By 1976, The Isley Brothers had their formula down pat. Their previous album, The Heat Is On, had become their biggest seller to date and again demonstrated how the original trio of brothers – Rudolph, O’Kelly and Ronald – had been so enlivened by the addition of their younger family members, siblings Marvin and Ernie and Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper.
Their mixture of exhilarating rock/funk jams and the lightest, sweetest ballads made for compulsive listening. What made them so hot in 1975 was the inclusion of Fight the Power on The Heat Is On, a strident, political anthem that topped the R&B charts and went top five in the pop listings.
Recorded in LA with former Stevie Wonder sideman Malcolm Cecil engineering and programming, Harvest for the World was eagerly anticipated. It didn’t disappoint. The title track carried a great deal of Fight the Power’s social concerns, but the pill was sweetened with one of the most shimmering, uplifting melodies of the group’s career.
Whereas a lot of protest songs from this era have dated because the cause has passed, or simply are too utopian, Harvest for the World – a positive message for a troubled post-Vietnam and Watergate America – has a timeless sincerity and optimism.
People of Today and Who Loves You Better both aped Fight the Power musically, yet work so well because of the group’s musicianship and Ronald Isley’s angelic vocals. The album’s standout ballad is (At Your Best) You Are Love, which was dedicated to the Isleys’ mother, Sally. Later a hit for Aaliyah, it is one of the group’s greatest love songs, and Let Me Down Easy continues this sweet, soporific groove.
The Isley Brothers consistently delivered music of the highest quality in their 70s incarnation, creating a truly singular sound from their patchwork of influences. Harvest for the World – which reputedly sold half a million copies in its first few weeks of release – may not be their best album, but it serves as a fantastic snapshot of a band at its career peak.
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