The Heat Is On
The Isley Brothers
T-Neck PZ 33536
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 40
Certified Gold: 6/30/75
The Isley Brothers have always been a discotheque band. Their "Twist and Shout" was the seminal early-Sixties dance record and the addition of younger Isleys to the group over the years hasn't changed their initial orientation. The Heat Is On is something of a departure in that the second side features ballad material, crooned with relative restraint over Chris Jasper's layered keyboards. But side one is crunching Isley energy all the way. "Fight the Power," the single that's had the word "bullshit" bleeped out by many radio stations, is here, along with two other lengthy excursions into heavy funk territory that are tailor-made for the dance floors.
The star of the show turns out to be Ernie Isley, a more than adequate drummer in the fatback vein and an increasingly virtuosic electric guitarist. Taking as the basis of his style the innovations of ex-Isley picker Jimi Hendrix, Ernie has blossomed into one of the most consistently exciting exponents of whining, distorted, stops-out soloing, and the other brothers have wisely turned most of "Hope You Feel Better Love" over to him. It's the album's best cut, from the power chording at the beginning through a rousing series of solo choruses that builds and builds, and dancers will love it. The Isleys may not be the intellectual giants of disco funk but Heat hits a high groove from the first second and maintains it with remarkable consistency throughout; it's some of the best body music around.
- Robert Palmer, Rolling Stone, 8-14-75.
I am a great fan of the Isleys, and I have raved before in these pages about the artistry of lead singer Ronald Isley. The brothers have had great success in recent years, for which I rejoice. But their recordings are best when they contain a mixture of original Isley material and carefully selected songs by others around which the Isleys can work their magic -- especially in ballads, in which Ronald excels.
It is all Isley material this time out, all energetically and expertly performed. But it lacks spark. The Isleys have had a habit, through their long career, of writing and performing a few dynamite songs of their own ("Shout"; "Twist and Shout"; "It's Your Thing"; "Who's That Lady"), running themselves into the ground as their imagination dries up, floundering for a while, and then hitching their stars to another wagon ("Love the One You're With," by Stephen Stills; "It's Too Late," by Carole King). This revitalizes them and they start turning out original material that is worthwhile. Then they get confident, a little cocky, and disdain doing other people's songs.
The Isley cycle has come around to the point where they are beginning to run dry again, though they can probably get away with it longer this time, given the general bland public taste and the melting together of black and white music into something approaching milk chocolate.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 10/75.
Another example of universal music coming from a group that has been typecast in the past. The Isleys move through pop, soul, disco, straight rock, supper-club sounds and more, and manage to clothe each with a feel of universality. Strong lead and harmony vocals, excellent sequencing of uptempo, midtempo and ballad material, listenable lyrics and generally more of a hint of disco than an overt dance sound help make the LP. The seven-man group is careful to make the concept one that can be followed or ignored. Probably the most listenable to people of broad musical tastes of any of the recent LPs of this genre. Best cuts: "Harvest For The World," "People Of Today," "Who Loves You Better," "Let Me Down Easy," "So You Wanna Stay Down."
- Billboard, 1975.
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The Isley Brothers kept their great string of hits going with this mid-'70s release. They enjoyed two more Top 10 R&B singles and several club smashes, and were making enjoyable, delightful music, both the uptempo songs and the ballads. * * * *
- Ron Wynn, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The Isleys crossed the line into funk with The Heat Is On and its hit "Fight the Power," though they also turned down the lights and crooned the sensual "For the Love of You." * * * * 1/2
- Lawrence Gabriel, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
The Isley Brothers turn up in the most unlikely chapters in rock history. The Cincinnati, Ohio, family band had success right out of the box, with the frenzied frat-house staple from 1959, "Shout," and its "follow-up" from 1962, "Twist and Shout." Later in the '60s, the group created several enduring radio classics, including "It's Your Thing" and "That Lady (Parts 1 and 2)." Rock fans revere the group for giving a young guitarist named Jimmy James (aka Jimi Hendrix) his first employment experience. And though the band's profile dimmed in the 1990s, its lead singer Ronald Isley reinvented himself in 2001 as the boudoir-bound Mr. Bigg, crooning alongside R&B hitmaker R. Kelly on the smash "Contagious."
To hear the Isleys at their most blistering, look for the early '70s titles 3+3 (1973) and this follow-up, which offer thumping party jams and sensitive-guy romance in equal measure. The Heat Is On starts with "Fight the Power," one of the great rallying cries of 1970s pop. The lyrics give voice to a boiling-pot exasperation -- "I tried to roll with the punches, I got knocked on the ground" -- but in typical Isley Brothers fashion, the music is totally under control. The rhythm section, which by this time had inspired Sly and the Family Stone and others seeking funk-rock utopia, starts with an elastic two-chord vamp. Then guitar and keyboard parts are added, and before long, these interlocking cogs become a mighty machine that seems forever on the verge of levitating. Sometimes, as happens on the title track, the band's disciplined timekeeping rises up and demands center stage. And sometimes, just one passionate single part becomes the catalyst: Listen to the way Ernie Isley's tantalizing lead guitar, a screaming arrow of tone, powers "Hope You Feel Better Love."
This album is one of many from the 33 1/3-RPM era to be organized thematically: Side one offers the up-tempo stuff, while side two is the "chillout" set. A master of reflective romance balladry, Ronald Isley deploys a slight but discernible tremble to sing of all-consuming devotion to the light-night-radio staple "For the Love of You," then uses his supple, invitingly warm voice to create the feeling of "Sensuality" in sound.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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