Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968)
Precious, Precious/When I Fall In Love/Medley: I Just Want To Make Love To You/Rock Me Baby/Medley: Going To Chicago Blues/Misty/You Don't Know Like I Know
This was Isaac Hayes' first album and was recorded, apparently, to appease the head of Stax Records. Hayes had previously been a major songwriter for the label. I am not sure why he was put under pressure to record the album, but he was, and, together with three members of Booker T. & The MGs, they cobbled together an album. In doing so, Hayes almost inadvertently developed the style of recording extended, slow soul versions of existing songs, upon which he would base his solo career over the next ten years or so. It was a five track album, again something that would become the norm for Hayes. Stylistically, though, this was very much a jazz album, as opposed to a soul one. Jazz piano is the dominant sound.
Precious, Precious was initially recorded as a nineteen-minute piano-driven jazzy jam and was dramatically edited down to two minutes forty-two seconds for the album. It is basically some jazzy piano lines and some grunting, groaning vocal improvisations from Hayes. He sounds a bit like one of the Muppets. To be honest, it is one of the least impressive cuts he ever recorded. Up next is a dead slow, late night version of Nat King Cole's When I Fall In Love. Hayes' voice really hasn't developed well at this point. It is nowhere near the soulful weapon it was two or three years later. In fact on this track it is decidedly unimpressive. Isaac is certainly no Nat King Cole on this one.
Now we get three lengthy numbers. Medley: I Just Want To Make Love To You/Rock Me Baby is done in a laid-back jazzy style. As opposed to Hayes' subsequent extended grooves, which were orchestrated soul with funky influences, this is very jazzy. I have to say, though, that the vocal is often a bit slurred, and it sounds a bit as if Isaac has been on the Bourbon and is doing it as a big mickey-take. The story is that Hayes and the band were considerably "under the influence" after a party when they recorded this. That does not surprise me. Maybe some would disagree and claim it as a piece of classic soul improvisation. I can certainly say that for any of Hayes' following albums, but, unfortunately not for this one. The speeded-up bit at the end, though, is an improvement. Going To Chicago/Misty is musically excellent, but once more the slurred vocals lets it down. Every now and again Hayes hits a good vocal line, but then the quality dips again. He attempts to "rap" in the way he would develop in his later albums, but it doesn't quite work. The bass and piano interplay on this is sublime, however.
You Don't Know Like I Know is a jaunty piece of piano jazz that is a pleasant listen (probably because there are no vocals). Sorry Isaac, you were great on all the albums that came along after 1969's iconic Hot Buttered Soul, but this one just doesn't do it for me. As I said before, though, musically, it is very impressive. Actually, a couple of listens in and it starts to grow on you, but it clearly is an inferior piece of work to all his later, superb offerings.
Hot Buttered Soul (1969)
Walk On By/Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymystic/One Woman/By The Time I Get To Phoenix
This was Isaac Hayes' second album. His first, Presenting Isaac Hayes had not been much of a success and, apparently, he demanded free reign from Stax Records to do what he wanted on this album. He sure did that. In 1969, albums featuring only four tracks of lengthy soul workouts were not exactly de riguer. In so many ways, this album blazed a new trail. Barry White was still four years away from doing similar material. The album showed that soul could be coal-mine deep, drawn-out, dramatic, funky and passionate. Hayes suddenly had a new persona - the cool, growling-voiced but sensuous loverman. Soul music changed with this release, not as obviously as with What's Going On or Curtis - maybe, in that it carried no social message - but certainly stylistically.
Walk On By is Isaac's take on the song made famous by Dionne Warwick. This ain't nothin' like that, brother. It is a slow burning, slow building, smoocher of a groove that features, as well as Hayes' deep, late night vocal, some searing guitar. It really crashes in at the end of its twelve minutes and the only downside is the slightly disconcerting bit where the volume goes up and down and you think there is something wrong with your system.
Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. This tongue-twisting titled number is superbly funky - full to the brim with big, fatback bass, thumping drums, clunking piano, seductive backing vocals and Isaac grunting here and there. It gets into its groove and just keeps going, marvellously. It also, clearly, qualifies as one of the longest song titles and one of the most non-sensical.
One Woman is a delicious slice of "come over here honey" soul. The original recording always had a scratchy bit at about 2:50 seconds. Even the remastered version I now have has not failed to eliminate this. No real matter though, when Isaac and his backing singers trade off vocal pyrotechnics as the song reaches its glorious denouement.
