Great Music #1

"Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach" CD
“Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach” CD

A house is not a home when there’s no one there…

My rockin’ friends may laugh and poke fun accusing me of loving schmaltz with this post (“On the day you were born the angels made a dream come true.”) but I don’t care – and neither will those of you who listen to the music on this CD and the other music listed, below.

In 2003 Ronald Isley and Burt Bachrach teamed for the album Here I Am, a collection of Bachrach’s (mostly) 1960s tunes with Bachrach on piano led by Isley’s poignant, signature falsetto. Both Ronald Isley (Cincinnati, May 21, 1941) and Burt Freeman Bacharach (Kansas City, May 12, 1928) are American mid-westerners (yeh!)

Album:  Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach.

Artists: Ron Isley & Burt Bachrach (with many others in the orchestra)

Like most musicians who people believe pop out of nowhere, both Isley and Bachrach had a lot of road behind them when they entered mainstream consciousness. Bachrach studied with famed Darius Milhaud and was a music director for Marlene Dietrich from the mid-to-late 1950s to the early 1960s, touring worldwide and writing songs. When he had an office at the famed Brill Building in New York City he met the lyricist Hal David. Together they wrote many of the greatest popular songs of the 1960s and 1970s, performed to perfection by Dionne Warwick, one of the best selling female vocalist of all time, after Aretha. (And, oh… we all laughed but Warwick made US$3 million from plugging the Psychic Friends Network on late night TV for 7 years!) The Brill is still there and worth a visit if you’ve not passed by. It was home to music publishers and song-smiths including Bobby Darin, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann, Gene Pitney, Johnny Mercer, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Billy Rose, Neil Sadaka and others who worked in small offices with upright pianos (according to my father.)

“Breaking up is so hard to do”

Ron Isley and brothers (variously O’Kelly, Ernie, Marvin, Rudolph) formed The Isley Brothers, an R&B group nonpareil. They made a hit of ‘Twist and Shout’ in 1962, beating the Beatles to the line (1963).

If you are a mid-period baby boomer you most certainly remember the 1971 album ‘Givin’ It Back’ featuring the songs ‘Ohio/Machine Gun’ (by Neil Young /Jimi Hendrix), ‘Fire and Rain’ (James Taylor), ‘Lay Lady Lay’ (Bob Dylan), ‘Spill the Wine’ (Miller, Scott and 5 others) and ‘Love the One You’re With’ (Stephen Stills). The recently deceased Bill Withers played guitar on that album!

Then in 1973 they released the album ‘3+3’ (‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’) with ‘That Lady’ (Isley Bros.), ‘Don’t Let me Be Lonely Tonight’ (James Taylor), and more.

When I was in grad school in London the parties the Africans threw were the most fun (check out Osibisa, the first ‘World Music’ group) but for atmosphere and romance one could pull the Isley Brothers in for tactical support. If you could not keep company for the dreary autumn nights with the assistance of the Isley Brothers you were beyond helping!

‘Be mine tonight, let this be just the start of so many nights like this… then seal it with a kiss.’

But I digress.

The CD ‘Here I Am’ with Bachrach will touch a chord with those of us who survived Vietnam, the war of our generation, and the drug- and alcohol-fueled gatherings that took so many of our peers. It is like listening with new (mature) ears.

Full orchestration is not always successful on pop and jazz recordings, think 1955’s ‘Clifford Brown with Strings’ with Brown, Richie Powell, George Morrow and Max Roach – reviewed as “lush settings by some and muzak by others”. However, ‘Here I Am: Isley Presents Bachrach” is, to me, simply gorgeous; Bachrach did not lose his touch with his 1960s work with Warwick. Isley’s interpretations drop his ‘Mr. Biggs’ persona (much in evidence in his collaborations with R. Kelly) and meld tenderness, love, poignant loss, humility and romance all in one grand slow-motion sweep that will steam the bedroom windows.

Listening to ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ we are no longer in B.J. Thomas territory riding that bicycle with Katherin Ross in 1969’s ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ (the American Film Institute’s 73rd-greatest American film on its “100 Years…100 Movies”, 10th Anniversary Edition and 7th greatest Western (2008). Jack Lemmon, Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen were all offered the role of Sundance by the by!)

(Ah… another recent loss: illustrator Mort Drucker (1929 – April 9, 2020) who drew movie parodies for MAD Magazine from 1956 to 2008 and did the pics for MAD Magazine’s ‘Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid’, Issue No. 136, July 1970.)

For the more visual among you, there was a PBS Special of these performances, too, that I have not seen.

Listen to this CD and you will be booking a site for a post Covid-19 renewal of your wedding vows!

P.S. For a great read on the relationship between the Isley family and Jimi Hendrix see: “Ernie Isley remembers Jimi Hendrix”. If I recall correctly, The Seattle Times article omits to report that the Isleys bought Jimi a new white Strat because they thought his (which was in hock, sans strings, at a pawn shop) was too tatty for their stage shows.

P.P.S. Dionne Warwick’s extended family is chock-a-block full of the musically and athletically talented. Blood relatives include Dee Dee Warwick, Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston, Gary Garland, Bobbi Kristina Brown and Leontyne Price.

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