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It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop) (Parts 1 & 2) - the Isley Brothers

On October 11th earlier this year, Rudolph Isley, one third of the original trio that made up the Isley Brothers for their first ten years from 1959 to 1969, died. The three were O'Kelly, who passed on in 1986, Ronald, the lead singer for almost all of the groups' songs, and Rudoph. While being terrifically dynamic as backing singers - the excitement in their support vocals is as palpable and contagious as any soul group - it's almost impossible to find a song with either O'Kelley or Rudolph on the main vocal. The odd album track with Rudolph's on lead is usually a dud, which suggests that brother Ronald, indisputably the best singer in the group, took the honours along with the best material. This remained the case even after 1969 when the group were augmented by younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. Rudolph, with the move away from their sharp-suited Motown image of the sixties to a funkier, more casual seventies look, became known for his hats, and later his stylish outfits and cane.

The Isley Brothers are probably unique in that they are the only group to have US Hot 100 hits in the six successive decades from the 1950's to the noughties, evolving and maintaining the relevance and quality of their output all the while, an unusual trait in a soul band.

Most of the obituaries for Rudolph credited him with lead vocals on their 1979 UK top twenty disco hit "It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop)", although some listings credit Ronald and at moments it does sound suspiciously like him. But Rudolph was a great singer himself, so it's only right that he has his day in the sun. Certainly there's a warm luxuriance to his vocal that Ronald seldom achieved.

The song commences with a guitar riff that is pure Doobies Brothers - it's only right that the Isleys should return the complement paid them when the former copied their "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" note for note four years earlier. (see previous post ) Then the "It's a Disco Night....." guitar part morphs into a smooth lift of Curtis Mayfield's

"Move On Up", a UK hit in 1971 due to its unexpected success in Northern discos. Ironically "Move On Up" wasn't a US hit due to its inordinate length at 8 minutes 49 seconds - too long for radio deejays to play - so was released in the UK abridged at 2 minutes 53 whereupon it remained in the top fifty for weeks, largely sustained by Northern Soul deejays who were playing the original, longer album version.

So too, "It's a Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop) (Parts 1 & 2)" was a success in the UK, achieving number 14 while only scraping into the US Hot 100 at number 90. I love the fact that the Isleys are still splitting their songs into Parts 1 & 2, a habit they began in in 1961 with the release of the classic "Shout Parts 1 & 2", the two parts being the "A" and "B" side of the single, although here they're both on the the "A" side and it's not clear where "A" becomes "B" though I suspect it's 2 minutes 23 seconds in. The idea of parts "A" & "B" is the generation of excitement, the moment where there's a short silence as the deejay "flips the disc" to carry on with part "B" of the song. So the excitement is right there by association in the title, on the label, along with the imperative brackets, even before the needle touches the vinyl.

And why not? After all, it's Rudolph Isley's finest hour - or rather his finest 5 minutes and 15 seconds.


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