can see why Rudolph, O’Kelly and Ronald became disillusioned with the label. They were accomplished song-writers in their own right, but during their Motown residency they were guided towards lightweight pap like ‘Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam)’ (imagine Status Quo’s ‘In The Army Now’ rendered as a breezy, finger-snapping soul nugget), or else made to cover HDH tunes already given definitive readings by the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

Obviously, some of the music here is fantastic – the Isleys, after all, were among the greatest vocalists in soul. ‘Got To Have You Back’ is a baroque pop rush, the clattering Spector-esque drums augmented by psychedelic harpsichord; ‘Trouble’, meanwhile, is just pure, driving Northern Soul.

But as the sleevenotes tantalisingly prove, there’s another essential collection to be compiled from the Isley’s early years, tracks like ‘Shout’, and their first ever version of ‘Who’s That Lady?’, and their first release on their own T-Neck records, ‘Testify’, which featured a certain Jimi Hendrix on guitar… Now that would make for a compelling anthology.

Christian Ward