Friday, April 21, 2017

70s MOTOWN: Harvest for the World

This could be a harder assignment than it might initially appear, so spoilt for choice is the vast legacy of this iconic label, the yin to Stax's yang in the history of black popular music. And whilst, yes, my personal taste errs now more to the southern grit(s) of Stax, my childhood was festooned and imprinted with all those hits from the Motor City. It seemed that for every guitar band in the charts, there were twice that number of sharp dressed dudes and shiny frocked floozies, singing and dancing their socks off, so ubiquitous were the Temptations, the Supremes, the Miracles, the (4) Tops etc etc etc. Indeed I came to resent their permanence: when Marvin Gaye was number 1 with (I heard it on the) Grapevine for the whole of one summer, I hated the ease with which all usurpers were kept at bay. Love it now, less so then. I acquired a dislike and distrust of the so-called the Soul that curdled mine.

So what changed it? Actually these guys, around long before and around long since, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of brothers, who suddenly, in mid 70s, discovered the alchemists stone, turning white rock boys onto black r'n'b with the simple trick of if you can't beat 'em. Namely the guitar, the electric guitar. Based around brothers, Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley, the Isley Brothers were a potent force in the 60s with songs such as Shout, Twist and Shout and This Old Heart of Mine, but had found their star perhaps waning a little. (Innocently, I had always assumed that better known-to-me versions by Lulu and the Beatles were the originals, these being poor copies, rather than vice-versa. Forgive me, I was just a wee boy!) Perhaps picking a trick from their erstwhile supporting and session man, James Marshall Hendrix, younger siblings Ernie and Marvin were conscripted, along with bro-in-law, Chris Jasper, beefing up the sound with guitar, bass and keyboards, electric rock guitar, bass and keyboards. I found the 3+3 album of 1973, referring to the trio plus trio as outlined above, astonishing, my gateway drug to an appreciation of black music hitherto denied by a prejudice, not of colour but of image. But these were way cooler than the bands namechecked above: no more suits, replaced instead with bandannas and tie-dye all the way, arguably standing the scrutiny of time less well, but hey...... Scales dropped, Damascus seen and I was on the bus, with all the previous suspects  reciprocating my conversion, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, for two, swiftly becoming suitable rock visionaries, whether by virtue of their music or lifestyle, irony not unintended.

This is my salute to the Isleys, who persevere, still with Ron and Ernie enrolled in the cause. This, their finest moment, Harvest for the World, an apt pointer for those, and there are many, who might see now as a time right to make a Harvest OF the World.

Disclaimer: 3+3 was on Epic records. That may be the truth, but that's not what most will think, so, spiritually, at least, I rest my case.

Entry level? (Recommended, a fabulous selection.)

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