The Isley Brothers
“Listen – Nobody But Me MP3″
Here we gather once again in the middle end of the work week, and if you’re anything like me you’ve already had just about enough of this ‘working for a living’ jive. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (the unbroken kind being the only variety that we customarily feature in this space), I generally reach this point some time in the middle of Monday morning, just around the time the magical powers of my coffee start to wear off.
It was not always thus.
It used to be worse.
This is not to say that things aren’t bad. On a sliding scale that begins with banal and tops out at soul-destroying, I find myself running at an uncomfortable (but bearable) “consistently unpleasant”. Very recent developments on the work scene are moving ever so slightly in a direction that signals improvement, but I’m reserving judgment until I get a better idea of where this is all leading.
This is all meant to give you some idea of my general state of mind, which at this moment seems to be on the upswing.
Either way, winter seems to have finally decided to unpack and stick around for a while, which is not entirely a bad thing. It’s all ugly and salty out but the cold – as long as it doesn’t stray into strange, previously unseen, wholly absurd Arctic levels – is bracing and clears the head nicely. Last Friday the weather jockeys on the local news were all atwitter about how this was the coldest day in two years, which served only to put into perspective how warm it’s really been.
In the spirit of warming things up a bit, I bring you one of the heaters that I keep stored in my crates to keep the other 45s from shivering.
I should preface this by hepping you to the wholly embarrassing fact that I hadn’t even heard today’s selection until a few years ago. Sure, I knew the song via the extremely cool garage/soul cover by the Human Beinz (a hit in its day and one of the few staples of oldies radio that I never tire of hearing), and I knew that it was originally created by the Isley Brothers. However – and this is a big however – I think I loved the Human Beinz version so much (I can often be seen driving around singing the 100 or so NO-NO’s in the song at the top of my lungs) I never felt the need to track down the original. This was of course a rube move on my part, and considering my curiosity about all things musical – especially the original versions of songs – entirely uncharacteristic.
Just another example of how nobody (even me, heh, heh…) bats 1000 all the time.
So, one day a few years ago my wife and I are out motoring in the countryside, pretty much just wandering (something we used to do a lot before the kiddies rolled along) and we happened upon a roadside flea market. The day was sunny and we had all the time in the world to waste so we pulled over, hopped out of the car and started checking out the scene.
Situations like this generally worked like this: we both wandered around looking at stuff for “the house”, until one of us located a stash of records, at which time all bets (as they say) were off. My wife continued to wander, and I started to dig. The record stash that day just happened to be my favorite kind, i.e. row upon row of sleeved 45s, with no one else around to get in the way. I dove in with gusto but my spirits were almost immediately dampened after the first 100 or so discs which contained an inordinately large proportion of Connie Francis, Fabian and 4 Seasons 45s. Most of the time I wouldn’t necessarily be depressed about such a selection, mainly because the general time period of these discs suggested to me that there might also be some prime early soul and or cool rock (I’m always game for a Del Shannon or Freddie Cannon disc) in the bins. This time out a look around the stall, with its framed Elvis-abilia and such did not bode well.
Fortunately I didn’t give up, because in the next row I dug out a couple of cool R&B sides, a psych 45 (nothing too rare but a cool song) and joy of joys, a nice clean copy of the Isley Brothers ‘Nobody But Me’.
I guess is that in the end I dropped less that $20.00 there, but ended up going home with a couple of cool records, so all in all it turned out to be a satisfying little safari.
So, I get home and the first record I decide to spin is the Isleys 45, and the feeling that came over me was a unique combination of shame, regret and an almost uncontrollable need to kick myself in the ass.
It’s not like the Isleys didn’t have a stellar track record lasting well over 20 years, but I don’t think I was prepared for what a little stick of dynamite I had just dropped the needle on. I should have known, but I did not. On this point I will go no further, other than to say that since that dark day, I’ve tried not to repeat such a mistake. You know…the kind of deal where you willingly pass on a record, book or movie that all of your instincts and the available evidence suggests is a killer, but your ego keeps you from taking that extra step to check it out. I discovered that all kind of behavior ever got me was an extra helping of regret, served with a side of “I could have been grooving to this record for years if I’d only been paying attention.”
That all said, the Isleys come off of the starting line going about 200 miles per hour, like a bat out of hell with a belly full of sugary breakfast cereal and a rocket up it’s ass. The NO-NOs are here, and if you can believe it they are delivered with even more conviction that those by the Human Beinz. Where the HB’s sound like the local hotshot delivering an idle boast from the window of his ‘66 Mustang, the Isleys sound like they couldn’t be more convinced of their terpsichorean superiority as they are dragged away in a custom made three-man straightjacket.
Sure, the earlier vintage of the original omits the mighty Boogaloo, but where the HB’s may have excelled at that step, the Isleys are working it out on the Popeye, the Shout (slyly self-referential), and the Mashed Potato, and their drummer (whoever he be) is beating his kit like it owes him money.
In the end, while I still love the Human Beinz (who also laid down a nice version of the Isley’s ‘Respectable’), I now know that nobody – NO-NO-NO-NO-NOBODY – beats the Isley Brothers at their own game. Let this post be my apology….
PS This will likely be the last post this week as I have some personal bid-ness to take care of on Friday. More grooves to come next week.
PSS More detail on this later, but if you’re in the Asbury Park, NJ area on 2/23, I will be taking part in an event – and I do mean EVENT – called the Asbury 45 Sessions, thanks to an invite from the always cool DJ Prestige (see link in sidebar). Pres has managed to gather some of the heaviest members of the digging/collecting world in the NYC metro area (reps from the Empire State Soul Club, Garden State Soul et al) for a night of soul and funk 45 action. If you’re within driving (or flying) distance, it promises to be a killer.