First and foremost, Ron Isley is a genius. Whether serving as the soundtrack for the obligatory “generic party scene” in popular film (”Shout“) or as the theme to your post-Valentines Day dinner events (”Between The Sheets“), the Isley Brothers’ music has stood the test of time. While the aforementioned tunes are probably two of the most popular picks from the Isley Brothers’ discography, let’s speak on one of their most criminally under appreciated outings: Givin’ It Back.
Before diving right into the excellence that is 1971’s Givin’ It Back, let’s take it back to September 21, 1959… the week that “Shout“ debuted on the Billboard charts. This is a period in time where all of those crappy dollar bin LPs you see at the thrift spot are vying for the number one position on the charts (think the soundtrack to South Pacific vs. The Kingston Trio vs. Johnny Mathis). BUT, the singles are where it’s at, and the Isley’s have an absolute hit. Week 1, “Shout“ reaches #82. Week 2, it reaches #72. Ultimately, the tune wouldn’t reach higher than #47 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it puts the brothers Isley on the map.
One month later, Johnny O’Keefe, an Aussie TV show host, recorded a version of the song that would reach #3 on the Austrailian charts. No big deal, right? The Aussies aren’t exactly pumping out pop gems in the late 50’s, so it would only make sense that the cover version would chart this high. As the years pass, the Isley Brothers ride the wave produced by “Shout“, probably satisfied that they made the charts, all while working on new material to share with the world. Fast forward to March of 1962, and suddenly, Joey Dee and The Starliters are in the #6 spot with their cover of “Shout“! During this time, the Isley Brothers’ version reappears on the charts topping out at #94, just to throw a little more salt in the wound.
Just two months later, they return the blow with the release of “Twist And Shout“ in June of 1962. This time around the Isley Brothers had themselves a hit for the first time since 1959, and would peak at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. One year later, The Beatles would record a cover of “Twist And Shout“ that would go on to peak at #2 on the charts once the single was finally released in the U.S. in 1964. Ousted again!
So, being the genius that he is, Ron Isley notices this pattern. I’m willing to bet he lost some sleep over this chain of events, and while he didn’t necessarily plot his next move with Joey Dee and the Beatles in mind, he certainly kept it on the back burner. Five years go by and the Isley Brothers still aren’t getting the respect they deserve. While signed to T-Neck, they crank out some more hits, including 1969’s “It’s Your Thing“, all while being neglected by the major R&B labels. By 1971, the Isley Brothers are ready to unleash their answer to their original tunes/arrangements being blatantly ripped off by other artists, and achieving more recognition in the process. It’s time to give it back.
I’m not even going to get into how high Givin’ It Back charted, how it was received, or anything like that. Basically, the Isley Brothers took popular rock tunes of the time, covered them, and absolutely crushed the originals. I know a lot of people would disagree with that statement, but hear me out. The Isley Brothers took these songs and made them theirs, whereas Joey Dee, The Beatles, and countless others took the Isley Brothers’ songs and tried really hard to sound like the Isleys. Sadly, I don’t see this record too often in the bins, and when I do, I scoop them and pass them off to my friends. So I suggest you do the following: A) become my friend B) hit your local record spot and do some hunting or C) snag it off iTunes for $6.99.
Tracklist w/ original performer listed:
1. Ohio/Machine Gun (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young / Jimi Hendrix)
2. Fire And Rain (James Taylor)
3. Lay Lady Lay (Bob Dylan)
4. Spill The Wine (Eric Burdon & War)
5. Nothing To Do But Today (Stephen Stills)
6. Cold Bologna (Bill Withers, who actually plays on Givin’ It Back)
7. Love The One You’re With (Stephen Stills)