By The Time We Get To Phoenix was written by Jimmy Webb, made famous by Glen Campbell, this is the album's tour de force. It is over eighteen minutes long and features an extended preacher-style spoken introduction from Hayes telling us all about the song's protagonist's back story to the song. A subtle bass rumbles as Hayes narrates until over the eight and a half minute mark. At that point he soulfully and effortlessly leads into the song. The song reaches a climax with some excellent horn backing and the band gets louder and louder. There is, of course, a case for it being just too damn long. That applies to many tracks on many Hayes albums. I can accept that to an extent, but on the other hand, those bloated, extended workouts were the albums' selling points.
Anyway, this is a highly recommended album.
The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970)
I Stand Accused/One Big Unhappy Family/I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself/Something
Coming not long after the unique, ground-breaking four-track album that was Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes released another one. It was similarly impressive. He had really hit on something here. He was taking soul music to another level.
I Stand Accused has a long, spoken intro before Hayes eventually breaks out into the song. Keen listeners will recognise some of the spoken lyrics as those used by UB40 on Guilty on their 1983 Labour Of Love album. When the song arrives, Hayes's soulful vocal lifts it so high. Beautiful stuff. Classic soul right there. You better believe it, brother.
The cynically-titled One Big Unhappy Family is a big, Stax-y soul number with a yearning, heart-broken vocal from Hayes. Dusty Springfield's I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself is a dignified, soulful rendition. Again, the vocal is excellent, as, of course, is the backing from The Bar-Kays. George Harrison's Something is given a quirky makeover, with some nice electric violin, but a lot of the beauty of the song is lost beneath all the orchestration and backing vocals. This one doesn't quite work for me. It does end with some almost prog-rock inventive instrumentation, however, that makes it a most unusual offering. Some of these experimental covers come off better than others, it has to be said. This one sounds like a bit of a mess to me, despite is obvious ingenuity. I know that sounds bad, but there is a lack of cohesion, in my opinion.
Overall, I prefer Hot Buttered Soul, but this is not without is good points, particularly the first two tracks.
...To Be Continued (1970)
Monologue: Ike's Rap 1/Our Day Will Come/The Look Of Love/Monologue: Ike's Mood/You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling/Runnin' Out Of Fools
This was Isaac Hayes's fourth studio album It followed again what was now a familiar path of lengthy soul workouts over sumptuous backing provided by the immaculate Bar-Kays. It was now the thing to do for Isaac Hayes - to issue soul albums with just a few long tracks on them. It really was ground-breaking. Nobody else was doing such a thing. Even The Undisputed Truth had a few shorter tracks alongside their epic numbers.
Ike's Rap 1/Our Day Will Come is a low-key spoken "rap", in which Isaac talks quietly over a subtle keyboard, bass, strings and drum backing. It merges into the slow grace of Our Day Will Come. It is a slow-paced, smooth soul ballad with a deep, intense vocal. It finishes with a lovely bass-driven instrumental part.
The eleven minute cover of Bacharach/David's The Look Of Love is just glorious. Backed with wonderful strings and horns, it is packed with classic soul atmosphere. Once more, Hayes's vocal is seriously underrated. He was rarely spoken of as a great vocalist, but he shows great versatility on all these early seventies albums The track also has a winning funky-ish instrumental break half way through, with delicious percussion, guitar and organ. Some punchy brass is joined by a funky wah-wah guitar before we get some blaxploitation soundtrack evocative parts to end with.
Monologue: Ike's Mood/You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling is a fifteen-minute masterpiece that builds up slowly with some seductive orchestration and backing vocals. It is a long time before Hayes sings. Over six minutes before he launches into the well-known opening lines of The Righteous Brothers' anthem. Hayes's delivery suits the drama of the song.
Runnin' Out Of Fools is another slow burner with Isaac soulfully singing over a gospelly backing vocal.
Not as essential an album as Hot Buttered Soul or Black Moses, but a ground-breaking and enjoyable album all the same.
Theme From Shaft/Bumpy's Lament/Walk From Regio's/Ellie's Love Theme/Shaft's Cab Ride/Cafe Regio's/Early Sunday Morning/Be Yourself/A Friend's Place/Soulsville/No Name Bar/Bumpy's Blues/Shaft Strikes Again/Do Your Thing/The End Theme
This is the best known of several "Blaxploitation" movie soundtracks from the early/mid seventies and, despite its emphasis, particularly at the beginning of the album, on some mainly short-ish instrumental interludes from the movie, they are very good ones. So much so that they never really feel like background music. The instrumentation and musicianship from The Bar-Kays, under the direction of Hayes, is top notch and the sound quality excellent. The good thing about this album is that whereas some soundtrack albums are often not an easy listen without the movie to watch at the same time, this one has the music standing alone. You find that you can listen to it quite easily, treating it as an instrumental album. It was initially released as a double album and despite its lack of vocal tracks, proved a good seller. Listening to it, you can understand why. It is a truly excellent piece of work.
