My first introduction to Isaac Hayes was through the the ‘Theme From Shaft’, although at the time I didn’t really have any idea who it was, it was just one track on a ‘Blaxploitation’ compilation CD that I had in the car, but a great track. I had seen the film years before at some point so that would have been the very first time I heard it but I didn’t make any connection until I was at a record fair in Banbury and bought ‘Hot Buttered Souk’ on vinyl, then, later, at another fair I bought ‘Shaft’ Soundtrack, and more recently, a 1973 pressing of ‘Joy’. So I have 3 Isaac Hayes albums on vinyl. Let’s go in the order I bought them.
Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Hot Buttered Soul re-shaped the idea of what could be done with an LP in a genre that, at that time, was dominated by the three minute single. Hayes was an in-house writer for the Stax record label and had previously recorded solo but this, his second album, proved revolutionary. It only has 4 tracks, the opener being a 12:03 version of the Bacharach and David track, ‘Walk On By’ , originally recorded in 1964 by Dionne Warwick on her album, Make Way for Dionne Warwick. I’m not sure it can rightly be called a cover version in the same way that the Sinatra version of ‘My Way’ isn’t generally referred to as one. It’s such a different arrangement from the original. although the lyrics remain unchanged. The first recording by Warwick is a great single treatment, but Hayes takes it to another place entirely. Here it is in all it’s glorious 12 minutes and 5 seconds:
It has such a groove, and that Hammond organ part is mesmerising.
Lord knows what the title of track 2 actually means, ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’ but the backing singers do a fine job of singing it and the groove rolls on. This is the only track actually written by Hayes.
||“Walk On By” (Burt Bacharach, Hal David)
||“Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” (Isaac Hayes, Alvertis Isbell)
||“One Woman” (Charles Chalmers, Sandra Rhodes)
||“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (Jimmy Webb)
‘One Woman’ is probably more what one might have expected during this era but ‘By The Time I Get To Pheonix’ is not. Hayes has a chat to the listener for several minutes of the, nearly, 19 minutes before breaking into the melody of the original song, adding detail to the story of the song that was never there in the original.
Before the album was released, in 1969, Stax lost all their back catalogue to Atlantic, I believe it was due to a split of some kind, so Stax needed albums and needed them quick resulting in all their artists, including Hayes, who had gone back to writing after the relative failure of his initial album. He would only do so though if he had complete creative control, and he did.
It’s rare for a film to be defined by it’s soundtrack, but I think ‘Shaft’ is one of those films. When I think of the film I think of Isaac Hayes and I think of the theme, it is the first and sharpest memory I have about the film. It is a track that seems to sound amazing regardless of how much time has passed since 1971, and we are at 46 years now, but the opening riffs seem both of the time and timeless.
Above are the opening credits to the film, so the music is in context. When Hayes vocal comes in the scene is pretty much set for the movie, he is the “black private dick, who’s a sex machine to all the chicks”, it’s all machismo and stereotypes, which is pretty much what blaxploitation films were, and Hayes sums the whole thing up in under 5 minutes.
The majority of the rest of the soundtrack is instrumental, which is understandable, this is not a vehicle for Hayes, it was written to accompany a movie and it was pretty much a perfect fit, it did, after all, win Hayes an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe.
- “Theme from Shaft” (Vocal Version) – 4:39
- “Bumpy’s Lament” – 1:51
- “Walk from Regio’s” – 2:24
- “Ellie’s Love Theme” – 3:18
- “Shaft’s Cab Ride” – 1:10
- “Cafe Regio’s” – 6:10
- “Early Sunday Morning” – 3:49
- “Be Yourself” – 4:30
- “A Friend’s Place” – 3:24
- “Soulsville” (Vocal Version) – 3:48
- “No Name Bar” – 6:11
- “Bumpy’s Blues” – 4:04
- “Shaft Strikes Again” – 3:04
- “Do Your Thing” (Vocal Version) – 19:30
- “The End Theme” – 1:56
‘Joy’ is the album released after ‘Black Moses’, which is the next Hayes album I’ll be looking for, and possibly the last, maybe not though. Overall, ‘Joy’ does suffer from a lack of ideas, and parts of it I just don’t listen to, like the skit in ‘I Love You that’s all’, but the opening track is the highlight of this album, with perhaps closer ‘I’m Gonna Make It’ being worth a listen, although it is probably a little on the long side and can drag.
||“I Love You That’s All”
||“A Man Will Be a Man”
||“The Feeling Keeps On Coming”
||“I’m Gonna Make It (Without You)”
The album is perfectly listenable, I’m not completely dismissing everything other than the title track but it does feel a little like Hayes was on autopilot much of the time. Here is that title track: