The Isley Brothers – ‘Forever Gold’

Ahh… The Isley Brothers. What a beautiful family of absolute dudes. Packed with killer singles during the early and mid ‘70s, the psychedelic funk & soul and blissed-out vocals are all perfectly captured on their ’77 release Forever Gold. Formed in the ‘50s, The Isley’s were legendary before any of these tunes were written, but that status went up a bunch of notches during the seventies.

These guys had earned their chops a hundred times over by the time That Lady was released in ’73, tutoring Jimi Hendrix from ’63-’65 who was a clear inspiration for the psychedelic guitar on many of these tracks ten years later. The absolute groove on these tunes, regardless of tempo, is impeccable, but it’s not just the groove, it’s the message and sentiment on tracks like Highways Of My Life and Harvest For The World which hit me just as hard.

Sometimes musically it’s the simpler the better that works, when just the most basic groove works best. Lennon was a master of that, and in so many songs it’s that simplicity that wins me over. Highways Of My Life got me for just that reason. Everything is beautifully simple, and just the faintest change in tempo mid-song just kills me.

Me and my amigos loved this album. In many ways it was the soundtrack to our time living together, summing up our brotherly love and sheer passion for a work of musical art. For me this was The Isley Brothers at their peak; pre-disco and groovin’ the hell out of the funk-rock. But, pinning a genre on Forever Gold is a waste of time. This ain’t no disco, R&B, funk or soul. This is The Isley Brothers.

The Beatles – ‘1967-70’ (Blue Album)

It was the autumn of 1980. It was going to happen at some point, but it happened to be David Sax – a schoolfriend, county tennis player and Vitas Gerulaitis lookalike, big hair, headband and everything, who did the deed. I remember the day well, we’d already spoken fairly briefly about music, I mentioned my love of The Jam, he mentioned his love of Bob Dylan then he showed me his (his dad’s I presume) record collection. He showed me The Beatles. More importantly, he leant me the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums.

Of course I’d heard plenty of The Fabs before, three years of listening to the Old Record Club as a musically illuminating warm-up to the late ‘70s Top 40 chart on Radio 1 had taught me their hit singles. But these two double-players in their gorgeous entirety were like opening up an Aladdin’s cave of wow, of oh my fucking god, of life-changing aural pleasure. Quite quickly the 1967-1970 Blue album became my favourite, and whilst Disc 1 – Side 1 made my jaw drop the furthest, all four quarters left me stunned and ridiculously, beautifully intoxicated.

It felt like the previous five years or so had been a learning experience, the perfect elementary school lesson into the history of pop music, but my teachers had saved the best until now. I was perfectly ready not just for The Beatles, but also for everything that opened up to me as a result, musically, emotionally, and spiritually. Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In The Life blew me away, the former remains the best song I’ve ever heard, but this felt like more than music. Yes, it was lyrics and melodies, but it brought out such emotions that it seemed to lift me, enlighten me, raising me up to an even higher level of musical love. The album was my musical Garden of Eden.

Most of the lessons at school were wasted on me. For good or bad it was music that moulded me, that shaped the way I thought, influencing beyond the norm the way I lived my life. During 1978-80 most of this influence had been quite direct, very real and easy to appreciate and attach to my own life – The Jam, The Specials, Madness and The Beat sung about shit that was happening and modern day discontent – The Beatles were a dream; a multi-coloured, multi-layered, psychedelic mind expansion.

The Beatles Blue album did more than open up my eyes and ears. It attacked my inner self too, developing a deeper more introspective part of my persona that was previously non-existent. I read little as a boy, but songs like Across The Universe were my paperback substitute:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind / Possessing and caressing me / Jai Guru Deva. Om / Nothing’s gonna change my world…

The Beatles changed mine.