Everyone surely knows the opening Theme From Shaft by now, full of funk, that killer wah-wah riff, the trumpet lines and those "cool" vocal interjections we love so much. "He's a complicated man, and nobody understands him but his woman...". I always loved that line, indulgently applying it to myself at times (!). Yes, I know, I know.
Walk From Regio's, although short, has some excellent percussion as does Bumpy's Lament, while the sweeping strings of Ellie's Love Theme, enhanced by vibes, provide a jazzy, romantic piece. Shaft's Cab Ride has some nice funky wah-wah and a punchy brass backing. There are some extended tracks as well, and the jazzy, brassy funk of Cafe Regio's is one of those, very redolent of seventies New York. Early Sunday Morning is a delicious, slow, sleepy number, absolutely dripping with atmosphere. It is beautiful at times. This is quality stuff, you don't actually miss the vocals. Be Yourself is a chugging, soulful groove with some superb saxophone. Once again, one is pleasantly surprised at just how good it is. A Friend's Place is sumptuous as well, with more impressive saxophone soloing.
We eventually get a vocal number in the glorious soul of Soulsville, with Hayes contributing a lovely, warm, deep vocal. It is simply a wonderful track. No Name Bar is a flute and brass dominated number with some funky drumming too. That saxophone is back near the end too, or is a trumpet? Maybe the latter on closer listen. Bumpy's Blues is very much what you would imagine when thinking of soundtrack music, but it has to be said that the drums lift it higher than that and the guitar is intoxicating as is the sax, again! Shaft Strikes Again is a sweet, melodic Bacharach-style trumpet-driven smoocher. "Now lay down on that couch, honey....".
The album's tour de force is a vocal number, the gargantuan, nineteen-minute Do Your Thing. Isaac Hayes at his very best. Some of the funky, brassy breaks on here are addictive, particularly when they merge with that searing guitar. Yes, it probably goes on a bit too long, but the interplay around twelve and a half minutes is magnificent. The last couple of minutes are unfortunately made up of unnecessary guitar feedback. The End Theme reprises that classic riff from the opener.
This is one of the best soundtrack albums of all time, maybe the best. It never, ever gets tiresome and is instrumentally perfect. I love it and I am not any sort of soundtracks aficionado. It is so evocative of seventies New York. Highly recommended.
Black Moses (1971)
Never Can Say Goodbye/(They Long To Be) Close To You/Nothing Takes The Place Of You/Man's Temptation/Part-Time Love/Medley: Ike's Rap IV/ A Brand New Me/Going In Circles/Never Gonna Give You Up/Medley: Ike's Rap II/Help Me Love/Need To Belong To Someone/Good Love 6-9-9-6-9/Medley: Ike's Rap III/Your Love Is So Doggone/For The Good Times/I'll Never Fall In Love Again
After the extended soul grooves, often of easy listening or other soul standards, on Hot Buttered Soul and ...To Be Continued, and the iconic movie soundtrack Shaft, Isaac Hayes gave us this, his first double album. Basically, it was more of the same - lengthy, seductive soulful workouts immaculately played by The Bar-Kays and topped off with Hayes's deep, but honeyed vocals. The album is full of serious soul and funk. It doesn't have the social message of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield's material, or that of The Temptations or The Undisputed Truth, for that matter. What it has is love - big, late-night love. Without this as an inspiration, would there have been any Barry White sensual, semi-spoken "lay down on the couch, honey" numbers? Hayes wrote the book of "loverman" cliches with this. That is not to say that it is not seriously soulful, though. It is chock full of deep soul.
Regarding its cultural effect - this was a soul artist putting out a very credible, uncommercial double album. Stuff like this really provided a landmark in the development of soul/black music.
Never Say Goodbye is a deep, resonant version of the upbeat song made famous by The Jackson 5 and later by Gloria Gaynor. This ain't no disco number. It is a sultry slow burner. The cover of The Carpenters' (They Long To Be) Close To You doesn't really work for me and, for once, the accusation that it goes on too long holds some weight. It seems to lose the beauty of the original melody somewhat. Nothing Takes The Place Of You is a sumptuous, deep soul ballad with an almost slow rock 'n' roll-style piano backing. Man's Temptation is an organ and backing vocal driven groover, with a rumbling bass line and some funky wah-wah guitar. Hayes' vocal is supremely deep and warm. The beat on this is magnificently grinding, in an insistent, bassy fashion. It is addictive soul music of the highest quality.
