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Music Review: Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul

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Isaac Hayes’ classic Hot Buttered Soul was originally released in 1969. It remains one of the most original and successful R&B albums ever recorded. Jim James from My Morning Jacket certainly thinks so, he contributed liner notes to the reissue of this classic.

Isaac Hayes was already well established as a songwriter and producer for Stax Records at the time, but he wanted more. When the company received a nice fat advance from new partners Gulf & Western, Hayes got his chance. He was given the freedom to record basically whatever he wanted, as long as he stuck to a relatively modest budget.

The result was the ground breaking Hot Buttered Soul, which sold over a million copies and peaked at #8 on the Billboard chart. Not bad for what was initially considered a vanity project.

Hot Buttered Soul opens up with an amazing version of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By.” In 1964 Dionne Warwick had a huge hit with the song. In 1969, Isaac Hayes turned it inside out with this elongated 12 minute version. Containing elements of soul, rock guitar, Memphis horns, Ike’s smooth vocals, and an undeniable melody, his rendition is something to hear.

Of the four tracks which comprised the original LP, only one was written by Isaac, and it is one of the longest single word titles ever. “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” is a nine minute funk number that smokes from beginning to end.

“One Woman” is the most traditional sounding cut on the record. It is a soulful ballad, a love song to the singer’s woman. Although it is a pleasant enough tune, there is nothing particularly notable about it.

Notoriety would come with the final song, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” Nobody had recorded anything like this before. Hayes’ version remains one of the most outlandish interpretations of a song ever, and it works beyond all expectations. He pulled out all the stops in the song’s 18 plus minutes, including a ten minute introduction that has to be heard to be believed.

Legend has it that the “rap” preceding the song itself was born out of necessity, as he needed to explain to his audience what it was all about. Although Hayes and his band loved the 1967 Glen Campbell hit, his audience were completely unfamiliar with it. The prelude grew and grew, and became an integral part of the song.

The mix of strings, back-up vocals, R&B horns, guitar, and Ike’s smooth as silk vocals combine to make this song an amazing achievement. A statement in fact that holds true for the entire album.

This reissue contains two additional tracks, the edited single versions of “Walk On By” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” While they are interesting artifacts, I really cannot imagine anyone preferring them to the original full length versions.

The record retains all of the power and originality it did upon its release 40 years ago. Although Isaac Hayes would go on to even bigger success a few years later with Shaft, I do not think he ever topped Hot Buttered Soul.

About Greg Barbrick