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Isaac Hayes : He’s a dead mutha…

August 11th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

…shut your mouth.

To mark Isaac Hayes” death on August 10 ten days short of his 66th birthday, here is a mix I”ve called Hot Buttered Symphonies, a selection of some of those epics, mostly cover versions, Hayes produced in the early parts of his career, from 1969 to 1973.

He is best known, of course, for the Theme from Shaft, a funk masterpiece which provided the pun in this post”s title. It would be an injustice if the man was to be reduced to the cartoon cool of Shaft, the kind of black grooviness which lets white people think that Samuel L Jackson is a proprietor of übercoolness (that would be white people like Quentin Tarantino). Make no mistake, Ike was as cool as an arctic refrigerator salesman waiting for winter, but that transcended the notions of blaxploitations. It was cool that the man shaved his head when the Afro was fashionable; his baritone was cool; it was cool how he introduces the live version of The Look Of Love with the words: “We’re dealing with love now on a more personal basis”; it was cool that on his first recording as a session musician, he helped lift Otis Redding”s version of Try A Little Tenderness with his brilliant keyboard arrangements; it was cool that he”d take white bread songs and turned them into soul classics ““ while borrowing liberally from psychedelic rock. Hayes was an innovator, being to soul, at last for some time, what Miles Davis was to jazz (for a long time).

In his later years, Hayes forfeited some cool factor with his Scientology capers. But this is not how we should remember him. Nor should he be remembered as the chef with black, salty balls. He should be remembered as the Black Moses who launched a line of bona fide classics by fulfilling the promise made in the title of his second album: the creation of Hot Buttered Soul.

Hayes was a gifted songwriter (he co-wrote such soul classics as Sam & Dave”s Soul Man and Hold On I’m Coming). That talent would infuse his cover versions for which, by rights, he deserved a co-author credit. Hayes would take a Bacharach/David composition, a Beatles track or a country number on a long-haul journey. He”d strip the song of much which previous interpreters had invested in them, give them the essence of his own signature, and then bang them out of their original shape beyond recognition before returning to the original theme. On songs like Something and Walk On By, he went on psychedelic trips which could make familiar to the temperate listener the effects of a drug-induced high. On other songs, such as Jerry Butler”s sweet and sad I Stand Accused, Ike launches into a long monologue about unrequited love, by the time he hits the song with his wonderful baritone, your heart is almost bled out.

As usual, the mix should fit on a standard CD-R. I had to omit an essential track in the 18-minutes work-out By The Time I Get To Phoenix; I’m posting it separately. There are more epics worth checking out (his version of Never Can Say Goodbye especially).

1. (They Long To Be) Close To You (9:06)
2. The Look Of Love (11:11)
3. I Stand Accused (11:32)
4. Walk On By (12:04)
5. Something (11:41)
6. I”m Gonna Make It (11:11)
7. One Big Unhappy Family (5:48)
8. Hyperbolicsyllablicsesquedalymistic (7:29)

DOWNLOAD Hot Buttered Symphonies

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  1. Anonymous
    August 11th, 2008 at 10:16 | #1

    I have always felt a connection to Isaac Hayes if only because my very first vinyl 45 was Theme from Shaft. Of course at 12 years old all the “black private dick” and the “ladeez” stuff went right over my head, but I did know it was a great record!It was a shock to hear of his death this morning – so thanks for the well written appreciation and the mix of his tracks.Phil

  2. ib
    August 11th, 2008 at 14:08 | #2

    Great post, AMD. Despite the fact that Hayes had previous health issues, it was still very much of a shock to learn of his death yesterday.Even the (regrettable) Scientology association doesn’t quite blunt the man’s stature.Great choice of tunes, incidentally, to serve as a fitting epitaph. In addition to his own compositions, he also holds his own more than adequately as one of the best translators of Bacharach/David compositions, up there with Dusty and Dionne.

  3. whiteray
    August 12th, 2008 at 01:15 | #3

    Great assessment of Hayes’ career and his impact on the listener. And sweet choices for songs, too. Thanks!

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