Known for what author Bill Dahl calls a “holy-roller brand of gymnastic, fire-breathing excitement,” the Isley Brothers have big hits both before and after their three-year Motown tenure (1965-1968), but their recordings for Berry Gordy’s company are beloved by aficionados for perfectly blending the New Jersey-based group’s gospel-like fury with the Detroit Sound.
- First Hit: Before coming to Motown, the Isleys create two classics, the gospel-drenched “Shout” in 1959, which is only a modest hit for them, and then “Twist and Shout” in 1962, famously covered by the Beatles.
- Biggest Hit: For Motown in 1966, “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” which reaches No. 12 pop and No. 6 R&B, and then hits No. 3 in the U.K. when released there in 1968. In 1969, on their own T-Neck label, “It’s Your Thing” goes to No. 1.
- Top Motown Album: This Old Heart Of Mine
- Career highlight: While still at Motown and enjoying consistent success in the U.K., the Isley Brothers write “It’s Your Thing.” It is recorded after their Motown contract expires and catapults them into superstardom.
- Brothers O’Kelly, Rudy, Vernon and Ronald Isley begin as a gospel quartet in Cincinnati, Ohio; after Vernon is killed by a motorist while bike riding in 1954, they continue as a trio powered by Ronnie’s fervent, rugged lead tenor voice. Moving to the East Coast in ’56, they record for big and small labels with limited success apart from their two early big hits before joining Motown.
- “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” although written originally by Holland-Dozier-Holland with Sylvia Moy for the Four Tops and then at one point Kim Weston, becomes the Isley Brothers’ stunning Motown debut.
- It becomes the title track for the Isley’s first Motown LP, This Old Heart Of Mine, which itself is a tour-de-force for Ronnie’s wailing vocals, featuring inspired covers of hits by The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye, plus follow-up singles, including “Take Some Time Out For Love” (a throwback to their earlier gospel-infused style), and “I Guess I’ll Always Love You,” a bigger hit in the U.K. than the U.S.. The album charts in both countries.
- A rollicking cover version of Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” gives the Isleys a top 25 hit on the R&B charts in 1968, their final stateside success for Motown.
- Capitalizing on the success of “It’s Your Thing,” Motown pulls “Put Yourself In My Place” from the trio’s first LP as a U.K. single, which reaches No. 13 on the British chart in ’69.
- The classic status of “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)” is reaffirmed in 1985 when the Isley’s hit is heard in a key scene of the popular TV show Moonlighting and subsequently included on the show’s charting soundtrack album. A remake of the song by Rod Stewart, who had previously covered it in the 1970s, is given new life as a duet with Ronald Isley in 1989. It hits both the U.S. pop top 10 and is No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
- The ongoing appetite for the Isley Brothers’ Motown catalog, including both previously released and unreleased tracks, has been fed by regular compilation CD releases: Greatest Hits and Rare Classics (1991), The Essential Collection (2001) and The Motown Anthology (2009).