Monday, February 09, 2009

Love Lockdown: Floodwatch Music's Isley Brothers Edition

"Voyage To Atlantis" (LimeLinx)
"Voyage To Atlantis" (YSI)

Based strictly on cheese factor alone, no other ballad in the Isley catalogue comes close to "Voyage to Atlantis." Dated psychedelic phaser effect on Jasper's electric piano? Check. Ernie Isley's wailing electric guitar threatening to scorch right through the analog tape? Check. Ronald constructing a metaphor for lovemaking that comprises nautical activities and underwater kingdoms of yore? Check. As the only ballad on the funk-dominated Go for Your Guns (1977), "Voyage to Atlantis" had a sizable weight on its shoulders to deliver the seductive goods, but damn, did it deliver in spades. This one has glitter ball, sequins, and platforms shamelessly written all over it, and in anyone else's hands it would be revered with the same amount of historical merit as, say, Nazareth's "Love Hurts." In the gentle clutches of the Isleys, however, it's transformed into a thing of rolling, oceanic beauty. A note of caution to the fellas – attempting the phrase "misty lady" as seduction patter will garner, at best, a roll of the eyes followed by an excuse involving a magical headache that inexplicably appears at the moment of the highest inconvenience. Don't bother.

"At Your Best (You Are Love)" (LimeLinx)
"At Your Best (You Are Love)" (YSI)

A hugely underrated item in the Isley Brothers' ballad canon and the strongest argument on record that Ernie should have dusted off the old wah pedal more often. His double-tracked cooing is the highlight of this delicate quiet stormer, with Ronald's heavenly falsetto bridge coming in a close second. While the line, "you're the positive motivating force within my life" veers a little more toward sacred than secular, you'd be hard-pressed to find a woman who wouldn't completely melt by the end of the first chorus. In a perfect world, some part-time studio intern at Epic would stumble upon an extended twenty-plus minute version of "At Your Best (You Are Love)," which would be greeted by the public with the same fervency as when the group debuted "Shout!" nearly fifty years ago. Seriously, this could seemingly go on for hours, or, to be more direct, however long your bedroom stamina will allow.
"Groove With You" (LimeLinx)
"Groove With You" (YSI)

What the Isleys do with the relatively simple groove here is astonishing: with Ernie adding layers of bright guitar while Jasper answers him, Marvin connecting the conversation with a snaky bass line, and Ronald blessing the proceedings with his silky tenor. Note how there is no climactic bridge of ecstasy, fiery guitar solo, or hushed breakdown during the course of the song, just a gorgeous, mid-tempo swing that the band seems in no hurry to rush. My guess is that the Isleys had their formula down to such exactitude back then that "Groove with You" took about as long to write as it did to record it. What draws the ladies to this one is Ronald's rather disarming inclination to put his mack game aside and just hang with his girl, enjoying the pleasantries of conversation.

"Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time For Love)" (LimeLinx)
"Don't Say Goodnight (It's Time For Love)" (YSI)

"Don't Say Goodnight" was one of the Isleys' last charting hits, and in hindsight the song seems the perfect final touch on their run of extraordinary singles during the 1970s. It's also the group's most explicit plea for intimacy, from Ronald expressing his desire to "see what you're like in bed" to the object of his affection in the first verse alone to shifting into the time-honored "thrill/feel" and "caress/undress" rhyme routine of R&B balladry. The production on the track gives the impression that it was recorded live, with an arena-like reverb on the snare and a slightly overcompressed vocal, but the lack of a piercing wall of female shrieks in the background dispels the notion right off the bat. The key to the song's effectiveness is the amount of breathing room the group gives the sleepy 6/8 tempo, with Jasper providing some especially tasteful synthetic strings and a mysterious blip of a chord that echoes off into space. If "Don't Say Goodnight" isn't enough to arouse the dormant libidos in even the most distant of couples, it's safe to say that no amount of therapy or counseling will either.

"For The Love Of You" (LimeLinx)
"For The Love Of You" (YSI)

Short of a front-row ticket to one of Teddy Pendergrass' "Ladies Only" concerts, nothing during the mid to late '70s was as guaranteed to magically remove ladies' undergarments quicker than a bottle of wine, some incense, and the Isleys' "For the Love of You" playing at a soft level in the background. While the tempo is well above accepted ballad standards, this minor quibble becomes moot within the first ten seconds of the song. Ernie dons his acoustic guitar to outline the chord changes while Marvin thumbs out one of his most animated bass lines, teasing you to dance along with him. Ronald sounds like he's been waiting his entire life to lay down his vocal here, and despite the countless interpretations the song has been privy to, not one has been able to hold a candle to his original (sorry, Whitney). And with Jasper at the helm, the Moog analog synthesizer has never sounded sexier, like a warm breeze through an open window brushing the skin. In the right mood, the listener could hardly be faulted into thinking that "For the Love of You" could somehow solve all of the world's problems with the mere press of the play button. It's pure perfection and absolutely timeless. And of course, it's a mother in the bedroom.

If you're not reading Floodwatch Music, you have some serious catching up to do. Flood is extra-nice with the words, verbs, and pronouns...

Flood's previous post @ Souled On

Word From Your Moms:

"Life isn't long enough for love and art."---W. Somerset Maugham


Anonymous said...

nicely written, though i'd offer the Isley's treatment of "Lay Lady Lay" to this mix - infinitely sexier than Dylan (that ain't hard) but past that, it's so...convincing, you only remember how nasty it was the next morning: "stay lady stay, stay with your man awhile/til the break of day, let me see you make him smile" right.

Styler said...

I had paid it no mind, the fact that I had not listened to the Isley boys for a good while and now thanks to your words it came, please excuse the pun here, flooding back in all it's sickly sweet and sex starved glory. You can and really should, only be listening to these joints when you're with your baby, which I ain't. Still a fine post however.


@slushygutter said...

Great stuff!

holy crap, first one to get me a pair of shiny extra wide silver bell bottoms gets their pict on my lame blog for one full week. CHeers.

"you aint in between the Isley Brothers' sheets/I give it to you real raw in the backseat"
-LL Cool J "Back Seat"

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