The Isley Brothers' 10 greatest songs, ranked

16 October 2023, 12:43

The Isley Brothers are one of the most influential funk and soul groups ever.
The Isley Brothers are one of the most influential funk and soul groups ever. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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The Isley Brothers' influence is innumerable.

A mainstay of popular music for nearly seventy years, The Isley Brothers are one of the most enduring and influential groups in music.

Without them, soul, funk, R&B, and even hip-hop wouldn't have had the same complexion, and their fingerprints can be felt in contemporary songs even still.

Beginning life as a vocal trio in 1954, The Isley Brothers have been through various iterations, be it lineup changes or the evolution in their sound from a preppy vocal group in the 50s, to Motown stars during the '60s, to funk and soul seducers throughout the 70s.

The group has consistently remained a family affair, with founding member Ronald Isley being the consistent figure throughout their history.

With a colourful history and back catalogue behind them, they've conjured some of funk and soul's finest hits.

That said, here's The Isley Brothers' top ten greatest songs, ranked:

  1. 'Footsteps In The Dark'

    The Isley Brothers - Footsteps in the Dark, Pts. 1 & 2 (Official Audio)

    Case-and-point that The Isley Brothers' influence is filtering into contemporary music, as jazz-funk bassist Thundercat sampled the track's opening drum beat for his 2017 song 'Them Changes'.

    It unlocked the door for an entirely new generation to dig deep into The Isley Brothers' funk and soul vault, with 'Footsteps In The Dark' becoming a firm favourite on DJ's playlists nowadays.

  2. 'Love The One You're With'

    Love the One You're With

    Written by Crosby, Still & Nash's and former Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills in 1970, 'Love The One You're With' is about the 'free love' of the countercultural movement and its temporary nature.

    The following year, The Isley Brothers decided to cover the song, interpreting it as a ode to a universal higher love.

    Their rendition paved the way for the likes of Aretha Franklin, and strangely enough, even British Eurovision entrants Bucks Fizz to cover the ballad years later.

  3. 'Get Into Something'

    The Isley Brothers - Get Into Something (Audio)

    Released in 1970, 'Get Into Something' is one of The Isley Brothers' deepest grooves, at a time when they began exploring different musicianship having parted ways with Motown.

    Now they'd founded their own record label, T-Neck, the band were free to release a seven-and-a-half-minute funk epic if they wished, and that's precisely what they did.

    They'd changed tack - citing influence from James Brown, The Temptations later work, and Sly Stone - and dance floors lapped it up.

  4. 'Ohio/Machine Gun'

    Ohio / Machine Gun

    After conquering funk, The Isley Brothers joined the countercultural bandwagon briefly and began covering songs by prominent rock and folk artists of the era like Bob Dylan, Carole King and James Taylor.

    This included 1971's 'Ohio/Machine Gun' which was a mash-up of CSNY's and Jimi Hendrix's protest songs.

    It's one of their most fiery, fearsome and poignant moments as a musical force.

  5. 'Testify' (Parts 1 & 2)

    Testify (Parts 1 & 2)

    The Jimi Hendrix connection runs deep with The Isley Brothers, predominantly because they were the group that discovered him.

    It was the late O'Kelly Isley Jr. who came across a young homeless man playing guitar, which turned out to be the great Jimi Hendrix, and invited him to join their band.

    He was worth his weight in gold, especially on 'Testify', the track that is largely considered to be the beginning of his legend. And it was all thanks to The Isley Brothers.

  6. 'That Lady'

    The Isley Brothers - Who's That Lady

    'That Lady' is the kind of seductive soul song that felt destined to soundtrack a late-night swoon, and has likely soundtracked many.

    Reworked from The Isley Brothers' 1964 hit 'Who's That Lady' into a swinging R&B romp, the track became a major hit for the group, reaching No.6 on the US Billboard charts and the top 20 of the UK charts.

    It established The Isley Brothers amongst both soul and rock fans during that decade, receiving consistent airplay of R&B and rock radio which was rare.

  7. 'It’s Your Thing'

    The Isley Brothers - It's Your Thing (Official Audio)

    "It's your thing, do what you wanna do. I can't tell you who to sock it to." Iconic lyrics from Ronald Isley there, that has been regarded as an anthem for sexual freedom and female independence.

    However, the ambiguity meant that radio stations jumped on 'It's Your Thing' in 1969, propelling it to No.2 on the US Billboard charts without necessarily realising its sexual connotations.

    Soul ditties don't come quite as peppy as this, which went on to win The Isley Brothers the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Group in 1970.

  8. 'This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)'

    The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) (Lyric Video)

    A timeless Motown staple if ever there was one. 'This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)' resonates as beautifully now as it did after its 1966 release.

    Reaching No.3 in the UK charts, the song is a classic Motown formula of heart-wrenching lyrics about someone unlucky in love disguised by a gloriously infectious melody.

    A major fan of both Motown and The Isley Brothers, Rod Stewart covered the song in 1975 which was a hit, though his dream came true in 1989 when he got to record it as a duet with his beloved soul brothers.

  9. 'Summer Breeze'

    The Isley Brothers - Summer Breeze, Pts. 1 & 2 (Official Audio)

    Originally a top ten hit for folk-rock duo Seals & Crofts in 1972, The Isley Brothers covered 'Summer Breeze' two years later and transformed it into a kind of smooth, sunset-evoking slow-jam.

    Their version reached the top 20 in the UK charts, but despite barely making a dent in the US at the time, it's one of the group's most enduring songs.

    Likely because of brother Ernie's fuzzy and gorgeously sultry lead guitar line, proving he was a worthy successor to Hendrix after the guitar legend left to become a rock god in his own right.

  10. 'Shout'

    The Isley Brothers - Shout

    It's one of the most iconic vocal introductions to a pop song ever written - 'Shout' is The Isley Brothers' signature hit and the one that kickstarted their career in music.

    Utilising the call-and-response style of gospel singing they learned spending their youth in church, crowds went wild whenever the trio performed it.

    Though, it didn't actually start off as a song, more of a "thing" they did onstage mid-song, which evolved into them writing 'Shout' as an individual hit.

    Of course, we know Lulu reignited the song's appeal the following decade which introduced her to the pop world as a bright-eyed 16-year-old.

    'Shout' was never a major hit, but became a youth phenomenon on dance floors around the US, its stop-and-start approach becoming commonplace at weddings, proms, and events so people could let loose and let their hair down.

    It made The Isley Brothers successful enough to buy their mother her house, and paved the way for the group to become funk and soul legends later down the line.