Isley Brothers vs. Earth, Wind & Fire: Verzuz Scorecard

The Isley Brothers

Hosted (with a somewhat heavy touch) by star comedian Steve Harvey, and with music courtesy of veteran DJ and quarantine-era sensation D-Nice, the event was clearly going to be a special one even before the two groups began spinning. D Nice span ’80s classics from Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan, before Harvey introduced himself, offered a prayer for “down bad” Verzuz veteran DMX, and raved about the formative importance of the two groups in his own life: “These groups made me. This music shaped me.”

See Billboard‘s round-by-round scorecard for the epic showdown below — a supersized 25-round match, in accordance with the bands’ stunningly expansive catalogues — with our final winner tallied up and declared at the bottom.

Round 1: The Isley Brothers’ “Love the One You’re With” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” (Live) 

The Isleys start off with their hit cover of Stephen Stills’ solo smash, a rendition still soaring five decades later. But it can’t compete with the live version of signature Earth, Wind & Fire cut “That’s the Way of the World,” which just minutes earlier both Harvey and Ernie Isley had been raving about being a personal favorite of theirs. Hard not to be as miffed as Harvey was at the early fade out on that one.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 2: The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove”

The Isley Brothers kick it up a notch and take it back to their first Motown single with the sweetly radiant “This Old Heart of Mine.” Would be an automatic W against most competition, but Earth, Wind & Fire aren’t backing down early, countering with the forever floor-filler “Let’s Groove,” the biggest and best of the group’s ’80s hits. Tough break early for the Isleys.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 3: The Isley Brothers’ “Hello It’s Me” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Keep Your Head to the Sky”

The Isley Brothers pick another one of their covers of a then-contemporary hit, with their blissful rendition of Todd Rundgren’s singer-songwriter perennial “Hello It’s Me.” EWF are still going strong responding with their similarly sublime “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” even getting up and performing along with the early hit, but the Isleys are finally on the board with this one.

WINNER: Isley Brothers

Round 4: The Isley Brothers’ “(At Your Best) You Are Love” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” (Live)

The Isleys put away the covers to play a song of theirs famous for being covered: 1976 slow jam “(At Your Best) You Are Love,” a top 10 hit for Aaliyah two decades later and a fan favorite for Frank Ocean two decades after that. The original still more than stands on its own — and yet it gets quickly eclipsed by EWF’s “Reasons,” another all-timer which, as Steve Harvey takes great glee in pointing out, a lot of folks watching were likely conceived to.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 5: The Isley Brothers’ “Harvest For the World” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life”

Ernie Isley has broken out the guitar for the last couple songs, and he sounds spectacular playing over the Isleys’ topical 1976 hit “Harvest For the World” — an appreciated turning up of the tempo after two rounds of slow songs. EWF also go uptempo for their next pick, this time doing a cover of their own: The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life,” a fun rendition that can’t quite compare with the Isleys’ original.

WINNER: Isley Brothers

Round 6: The Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Would You Mind”

Steve Harvey’s call to D Nice for four “sexy ass” love songs in a row begins with the Isley Brothers’ 1977 A-Side “Groove With You,” before segueing seamlessly into Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Would You Mind” from the same year, off their classic All ‘n All album. With inspired and well-mixed picks of two underrated cuts in the groups’ respective catalogues, the win for this one should go to D-Nice — otherwise, it’s too close to call.

WINNER: Tie

Round 7: The Isley Brothers’ “Summer Breeze” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Be Ever Wonderful” 

The Isleys go back to the cover well with perhaps the finest of their ’70s hit renderings: Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” an absolutely smoldering version that eclipses an already immaculate original. B-side “Be Ever Wonderful” is a pleasantly unexpected counter — one with personal meaning to Harvey, as he says he had a father-daughter wedding dance to it. Still, “Summer Breeze” floats by with this one.

WINNER: Isley Brothers

Round 8: The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Devotion” (Live)

All right, now the Isleys mean business, as Ron Isley has gotten up to sing along with his highest-charting hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the No. 2-peaking ode to individuality “It’s Your Thing.” Earth, Wind & Fire aren’t exactly laying down in this round with their pick of the gorgeous groover “Devotion” from live album Gratitude — recently sampled for Drake in his Kanye West-featuring “Glow” — but the greatness of “It’s Your Thing” remains indefatigable.

