How hard must it be to write a brilliant pop song? You know, one of the all time, genuinely timeless greats that doesn’t rely on the technology or gimmicks of the age, one that can withstand any number of heavy-handed and unsympathetic cover versions by even the most cloth-eared performer.
“Shout” is one of those songs. Released by The Isley Brothers debut way back in 1959, it has weathered the intervening years particularly well and remains one of the touchstones of one of the longest-running careers in pop music and unlike the brothers’ other evergreen, “Twist and Shout”, it was self-penned too.
Back in those pre-Beatles days albums were little more than promotional tools. The seven inch single was where teenagers hearts really lay and as a result there were precious few genuinely worthwhile pop albums released during this era, but Shout! is one of them. Clocking in at just over half an hour it’s the perfect length for a pop album, it’s blend of Doo Wop influenced Rhythm and Blues, while not unique at the time, was certainly among its best examples and listening to it more than half a century later, it still boasts a contagious energy.
Shout! kicks off with an enthusiastic cover of “When the Saints Go Marching In”, just in case you were in any doubt about where the three brothers had cut their teeth. Yes, it’s one of the most over-played traditional tunes of all time, but here Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph make it leap out of the speakers, making it arguably the most life-affirming version of the song that I’ve personally heard.
From here the whole album snowballs into a mass of energetic positivity. As was standard procedure at the time, Shout! is packed full of cover versions, all of which the trio of brothers make their own. Where the album peaks though is where the brothers perform their own self-penned material, with “Respectable” being the relatively obscure classic and “Shout” (here divided, as it was on it’s original single release into ‘part 1’ and ‘part 2’, despite it clocking in at under five minutes) being one of the most perfect pop songs ever written.
Sure, The Isley Brothers would go on to release albums that were more well received, better selling and had heavy weight reputations, however for me Shout! is one of those albums that defined an era, it following the procedure of most albums at the time, yet still managing to stand out from the crowd through the sheer force of will of its creators. Released at a time when most pop albums were on the whole flimsy and disposable, Shout! retains its enthusiasm and energy to this day and for that reason alone, it should be celebrated as one of the stand out albums by a group whose career was not short on great albums.