Usually I spotlight unappreciated artists and albums in this space, but could not ignore the untimely death of a true soul legend, Isaac Hayes. Many know him chiefly for the classic “Shaft,” while newer fans recognize him as the voice behind South Park's beloved (if not risqué) Chef. But his songwriting skills were equally impressive, having written songs for artists from Dionne Warwick to Sam and Dave. The following represents just a sampling of his many songwriting achievements. He co-wrote many of these songs with longtime collaborator David Porter (particularly the 60s-era Stax singles).
“Déjà Vu,” Dionne Warwick (1979): A hit for Warwick, this tune ranks as one of the best R&B slow jams of the 1980s, showing Hayes' versatility for writing soul tinged with jazz chords.
“We Never Said Goodbye,” Dionne Warwick (1980): In the vein of “Déjà Vu,” the ballad contains a pleasant mix of soul and jazz with a sensual performance by Warwick.
“Don’t Ever Take Your Love Away,” Dionne Warwick (1977)
“Hold On I'm Comin',’” Sam and Dave (1967): One of many tunes penned for this legendary soul duo, “Hold On I'm Comin'” remains an R&B classic and has been covered by countless artists.
“Soul Man,” Sam and Dave (1967): Who could forget this 1960s jam, which enjoyed resurgence in popularity after the Blues Brothers' cover.
“When Something Is Wrong with My Baby,” Sam and Dave (1967): Co-written with longtime collaborator David Porter, this track sounds as tender and romantic today as it did in the late 1960s.
“Itch and Scratch Pt. 1,” Rufus Thomas (1972): The Wilson Pickett-like vocals, horns, bass, guitar riff, and funky drums dare you to stay seated while listening to this infectious song.
“Wrap It Up,” The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1986 remake): Originally recorded by Sam and Dave, The Fabulous Thunderbirds' 1986 cover lent a Texas blues vibe to this soul favorite.
"Easy Days,” The Pointer Sisters (1975)
"Your Good Thing (Is About to End).” Mabel John (1966): Stax Records' John enjoyed success with this single, later re-recorded by Lou Rawls. Both versions are worth seeking out.
“Body Language,” Patti Austin (1980)
“Let Me Be Good to You,” Carla Thomas (1966): Also co-written by Porter, the song's arrangement recalls Motown, yet Thomas' gritty, bluesy vocal style transforms the single into a heavier R&B number.
“B-A-B-Y,” Carla Thomas (1966)
“I Got to Love Somebody's Baby,” Johnnie Taylor (1967): Taylor became better known in the 70s with his disco-era hit “Disco Lady,” but this track off his debut secular album shows his blues roots. Hayes' and Porters' wistful lyrics emphasize these influences.
“Can’t Trust Your Neighbor,” Johnnie Taylor (1968): The neighbor was a “dirty dog,” Taylor snarls, who doesn’t treat his woman right. This soul ballad is infused with anger and passion.
“Never Like This Before,” William Bell (1967)
“Boot-Leg,” Booker T. & The MG’s (1965): Although not on a par with “Green Onions,” his funk workout still features the stellar talents of Booker T.
“Every Ounce of Strength,” Dusty Springfield (1964)
”I Take What I Want,” Aretha Franklin (1968): Franklin’s confident vocal, combined with a gospel-like arrangement, takes a familiar “I’m gonna get my man” theme into new directions.
“Ain’t That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One),” Luther Ingram (1972)
“Going on Strike,” The Emotions (1970): This Hayes song is a hidden gem, featuring The Emotions’ funky vocals and classic Stax horns. Anyone who knows The Emotions chiefly from their disco hit “Best of My Love” should check out this completely different side of the classic soul group.
“As Long As I’ve Got You,” The Emotions (ca. 1972)
“Shoot Your Best Shot,” Linda Clifford (1980): A minor disco hit, Hayes’s song manages to successfully fuse disco with funk.
“Falling,” Donald Byrd (1981)
“Candy,” The Astors (1965): Hayes often said that his roots were based in doo-wop; look no further than this minor pop hit by this Stax group.
“Trick or Treat,” Otis Redding (ca. 1960s): Redding’s gritty vocals sound fantastic, as always, on this cut. But the funky guitar riff also stands out on this more obscure track.
“Pearl High,” The Bar-Kays (1967)
“If I Ever Needed Love (I Sure Do Need It Now),” Ruby Johnson (1966 or 67): Often called a “should have been hit,” this Hayes tune includes a powerful soul vocal and those unique Stax horns to create a classic ballad.
“Do Your Thing,” Lyn Collins (ca. 1960s): “Rap on,” croons Collins, a James Brown protégé and one of the best funk singers of all time (in my opinion). Hayes’ fierce lyrics perfectly suit the so-called “Female Preacher,” and show fans her considerable vocal talents besides the often-sampled “Think (About It).”
This list represents a small sample of Hayes’s songwriting; during his career he penned over 200 songs. However, these songs illustrate that Hayes was a unique talent and a true Renaissance man. “Shaft” will always remain his masterpiece, but these tracks also demonstrate his unique craft and impressive songwriting skills.