WINNER: Isley Brothers

Round 9: The Isley Brothers’ “Make Me Say It Again Girl” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone” 

Earth, Wind & Fire are in danger of letting this get out of hand early, as the Isleys pull out another transfixing ballad with the underrated “Make Me Say It Again Girl,” closer to their Billboard 200-topping 1975 album The Heat Is On. EWF are ready for this one, though, hitting back with their classic No. 2-peaking jam “After the Love Has Gone,” owner of one of the great unexpected verse-to-chorus melodic pivots in pop history. A trump card well played here.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 10: The Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”

“That’s ‘Footsteps,’ baby!” Right you are, Steve Harvey, as the unmistakable drum saunter and liquid guitar groove of one of the Isleys’ most enduring jams — aided by an incalculably large mid-’90s assist from Ice Cube — even has Halle Berry crying in the IG comments. Not a lot of songs to take that one down, but Earth, Wind & Fire’s lone Hot 100 No. 1 might just have to be considered one of them: “Shining Star,” a guiding light for every wedding, graduation, bar mitzvah or other joyous celebration for 46 years and counting. We’ll call it a draw between the fan favorite and the populist pick.

WINNER: Tie

Round 11: The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire feat. The Emotions’ “Boogie Wonderland”

That’s right, the Isleys go back so far that The Beatles were covering them — on their debut album, no less! “Twist and Shout” still packs the energy nearly 60 years later, as does Earth, Wind & Fire’s highly flammable “Boogie Wonderland,” featuring The Emotions, which inspires D-Nice’s first misstep of the evening being a little over-anxious with the transition. Sorta hard to blame him, though.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 12: The Isley Brothers’ “Choosy Lover” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “On Your Face” 

The Isleys had barely scratched the surface on their deep reserve of ’80s quiet storm jams, but they unleash a big one in the plush “Choosy Lover.” EWF respond by trying to run them off the court with the effervescent Spirit cut “On Your Face” — sample source for Queen Pen’s underrated late-’90s rap hit “Party Ain’t a Party,” as D-Nice cleverly reminds folks during the ensuing bathroom break — but the Isley Bros’ cool can’t be out-heated.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 13: The Isley Brothers’ “Voyage to Atlantis” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo)” (Live)

You knew the piercing guitars and languid grooves of “Voyage to Atlantis” were going to be making an appearance at some point, and it’s an inspired choice for the Isleys’ first song out of the intermission. EWF appear well-rested as well, harmonizing along with their live version of one of the greatest album interludes of all time in All ‘n All‘s “Brazilian Rhyme.” Way too close to call this one.

WINNER: Tie

Round 14: The Isley Brothers’ “Here We Go Again” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sun Goddess” 

Back to the ’80s for the Isleys with their infectious Go All the Way R&B hit “Here We Go Again,” more winning with each Ernie Isley guitar growl. EWF hasn’t finished with their non-verbal singalongs though, pulling out one more with their Ramsey Lewis collab “Sun Goddess,” whose levels of pure jazz-funk cannot be measured by mere celsius and/or Fahrenheit thermometers. Well played.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 15: The Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “I’ll Write a Song For You” 

Things are really zipping now, as Steve Harvey was apparently instructed at the intermission to get out of the way, and now the two bands are really just zooming through the back-and-forths, with D-Nice putting them through their paces like a drill sergeant. The Isleys rip through their early ’70s grinders’ anthem “Work to Do” accordingly, before EWF return to All ‘n All for their “I’ll Write a Song For You” ballad. Pretty clear which one fits the current tone of the proceedings better.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 16: The Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire”

If you’re not floating by the time those velvety opening chords and fat bass hit to introduce “Between the Sheets,” you’re probably tuned into the wrong channel. Nearly 40 years later and there has still never been a song colder — it didn’t need the Notorious B.I.G.’s validation for that, but Ron Isley isn’t too proud to remind you of the connection anyway by offering an “I love it when you call me ‘Big Poppa'” at the beginning of his performance singing along to the stone classic. EWF have a scorcher of their own in tow for this round with “Serpentine Fire,” but they may as well have just tossed out a dud for this round really.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 17: The Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You” vs. Deniece Williams’ “Free” 

