Friday Night Music, December 11, 2009: The Isley Brothers, “Fight the Power, Parts 1 and 2,” 1975
After all this going on with health care, corporatism on the march, the war in Afghanistan widening, and Tiger, I think this is the best way to end the week. Think it, feel it, know it.
“Fight the Power” came from The Isley Brothers‘ album, The Heat is On. The other hit that came from this album was “Who’s That Lady?” These two songs made The Heat is On The Isley Brothers’ biggest album, selling half a million records in the first month of its release.
“Fight the Power (Part 1 & 2)” is a 1975 protest funk song by The Isley Brothers, released on their T-Neck imprint. The anti-establishment song was originally thought of by Ernie Isley while the group was recording for another socially-conscious song, “Harvest for the World”.
Co-written with music by Ernie, baby brother Marvin and in-law Chris Jasper, when brought to the older Isleys, including lead singer Ronald, the frontman decided to change up the lyric in the bridge of the song where Ernie wrote “And I roll with the punches/got knocked down on the ground by all this bullshit going down.” It was actually Ronald who injected “bullshit” to the lyric while Ernie had originally wrote nonsense.
When asked why he changed it, Ronald said “because that’s what everyone needed to hear.” Sung alongside his older brothers O’Kelly and Rudolph, the latter brother often singing in unison with Ronald, each of the older Isleys added in lead ad-libs in the group’s final “fight the power” chant before all six Isley members furiously chanted, “Fight it!”
Released in May of that year, the song became a monumental record for the group, partly based on the interesting censoring of “bullshit” on radio stations, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and number one on the Hot Soul Singles chart, becoming the Isleys’ second number-one hit on that chart. The success of the single helped to send their album, The Heat Is On, to number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The Isleys inspired a rap version of its “fight the powers that be” battle cry by Public Enemy in their even more militant version fourteen years later.
Kid brother Marvin was responsible for that deep gut bass in “Fight the Power,” while Ernie, the writer, played percussion, drums, and guitar, the guitar that you hear at the close of “Who’s That Lady?” And Chris Jasper brought in the funk of synthesizers, piano, and keyboards.
The eclectic Ernie Isley is now 57 and the father of one daughter, Alexandra. He has been married for ten years, and he and his family lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He recently guested on Janet Jackson’s 2008 album, Discipline. He has an album, High Wire, which appeared in 1990, but is at work on a second.
The incomparable bassist Marvin Isley is now 56, but life for him has not been kind. In 1997, Marvin contracted diabetes and as a result, both of his legs were amputated. He has also had a kidney transplant. However, Marvin was inducted along with his brothers to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
- Chris Jasper – Keep Believin (smoothjazztherapy.typepad.com)
- Seasoned Soul: The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart Of Mine (raunii.wordpress.com)
- The Samples Behind the 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Hits of the ’90s (coedmagazine.com)