Monday, 2 June 2014

The Isley Brothers 'Summer Breeze'

Chart Peak: 16
Originally a Number 16 hit in June 1974, 'Summer Breeze' is being re-promoted in 1986. The group is still releasing records - under the name of Isley, Jasper, Isley - and somehow failed to make it big last year with the superb 'Caravan of Love'.
At time of writing, the tracklisting for the 2014 incarnation of Now Summer is still TBC, but whilst I don't expect the Young Rascals to make the cut this seems a much more likely candidate as it's joined the group of records radio DJs always seem to dig out when there are two consecutive sunny days in Britain ('Summertime' by DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince is another one, plus a few still to come on this album). On Radio 2 you might occasionally get to hear the original Seals & Crofts version of the song, but this rendering still has pride of place. Even 28 years ago it was one of the most obvious inclusions here. It's also the longest at 5:43; not quite the full-length album version but much more than the truncated 7" edit that somehow found its way onto a compilation called 80s Groove 2 even though it's chronologically closer to the Sixties than the Eighties. I guess that 1986 re-promotion must be the reason, although I can't claim to have noticed it at the time - and since the song didn't return to the Top 100 I don't know if many other people did either.

I touched on this point earlier, when discussing the later Housemartins version of 'Caravan Of Love' (see, it did get to be a hit eventually) but I grew up thinking the Isleys were a lot bigger than they actually were. Remembered over here mostly for this and a few of their Motown hits, and possibly for having once employed Jimi Hendrix as a backing musician, they were actually a pioneering act in many eras of soul's golden age. This cut comes from their classic 3+3 album, that title alluding to the line-up at the time which combined the original vocal trio (Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly) with younger instrumentalists Ernie and Marvin Isley and their in-law Chris Jasper. It was this latter trio who had split off to Isley Jasper Isley by the mid-80s, although the original act continued in parallel (as a duo at this point, since O'Kelly Isley had died earlier in 1986) and Ronald and Ernie continue to tour as a duo now.

Although they were writing very good songs in this period, most obviously the hits 'That Lady' and 'Harvest For The World', arguably their strongest suit was their covers of rock-oriented material. Interpretation had always been part of their game, of course: their version of 'Twist And Shout' wasn't technically the original but it's obviously the model that the Beatles and subsequent performers of the song used. They really hit their stride at this point with their versions of singer-songwriter styled-material, in the days when cross-genre cover versions were still a normal thing and weren't done for novelty as they are nowadays. Sometimes they played it fairly straight, as on James Taylor's 'Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight' (still much better than the original) and sometimes they were more radical, as on their ten-minute version of Carole King's 'It's Too Late'. 'Summer Breeze' is somewhere between the two approaches, still recognisably a version of the original but a certainly emotional intensity that's missing from that and a superb vocal from Ronald. The most distinctive and different element is Ernie Isley's fuzz-toned lead guitar, clearly influenced by their former employee but by now developing into a style of its own. Surely if he'd been a member of a rock group instead of a soul one, he'd be in the list of guitar greats everybody reels off. This isn't my favourite Isleys track, mainly due to overplay and the shortcomings of the original lyric. But it easily deserves the classic status it has.

Available on: Original Album Classics


  1. Hi, just want to say that I have really enjoyed reading your individual reviews of the tracks on the Now Summer LP. I have uploaded the Isley Brothers Summer Breeze edit to YouTube - . I have also included Now That's What I Call A Challenge on my blog roll. I'll be publishing my Now Summer Album review on 1 August. The address is if you'd like to drop by. All the best, Paul.

  2. Thanks for the comment, sorry I didn't reply earlier. Have subscribed to your blog as well, I'll add the link next time I do a redesign round these parts. Hope you're enjoying the Now 30 posts as well.