Music

The Isley Brothers: Live It Up

Mark Desrosiers

The Isley Brothers

Live It Up

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
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That's the insistent refrain of this classic Isleys title track, and you gotta wonder whether this hedonistic guilt acquired a shady significance when the LP dropped into racks one week after Nixon's resignation. Probably not. You can have your Watergate, just gives the Isleys some love (plus a clavinet) and they'll be straight.

Live It Up was released just 10 months after the eternal 3 + 3, which transformed the band from a trio to a sextet (thus the title) and was keyed with the astonishing single "That Lady", plus a superior cover of Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze". This was an exuberant album that cartwheeled across your Sunday-morning sunbeam den (unlike their late '70s LPs, which crawled between your sheets round midnight). The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, but let's not forget Ernie Isley's lava-seam of guitar pyrotechnics.

Live It Up might seem at first listen like a replication of the 3 + 3 formula, but beneath the heady funk jams which open both sides lurks an ocean of lust, sadness, and bitterness. Even the obligatory white-boy cover (Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me") is chosen and molded to fit this mood. In the end you're seduced by the quiet storm, but it's the storm of a loner either scowling at relationships, or begging for reconciliation. The bedsheets are far, far away.

And so, with "Live It Up", which opens side A, we are funkified with chants and beats and the glorious clavinet (recently discovered by Chris Jasper), all in service of Me-decade cognitive dissonance. Why feel guilty for attributed sins, when you can dance, make romance, sing, and swing? Both the clavinet and the lyrical theme foretold the onset of disco, though let's not attribute too much historical weight to this fact. This jam doth rock, just check out the explosive Dinah Shore Show performance appended to the CD reissue, which features Dinah herself exclaiming "I could really feel that!"

The album then slows down and brightens up for "Brown-Eyed Girl", a smitten melodic seduction emerging from darkness, which has since become a Quiet Storm classic. But the real treasure on side A is "Lover's Eve", one of the saddest songs the Isleys ever recorded. Ronald Isley begins on hands and knees, a beggar for love, and then spends the rest of the song sending out wave after wave of tear-drenched melismas. Although you never actually sympathize with Ronald, you still want to pack the song away for a future foothold on sanity when your own love life goes to hell.

Side B opens with "Midnight Sky (Part 1 & 2)", another epic funk jam with a lusty undertow. Ronald hungers after the usual "Lay with me / Stay with me" theme while Ernie's flash solos illuminate the landscape like white lightning. Just like "Live It Up", it's a fiery tune with no obvious hook, which actually makes it endlessly listenable and danceable.

Then the sadness begins. "Hello It's Me" is an early example of Ronald's talent for transforming a song by singing and moaning around the melody. I wouldn't call this a particularly classic interpretation, more like a slow-jam version inflected with Ronald's soulful quirks, brimming with that lover's-eve sadness, and (curiously) fading out with the insistent refrain "don't change, don't change, girl".

The album goes out with another unheralded Isleys classic, "Ain't I Been Good to You", eight minutes of pleading and hectoring with aggressive tempo changes and an astonishingly Zeppelin-esque guitar-vocal dialogue at the end. Don't get me wrong: it ain't heavy, but it'll suck you in like heavenly quicksand.

Although the common trope about the Isleys' T-Neck years is that you can't tell the albums apart, give 'em enough time and you'll see real differences. Live It Up is the album where Ronald's love life is falling apart, and the rest of the band tries to dance him out of his blues. Highly recommended.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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