Saturday Single No. 122

Originally posted April 4, 2009

The world remains in soft focus today – Can you spell Vicodin? – so this likely won’t be very long. But as I was casting about for an idea this morning, I came across a 1974 song titled by a group named Isis that works at least a little bit for a post during the first week of April.

Isis was a nine-woman funk-rock band formed in New York. As All-Music Guide notes:

“All-female funk-rock outfit Isis reunited singer/guitarist Carol MacDonald and drummer Ginger Bianco, who previously collaborated in the ’60s girl group Goldie & the Gingerbreads. Inspired by the success of distaff hard rock combo Fanny, MacDonald and Bianco formed Isis in 1972, recruiting lead guitarist Susan Ghezzi, bassist Stella Bass, saxophonist Jeanie Fineberg, trumpeter Lauren Draper, trombonist Lilly Bienenfield, and percussionist Nydia Mata. After building a cult following on the strength of their regular appearances at the New York City club Trude Heller’s, Isis signed to the Buddah label to issue its self-titled 1974 debut. Complete with cover art featuring all eight members nude and covered in metallic chrome paint, the record was acclaimed in some quarters but dismissed as little more than a novelty in others.”

A novelty? Not really, as the women in Isis could play, and the group’s first album, a self-titled release from 1974, sounds pretty good. But then, I’ve always liked bands with horns, probably because I played a horn. To call the group a horn band, though, is a disservice, bringing in the idea of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Isis is funkier than that, with a sound that reminds me more of Earth, Wind & Fire or maybe Tower of Power. It’s a difficult sound to categorize.

The AMG note above points out that some folks didn’t bother to ponder the music too deeply after seeing the first album’s cover. Posing in just the silver paint for the album cover probably didn’t enhance the group’s credibility. The question that hung in the air at the time, I think, would’ve been: Are they cover art or are they musicians? The possibility that the members of Isis could be both wasn’t one that a lot of folks took seriously at the time. (The valid questions that hang for me are: Had the group been all males, would the idea of the silver paint cover have come up? And if it somehow had, would the cover have damaged the group’s credibility? And I tend to think the answers would’ve been negative. )

I didn’t run into Isis’ work when it was new. I do wish I had. It would’ve been fun to confound my friends with something truly different. And Isis did have a different sound. I’m still absorbing Isis’ first album, and I’ll likely write more about the group another day.

For now – three days late, but there you go – here’s Isis’ “April Fool,” today’s Saturday Single.

“April Fool” by Isis from Isis [1974]

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