Saturday, August 22, 2015

Track of the Week: The Isley Brothers "Fight The Power"

[Editor's Note: In two weeks I am turning 40.  In honor of that momentous and depressing occasion, my next few tracks of the week will be taken from the charts around the time I was born in 1975.]

I got into history and historical thinking at way too early an age, when I was still in elementary school.  I think even as a ten year old I was interested to know what important historical events had happened on my birthday, and what was going on in the world on the day that I was born.  That interest has dovetailed with my obsession with music, and a desire to know what songs were hits when I first entered the world.  A lot of time has passed in my life now, and the world I was born into is pretty foreign to the one I am living in today.

Looking back to the charts in September of 1975, I am struck by the broad range of stuff in the top 20, from Bad Company to the Carpenters.  I was most surprised to see a political song by the Isley Brothers, "Fight The Power" lingering near the top of the heap in the weeks around my birth.  It has a very funky feel and very complex rhythm with some almost overbearing wah-wah bass that dates the song immediately to the mid-70s.  It lies on the cusp between funk and disco, which is only appropriate for an innovative band that made some of the best dance music of the sixties.  (The breadth and diversity of the Isley Brothers' output never ceases to amaze me.)

"Fight the Power"'s strong political nature and criticism of authority are also very striking.  (Public Enemy would quote this song in their own "Fight The Power.")  While the music is VERY 70s, the lyrics are reminiscent of the 60s.  The mid-70s, and 1975 in particular, were a kind of transitional period, when the social movements of the sixties and early seventies seemed played out, but the conservative tidal wave that would wash over the country in the late 70s had not yet coalesced.  Musically "Fight the Power" is pointing the way to the future and the sounds of disco and hip-hop, where rhythm would eclipse melody.  Lyrically, this song points to the past, and the great period of change and protest receding into the distance.  That makes it perhaps the most representative song on the charts in September of 1975, and one still worth listening to.

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