Lyric dispute cemented Isley Brothers’ career

  • By Alan Sculley / Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, July 15, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The first time Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers attempted to record a song by Burt Bacharach, he left the studio thinking his career might be over almost as soon as it started.

The year was 1962 and the Isley Brothers were a group with one modest hit, “Shout,” to their name. They thought “Make It Easy on Yourself,” a song by Bacharach and his songwriting partner, lyricist Hal David, might be their ticket to success.

But during the sessions, producer Luther Dixon made a decision that didn’t sit right with Bacharach and David.

“Luther changed some of his words in that particular song,” Isley recalled. “Hal David and Burt, they decided they didn’t want this lyric changed. They went back and forth and back and forth.”

Isley Brothers

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In the end David and Bacharach refused to let the Isley Brothers use “Make It Easy on Yourself.” With only 20 minutes of studio time remaining, the group was forced to record another song that had originally been slated to be the B-side of the single.

“We recorded that and somebody else was scheduled to come in and record, so we left without even hearing a playback,” Isley said. “I basically thought at the time that our career was going to be in shambles. …”

That B-side, though, was an Isley Brothers original – “Twist &Shout.” That song, of course, became a smash single for the Isleys (several years before the Beatles covered the tune and also had a massive hit), and the Isley name has been a frequent presence on music charts ever since.

Formed in the late 1950s by brothers Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly, the group scored following “Twist &Shout” with another major hit, “This Old Heart of Mine,” in 1966.

But it was during the 1970s, after younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, and brother-in-law Chris Jasper had joined the group, that the Isley Brothers’ career really took off. Hits such as “It’s Your Thing,” “That Lady” and “Fight the Power” kept the Isleys on the charts through much of the decade, while ballads like “Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love)” and “Between the Sheets” gave the group hits in the early 1980s.

The Isley Brothers survived major changes in the mid-’80s, including the death of O’Kelly Isley and Rudolph Isley’s decision to leave the group to join the ministry – as well as a brief split during which time Ernie and Marvin Isley and Jasper recorded under the name Isley Jasper Isley.

The revamped ’90s version of the group once again made an impact, with the 1996 CD “Mission to Please,” which sold more than two million copies.

After paring down to just Ronald and Ernie Isley, the group’s winning streak continued in 2001 with the CD “Eternal,” another platinum seller that produced a top five hit in “Contagious.”

The latest CD, “Body Kiss,” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart following its release in May 2003.

While the brothers continue to tour behind “Body Kiss,” Ronald Isley, 62, is also savoring an opportunity to revisit the Bacharach catalog. And this time, Isley not only got a second chance to record “Make It Easy on Yourself,” he ended up collaborating with Bacharach on an entire CD of the songwriter-producer’s music.

The CD, which was released Nov. 11, is called “Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach,” and it features Isley performing 11 songs from the Bacharach/David catalog as well as two new tunes written by Bacharach and Tonio K.

What’s notable about “Isley Meets Bacharach” is the way Isley brings his soulful touch to the material, and in the process puts a whole new spin on music that many critics long considered middle-of-the-road pop.

A couple of songs, such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “This Guy’s in Love With You” barely sound like the familiar originals. On “Raindrops,” Isley slows the song’s tempo, stretches words, repeats phrases and allows his silky voice to coax out a totally different melody. “This Guy’s in Love With You” more closely resembles the original, but Isley’s soulful falsetto sends the vocal melody soaring to new heights.

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