The Isleys’ are clearly heading into crunch time here, returning with the pitch-perfect “For the Love You,” a love song sweet and transmutable enough to be covered on Whitney Houston’s Diamond-certified sophomore album, which even gets EWF up and singing along. Earth, Wind & Fire return with the first song of the night performed by an outside artist — Deniece Williams’ oft-covered (and ofter-sampled/interpolated) 1976 classic “Free,” co-written by Maurice White and featuring EWF. A great pull on their part, but “For the Love of You” was one of the night’s flashbulb moments.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 18: The Isley Brothers’ “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” 

This is getting unfair: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” is obviously nothing to sneeze at, but Ron Isley singing along to the alternately seductive and tearjerking “Don’t Say Goodnight” — especially after the Dilla sample — creating an echo effect between his original vocal and the new one… it’s just an experience that’s tough to match.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 19: The Isley Brothers’ “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” 

Finally, a window for Earth, Wind & Fire: “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight,” the latest hit played by the Isleys thusfar, is another gem, but not quite on the level of the handful of unimpeachable classics to precede it. EWF don’t waste the opportunity, either: “Fantasy” is one of the group’s most transportive hits and joyful singalongs, a classic until the 12th of Never.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 20: The Isley Brothers’ “Sensuality” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Getaway” 

The Isleys having a song called “Sensuality” feels on the nose to the point of being downright redundant, but the Heat Is On deep cut earns its title even by the Brothers’ heightened standards, with one of their most narcotically slow grooves and ecstatically pained Ron vocals — which Ron matches live in one of the evening’s many “how lucky are we to get to watch this?’ moments. EWF’s “Getaway” is a fine hit, but it’s not quite on that level.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 21: The Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Mighty Mighty” 

Time for Ernie to plug the electric back in to jam along with “Fight the Power,” a forever-timely jam that lays to waste any questions about if the group could do righteous and raging as well as they did smooth and sexy. Once again, EWF’s “Mighty Mighty” is a worthy entry that just can’t quite eclipse its opponent’s shadow.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 22: The Isley Brothers’ “Contagious” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “In the Stone”

The Isleys’ final top 40 hit to date remains a knockout, but given the inextricable involvement of R. Kelly — who wrote “Contagious” (and features on the song’s denouement) and who performed “Down Low,” the Ron Isley-featuring ’90s soap R&B smash that “Contagious” served as the sequel to — gives it a sour connotation for the evening. Luckily, sourness never lasts long around Earth, Wind & Fire, who sweeten the proceedings right back up with the blindingly bright “In the Stone.” The group cites it as an HCBU band favorite, and not hard to see why.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 23: The Isley Brothers feat. JS’ “Busted” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Magic Mind”

They’re not bad songs, but it’s hard to see why the Isleys are leaning on their R. Kelly era so heavy this late in the game, when this one in particular wasn’t a major hit and they still have some pretty massive songs to get to. “Magic Mind” isn’t one of EWF’s best, but they take this one practically by default.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

Round 24: The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” vs. Philip Bailey feat. Phil Collins, “Easy Lover” 

We might never hear another song from the ’50s played on the Verzuz stage again, let alone one that’s proven so impossibly enduring that the majority of millennials and probably even Gen Z folks watching it are familiar with it. “Easy Lover” still goes as hard as anything, but it can’t compete with that kind of staying power, and it’s not really a proper EWF song anyway.

WINNER: The Isley Brothers

Round 25: The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” vs. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”

Steve Harvey’s insistence that the closing songs get played in full makes sense once the Isleys’ final choice is revealed: “That Lady,” their two-park mid-’70s funk masterpiece, with falsetto and guitar so vivid you can practically see the horniness radiating off of it — certainly not to be abbreviated. An absolute five-star classic, but you already know what Earth, Wind & Fire have been saving for last: “September,” maybe one of the ten most beloved and enduring pop songs of the entire rock era, and now basically even its own annual holiday. No shame in even the Isleys bowing to that one.

WINNER: Earth, Wind & Fire

BONUS ROUNDS

Wider Catalogue: The Isley Brothers

They had Hot 100 hits — original ones, as lead artists — in six separate decades. No disrespect to Earth, Wind & Fire, but when it comes to catalogue width, the Isleys are close to without peer in the history of popular music.

Biggest Snub: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song” (Point: Isley Brothers)

Maybe a little corny for the setting, but it was still surprising to see EWF leave one of their four top five Hot 100 hits on the table — one whose ebullience is still too infectious to be written off.

Source: News | Billboard

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