Thursday, June 19, 2008

Isley Brothers -- "That Lady" (1973)

The Isley Brothers have such a long history in both rock and soul music, even before the genres were distinctly separated, but are often overlooked because of their scattered history of their music fitting in with the times.

It's perfectly understandable that a band that once had Jimi Hendrix as a member would evolve into a powerhouse of rock, soul and funk, much like The Chambers Brothers did the job in the late 60's ("Time Has Come Today"). "That Lady" took the rock and soul, drove it through some distorted amps, and blew it out all over the charts in a real tour de force.

The question I always had about "That Lady" is that wailing lead instrument that plays virtually throughout the entire song -- is it a highly distorted guitar or synthesizer? There's so much overblown tube action -- practically a sizzle -- that it is difficult to determine what the hell is playing. After rummaging through several online videos, it's definitely Ernie Isley's Stratocaster guitar.

Plugged through a phaser pedal, the opening Cm and Fm chords constitute one of the great unsung rock riffs. Then with Ronnie Isley doing his immortal "Purrr purrr!" yelp, that wicked guitar lead line sears right into the rhythm. That's when Marvin Isley's bass comes in, a wonderful stop and start anchor to it, and you can find numerous YouTube videos of amateurs showing off their chops to it.

"That Lady" rocks about as hard as a soul song can do. Furious rhythm riffs, while Ernie's guitar lines go all over the place in a psychedelic washout. It's only during the break when Ernie stops for about, oh, 10 seconds, that you hear an organ underneath the whole thing!

Who's that lady? (Who's that lady?)
Beautiful lady. (Who's that lady?)
Lovely lady. (Who's that lady?)
Real fine lady. (Who's that lady?)

Hear me calling out to you,
Cause that's all that I can do.
Your eyes tell me to pursue.
But you say, "Look, yeah, but don't touch."

Who's that lady? (Who's that lady?)
Sexy lady. (Who's that lady?)
Beautiful lady. (Who's that lady?)
Real fine lady. (Who's that lady?)

I would dance upon a string.
Any gift she'd want, I'd bring.
I would give her anything,
If she would just do what I say.

Who's that lady? (Who's that lady?)
Beautiful lady. (Who's that lady?)
Lovely lady. (Who's that lady?)
Real real fine lady. (Who's that lady?)

I would love to take her home,
But her heart is made of stone.
Gotta keep on keeping on.
If I don't, she'll do me wrong.

While digging up the art for this post, I discovered that the Isleys originally recorded this song in 1964 and then brought it back out in its well-known highly-charged arrangement nearly 10 years later when three more family members joined the band. Now I gotta dig up the original and find out what it sounded like.

One of the reasons why "That Lady" was such a smash is that it crossed all musical genres on the radio -- rock, soul and Top 40 stations were all spinning it simultaneously. The full album version is six minutes long, so the 45 was an edited down three minute version, cutting off a lot of the long guitar solo, and released as "That Lady (Part 1)."

Below are some very cool videos, starting with the Isleys themselves performing the song at twice the speed live on "Soul Train" in the early 70's. Then there a nice video featuring the full album version. And finally, the Isley Brothers duetting with Ashanti on VH1's "Diva" TV special. All I can say about these videos is wow, look at those Marshall amp stacks, the outfits these guys wear, and Ernie's crazy behind the back stuff.

1 comment:

Axe Victim said...

A great song is that. Brought back a lot of memories.