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Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

I realized as I was putting the songs into this post that my comments are kind of spoilers.  I’d encourage you to listen to the album first, and then if you care, come back and see what I thought about it.

I picked this up a month or so ago at a thrift store. I knew of Isaac Hayes, mostly from South Park, but I wasn’t at all familiar with his music, except I guess Shaft.  What I first notice when I put this album on my turntable was it contains a total of four tracks, two on each side.  At first listen I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and it didn’t really hook me.  On second listen, I found some things I liked.

One is Hayes’s voice.  Hayes oozes sincerity when he sings of the hurt that’s associated with love and heartbreak.  And if you’re a jaded old man who’s forgotten that a man can feel that way because of a woman, Hayes’s voice reminds you want it means to hurt like that.  The first track, “Walk on By” is a great example of this.  Hayes puts it all out there, “If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by. Make believe that you don’t see the tears.  Oh just let me grieve, in private ’cause each time I see you I break down and cry.” Powerful lyrics, and he pulls it off. He sounds like he means it, like he feels it.  And he makes the listener feel it some too.

Second, the music on this album is provided by the Bar-Kays.  That means amazing fuzzy guitar, bass, drums, piano, electric organ and on and on.  This is showcased by my third point.Third, the long tracks allow for some amazing orchestral-like arrangements.  These songs are allowed time to grow and build and fade, and then come back for a big final build, to then finish with a long slow fade out.  These tracks finish with the Bar-Kays jamming ,and even after a 10-minute long track begins to fade, and I’m still not quite ready for it to be over.  The second track, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” which starts out as a bit of a novelty song I guess, ends with Hayes stepping away from the microphone and letting the Bar-Kays just jam for minutes, which is great.

Track three, “One Woman,” would be the single from this album I suppose, mostly because it’s the only song, coming in at five minutes, that would fit on an old 45.  It’s a sad song about a man torn between his wife and his mistress.  I suppose we’re to feel for this man, torn between two women, and maybe we would have 40 years ago.  Nowadays, however, we recognize, I think, that the narrator is a jerk for treating his wife this way.  However, Hayes is able to express the sadness of the situation, so that at least for a few minutes we feel bad, even if when the music stops we want to slap him and tell him to go back to his wife and to stop seeing “the woman making him do wrong.”

The album ends with a 19-minute version of “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” Yes, that one, by Glen Campbell. The first half of that 19 minutes is Hayes telling his version of the story behind the song, of the man who gave his wife many chances to stop cheating on him before he couldn’t take it any longer and had to leave.  The story goes on a bit long.  Unlike the rest of the album, it’s not going to hold up to repeated listenings, for me at least.  The last nine minutes of that one are pretty good though.  Hayes sings the three minute song.  Then he sings his own material, improvised maybe, about the woman that drove him away, and how sad he is that he had to leave.  The last couple of minutes feature the Bar-Kays.  Once Hayes stops talking and gets on with it, its a good tune.

In researching this album on youtube, I found one review that said this was one of the greatest albums ever.  I do think it’s one that will grown on me.  Mostly.