Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul
From the too-cool cover of Hayes' bald head, sunglasses and thick gold chain to the heady swirl of the music within, Hot Buttered Soul, if not as well known as the soundtrack to Shaft or the Black Moses double album, was the point at which the grunt of late-fifties and early-sixties blues gave way to a rich sensual mix of guitar/bass/drums, brass and opulent strings.
If you think of soul as the music that backed James Brown dropping to his knees as the JB's struggled to help him off stage, the sound of Isaac Hayes drifting laconically between tough guy and lover will be a surprise. But to anyone who remembers either Starsky And Hutch, blaxploitation (including Hayes' own debut in Truck Turner) or seminal US movies of the seventies including The French Connection, Hayes' sweet soul music will be both recognisable and instantly appealing.
Of course, this being the late-sixties, music had busted far beyond the 3m30s of pop from earlier in the decade and fuelled either by LSD or marijuana, rock and soul has edging far over the 20min mark. So check left and reassure yourself that your eyes are not deceiving you...Hot Buttered Soul contains only four songs, three of which are covers. And not just any kind of cover but with Walk On By and By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Hayes took on a Bacharach/David ballad and a Jimmy Webb country folk classic. Of course, in facing up to these songs, which have had a fair share of reverence paid towards them both before and after Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes happily rips both apart and rebuilds them in his own style. Walk On By bears only a passing resemblance to the version recorded by Dionne Warwick but scrimps not on the melodrama. Instead, the version of Walk On By that opens this album, throws subtlety to the wind and swirls enormous drifts of strings around fuzz guitar, cooing female harmonies, a thumping rhythm and Hayes' own rumbling vocal. Unlike Warwick, who only ever sounded slightly annoyed, Hayes sounds crushed and over the twelve minutes that Walk On By wrings every tear from the music, you kind of know that Hayes ain't never gonna come back from the putdown received at the hands of his woman.
Unbelievably, By The Time I Get To Phoenix is even more joyously ludicrous with Hayes telling a story and accompanied only by light drumming and a seasick Hammond organ for a whole nine minutes before the song really gets moving. By rights, it shouldn't work - By The Time I Get To Phoenix ought to be laughably and outrageously melodramatic - but when the Bar-Keys peak in every silence left by Hayes, the song is really quite wonderful, particularly around 15m30s when Hayes backs off to let his backing band cut loose.
Elsewhere, Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic is a heavy, heavy funk that even has this none-more-white dude pimp-rolling through the (neighbour)hood with a crunchy piano solo that stutters and breaks into the riff that would eventually power Public Enemy's Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos from It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. If ever you wish your car could low-ride it would be at the very moment the fuzzy, wah-wah'd guitar breaks out from the speakers to introduce this song. If there's one weak spot, it's the third song, One Woman, but even then it only fares badly what surrounds it. Whilst it's a fine song, you can't help but feel like getting lost in the heady mix of rock, funk, soul and burning love that lies elsewhere. Instead, One Woman just feels a little safe in the company it's keeping on Hot Buttered Soul.
Just in case there's any fear you're feeling over songs of this length, be reassured that Hot Buttered Soul is an outstanding album. Unlike such dreary prog-rock as Tales From Topographic Oceans - an album that has the effect of making you feel as you are in Purgatory or indeed wishing you were just to escape from its turgid riffing - Hot Buttered Soul puts a smile on your face, shakes what boogie there is in your booty and makes you feel alive. Sure it's long, occasionally daft and richer than a truffle but Hot Buttered Soul sounds so damn cool and bang up to date that it's a truly landmark album.