Marvin Isley, the youngest of the Isley Brothers and one of the great, underrated R&B bass players of all time, died Sunday morning in a hospital in Chicago after long suffering major complications from his diabetes. He was 56 years old. In memory of his passing, we re-post an article about a song he and his brothers masterfully covered during their peak years in the 70s:
With summer now in full swing, it's time for summer tunes.
I guess everyone has a different interpretation on what constitutes summer music" but for me, it's got to be laid back and upbeat. Having some summer" reference in the lyrics doesn't hurt, either. So, in coming up with a summer-themed song for One Track Mind, it didn't take long to draw a bead on Seals & Crofts' 1972 megahit Summer Breeze."
Culled from the album of the same name, Summer Breeze" was a perfect blend of pop craftsmanship, jazzy arrangements and seamlessly blended harmonies. But anyone who was around during that time or listens to classic soft-rock even casually today knows all that; no need to be redundant, here.
Instead, I'm thinking more about another version of this song. True, it's been covered so thoroughly throughout the years from Aladdin 5 to Percy Faith to Ramsey Lewis to Type O Negative...and by who knows how many hotel lobby bars. But one of the first covers, and perhaps the best, came barely after Seals & Crofts' hit single started sliding back down the charts.
And by no less an act than the Isley Brothers.
During their early seventies era, the Isley Brothers covered a lot of popular songs of the day from a variety of artists from rock, folk and r&b; even their blockbuster That Lady" is a remake of their own original from 1965. A bit of irony coming from the same musical act who originally made Twist And Shout" a hit back in 1962 and then watched it become a staple among the Beatles'
early hits and live setlist.
So true to their form of that time, the Brothers' landmark 3 + 3
from 1973 contains many contemporary covers like the Doobie Brothers'
Listen To The Music" or Jonathan Edwards' Sunshine (Go Away Today)," but it's also the album where the younger brothers Ernie (guitar, drums), Marvin (bass) and brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards joined with vocalists Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly full-time, making the Isleys a complete band for the first time.
The result was a album that was as consistently well played as it was well sung. It was also a sort of coming-out party for the twenty-one year old Ernie, whose fretted flights of fancy helped to make That Lady" such a huge hit in 1973 (#6 Pop, #2 R&B), and 3 + 3
their first platinum seller.
Summer Breeze" also charted (top ten, R&B) and it's not hard to imagine why. The Isleys satrted with a great tune that was still fresh in people's minds and put their own unique stamp on it. The harmonies by the Isleys don't quite come up to the level of Seals and Crofts', but who needs stinkin' harmony when Ronald Isley's lead croon is as smooth as a freshly-zambonied ice rink?
And then there's lil' bro Ernie and his Strat. Indeed, we've had a kind word or two
to say about this guy before. As a colleague once put it, just as he can display the Hendrix-style pyrotechnics, he's just as capable of letting it simmer with a great deal of control.
After the last chorus, though, Ernie opens it up with some Carlos Santana-ish sweet blues lines as he did for That Lady," but appropriately keeping the tempo a tad restrained. Meanwhile, Jasper sticks with the piano and Ernie adds an acoustic rhythm guitar to retain a folk element, while Marvin's bass and Ernie's drums speak in a funkier language.
This demonstrates well why the Isleys were so good at reaching across color barriers in music.
Even today, 3 + 3
makes for great listening no matter the season. But for on any summer mix collection, Summer Breeze" belongs on it. Even better, make it the Isley Brothers' version.
Listen: The Isley Brothers Summer Breeze"
Purchase: The Isley Brothers - 3 + 3One Track Mind" is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.