Part-Time Love is so deliciously funky. It has an almost reggae-like intro and some infectious percussion. It is another eight minute groove. This album was also notable for its three spoken "raps", which featured Hayes speaking a long, yearning intro over a subtle bass/keyboard backing before eventually launching into the song that is linked with each rap. The intros are very much in the style of the songs Barry White would specialise in just a few years later. His songs were more string orchestrated, though. Hayes's are more purely soulful in their bass, piano and drum backing. Strings are used, and brass too, but it that slow seductive bass rhythm that underpins the material.
Going in Circles has that distinctive orchestration and guitar interjection sound that so characterised Walk On By on Hot Buttered Soul. Never Gonna Give You Up is not the song that Barry White would later write. Strange that they both wrote songs with similar titles and the same sentiments and ambience. It is more of a smooth soul number than a gritty, funky one, actually in the Barry White mode. Need To Belong To Someone is a wonderful piece of melodic but grand soul. Hayes's vocals are simply superb here. He is not always given the credit he deserves for his vocals. Good Love 6-9-9-6-9 is an upbeat, pounding slice of soul/rock that offers a different feel to much of the album. Great guitar on it too. For The Good Times is the easy-listening Perry Como song, and is done in suitably crooning fashion, but with a solid soul backing. I'll Never Fall In Love Again is the Bacharach-David song made famous by Bobbie Gentry and Dionne Warwick. Hayes's version is suitably evocative.
There is no doubt that this is a special album, although you only need to dip into a few tracks at a time to appreciate them as a whole sitting of the entire double album is just a little bit like eating too much sticky toffee pudding. Having said that, it does make you want to keep coming back for more.
Joy/I Love You That's All/A Man Will Be A Man/The Feeling Keeps On Coming/I'm Gonna Make It (Without You)
Isaac Hayes stared the early seventies trend for lengthy, smoochy, late-night soul workouts that was continued by Barry White. Hayes often took established classics, either soul songs or easy-listening Burt Bacharach/Hal David numbers, slowing them down and giving them the whole orchestrated soul treatment. By 1973, he had released four albums in this style (not counting his debut or the Shaft soundtrack). This would be the last one specifically like this (only five tracks). Later ones would see a few more tracks per album and lengths of around six minutes as opposed to twelve, fifteen or eighteen. By 1977, Hayes had caught on to the disco thang, man. So, this is the sort of end of a mini-era. Notably, there are no covers on here, they are all Hayes originals. Deep, seductive soul is the order of the day, too, as opposed to dramatic, orchestrated numbers. Special mention goes out for the gold chain string vest as modelled on the rear cover. Did he really think that was a cool look? Maybe he did.
Joy is, dare I say, a joy. From the opening percussion, bass, funky guitar and strings, it has that deep dramatic feel. Then the horns gently ease their way in and you get that typical mid-seventies soundtrack sound. This wasn't a soundtrack piece, but it sho'nuff sounds like it, brother. Isaac arrives soon after with a deep, resonant, soulful late-night vocal. The sound on this is gloriously deep, warm and bassy. Soul/funk perfection. Isaac out-Barrys Barry White here. Fifteen minutes long. The track never strays from its seductive groove throughout. Isaac finds that point and keeps it.
I Love You That's All starts with a cheesy spoken bit between Isaac and a female lover as he pours her some champagne, complete with bubbles and slurpuing noises. Two minutes it lasts. When the music arrives it is unsurprisingly, full of growled, whispering spoken vocals over a gentle beat and romantic strings. All good turn down the lights fare. A few orgasmic noises arrive to see the track to its climax, so to speak. Job done, Isaac. It was quite de rigeur to have female pleasure in the background in mid-seventies soul records. Major Harris's Love Won't Let Me Wait and Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby spring to mind. I sort of miss those shameless seduction numbers.
A Man Will Be A Man is another in the deep, sensual soul mode. It is a slow pace, warm ballad. The Feeling Keeps Coming is a sublime piece of intense funky soul with a captivating, slow bassy beat. I'm Gonna Make It (Without You) may as well be Barry White - the spoken intro, the backing, it could all have come from Stone 'Gon. At nearly ten minute it is probably a tiny bit too long, but I'm not really complaining, it just washes over you like a warm bath.
Overall, this is probably my favourite of the great early seventies Isaac Hayes "stretched-out soul" albums.