Song 150: The Isley Brothers, “It’s Your Thing” (1969)

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Now that I know a little about the history of “It’s Your Thing,” it seems to be one of the great kiss-off songs. The Isley Brothers were unhappy with their place in the Motown ranks, so they engaged in a lengthy battle with label head Berry Gordy to leave. When they finally did, they abandoned the relatively safe, smooth sound of “This Old Heart of Mine.”

In some ways, it’s hard to believe that “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” and “It’s Your Thing” are by the same group. They’re both superb songs, but they seem like they’re worlds apart. One is smooth and easygoing, the other is rough and feisty. Sure, they’re separated by three years, but the gap sounds more based on identity than time: this is the kind of band we are now, and we’re taking our new sound elsewhere. The song’s refrain seems to be aimed not only at themselves (we’re gonna do what we want to do) and at their former boss (do what you have to do, Gordy, but we’re out of here).

Whatever the history, this song is impeccable. Just listen to how it’s arranged, with those gloriously chunky guitars in the right channel and the piano on the right, and with all the other parts working together to make the machine run. I think this song is much more interesting than their Motown work, sublime as their old songs may be.

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