The Isley Brothers – 1975 – The Heat Is On
The Heat Is On still brings the funk and soul even after all these years, showing that the old school sounds of yesteryear has and will continue to endure as long as there are people left who appreciate good music in general. Fight The Power and the title track are classic Isleys funk. Hope You Feel Better Love rocks and grooves at the same time. For The Love Of You and Make Me Say It Again Girl are classic soul jams that only the Isleys could make happen. And Sensuality is a late-night, slow-grinding masterpiece.
Definitely one of the best R&B/Soul albums of the 70’s so don’t miss out on it!
A1 Fight the Power (Part 1 & 2) 5:19
A2 The Heat Is On (Part 1 & 2) 5:37
A3 Hope You Feel Better Love (Part 1 & 2) 6:06
B1 For the Love of You (Part 1 & 2) 5:38
B2 Sensuality (Part 1 & 2) 6:52
B3 Make Me Say It Again Girl (Part 1 & 2) 7:43
By Stephen McMillian
By 1975, the Isley Brothers were a roll. The group–consisting of Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly Isley, with the addition of younger brothers Marvin and Ernie Isley and brother-in-law Chris Japser in 1973, became a self-contained unit scoring hit after hit. The majority of the group’s albums between 1973 and 1983 went either gold or platinum and their singles and album tracks were played constantly on the radio, clubs, discos, house parties, jukeboxes, and bedrooms across the country.
Their twelfth studio album, The Heat Is On, was released in June 1975, was written and produced entirely by the group, and continued their blend of hard soul and funk with sweet soul ballads. As with their last two efforts and future albums, the group implemented many acoustic and electric instruments on the album including piano, synthesizer and standout electric guitar playing by brother Ernie. They began recording this album almost immediately after they finished the completion of their 1974 smash album Live It Up.
The Heat Is On contains six tunes all together and, in the group’s trademark fashion, they were lengthy but danceable and listenable. The tunes on side one–all of which are labeled Parts 1 & 2 next to the titles–are all uptempo hard funk, while side two are all smooth silky soul.
“The album has a dance side, as a fast side, and a slow side or love making side,” Ernie explained in The Billboard Book of Number One Albums. “We were told by numerous people how much they dug that concept.”
The album opens with the angry, political funk tune “Fight The Power”, which Ernie came up with. “I stepped into the shower and started singing this song. The inspiration was like a bolt of lightning,” Ernie said. “After I sang the first few lines, I realized that it was a song. I jumped out of the shower, soap and water flying everywhere. I grabbed a piece of paper, wrote it down and stuffed it inside my guitar case.”
“Fight the Power” was the lead single off of the album, released in May 1975. The honest song is a direct statement against certain factions going on in the country at that time, and the different adversities people go through in life in general. One of the words used in the song was not originally supposed to be a part of the song. “Instead of singing ‘bullsh**,’ I had sung ‘nonsense.’ But when Ronald started singing it (during the recording) he used the B.S. word,” Ernie said. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to change that on the album. I didn’t know it was going to be permanent. When it came time to remix it, I said, ‘You’re going to have grandmothers and kids listening. You’re the Isley Brothers and here you start getting a little street, a little vulgar. Somebody’s going to say something.” However, the others disagreed and told him that the lyrical direction of the song was such that it merited the use of the word, so it remained on the final mix of the album.
Ernie laughed that when performing the song in concert, when the group would get to the song’s bridge, “we had 18,000 people singing ‘B.S. going down!”
The track was a huge smash on the charts, reaching number one on the soul charts for three weeks in July 1975 and number four on the pop charts and became their third gold single.
It also peaked at number two on the Club Play singles chart.
The second cut on side one was the title track, a slow-cooking, bubbling funk jam with a mid-tempo groove. The third and last cut on side one was the likewise funky “Hope You Feel Better Love”.
Side two, or “the love making side” as Ernie stated, started off with the classic and romantic “For the Love Of You”, which has a relaxing steady groove which you could dance to, slow drag to or make out to. It is further anchored by lead singer Ronald Isley’s laid back, dreamy vocal. This remains one of the Isley Brothers’ enduring hits and when released as a single, went to number 10 on the soul charts and number 22 on the pop charts. Its chart showings, however, don’t reflect the massive popularity of this song. In 1987, Whitney Houston did great justice to the track when she covered it on her second album.
Side two’s second track was a tune titled “Sensuality” which, as its title states, was sensual! It had a slow, mysterious, quiet storm sort of calming melody. The album’s last track was the highly orgasmic tune “Make Me Say It Again Girl”, memorable for its repeated chorus “Girl you’re all I need/girl you’re all I need.”
The record buying public’s reaction to The Heat Is On was overwhelming, as it went to number one on the soul charts for four weeks. It was their first and only number one album on the pop charts, spending 40 weeks on that chart (of interesting note, two other funk groups, Earth Wind & Fire and The Ohio Players, scored number one albums on the pop charts in the same year, which further confirmed funk music’s acceptance in the pop mainstream). The album also sold 500,000 copies in its first month of release. It received high praise and great reviews from all the major music publications such as The Village Voice, Melody Maker and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone music critic Bob Palmer wrote, “The Heat Is On has some of the best booty music around.” Mark Anthony Neal of Pop Matters wrote, “Whereas the up-tempo workouts helped the Isleys reach new audiences, it was their balladry, courtesy of lead vocalist Ronald, that distinguished them among other soul/R&B/funk bands of the era.”
The album was later certified double platinum by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), following shipments in excess of two million copies in the U.S. Several tracks of the album were heavily sampled by artists such as Common, Slick Rick and Masta Ace.
The Heat Is On not only helped to continue The Isley Brothers dominance in the music industry but it helped to solidy and strengthen funk music’s dominance in the pop music world.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, performer, former Soul Train dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music and movie historian.
More of The Isley Brothers on FMS here