Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul

Isaac Hayes
Hot Buttered Soul


Released 1969 on Stax
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 05/09/2003ce


1 Walk On By (12:00)
2 Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (9:36)
3 One Woman (5:08)
4 By The Time I Get To Phoenix (18:40)

Isaac Hayes was part of the Stax records hit factory, writing records for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and the like (he cowrote "I'm a Soooooul Man" etc.) Ike finally stepped out in 1969 to make his mark as a solo artist, and his landmark debut is probably the first and best example of "psychedelic soul." His band is driven by the Bar-Kays rhythm section (Otis Redding's touring band) and the producer is the great Al Bell.

A hallmark of Black music is the use of "melissma" (note-bending, AKA "blue notes") and the sophisticated off-the-beat rhythmic sensibility that is most apparent in jazz music. Ike's approach to singing is a textbook example of this "Black style." I try to sing along to his covers of popular tunes in the car, and I just can't do it. The way he swoops and glides around the melody and starts in-front-of-the-beat, then after-the-beat, adding extra syllables and asides in explosive vocal riffes here, stretching one syllable o-o-o-over a few measures there -- it's simply impossible to predict how he's going to attack the next line even if you've heard one of his songs a few dozen times.

"Walk On By" is a Burt Bacharach song, the original hit version by Dionne Warwick (though Ike's version was revived with a video and everything a few years back when it was used in the film "Dead Presidents.") A monster Memphis funk beat kicks it off, followed by swelling strings and organ building to an introductory climax before falling away into a laid-back acid guitar noodle & doodle groove punctuated by the orchestra until Ike makes his entrance whispering the lyrics in his husky sexidelic baritone (Barry White stole everything he knew from Ike . . .) After oozing and moaning his way through the rather sad lyric ("If you see me walking down the street and I-I-I-I-I start to cry / walk on by!") the last five minutes of the track feature a hot jam of blasting soul organ vs. acidfunk guitar wang, rising and falling over each other through some wonderfully trippy mixing as the rhythm instruments pound away ecstatically underneath. Think of the best Krautfunk ever, only with a lot MORE FUNK.

"Hyperbolic . . . " is another amazing classic, one which anyone who pays attention to hip-hop should immediately recognize cuz it's heavy funk shuffle beat and squealing wah guitar riff have been sampled to death. To say nothing of Ike's amazingly rhythmic time-suspending piano solo in the middle section (ya know that spooky hypnotic riff from Public Enemy's "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos"? That's about 5 second's worth of it.) Ike slurs through a bizarre lyric that I frankly can't figure out for the life of me (that "melissma" thing again): "cerebrum, cerebelum and medula oblongata / (mumble mumble horse?) / every time she exploits / overheard a discussion / about our, huh! . . . racial relations." But it matters not! Sometimes the most powerful feelings are not conveyed by language but pure sound. Ike's voice is like Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins on the saxophone -- deep brassy SOOOUUUL, with a melodic and rhythmic complexity that makes it seem like it's a language all it's own. After pounding the ivories into submission for several ecstatic eons with just bass & drums accompanying, the piano gets more subdued as the wah guitar joins in again and it's simply amazing the way the soloing instruments blend together (shout out to whoever mixed this album once again.)

Side 2 is a much mellower affair, trading heavy funk for romantic (but still psychedelic) soul ballads of awesome emotional power.

"One Woman" sounds like a beautiful serenade but the lyric is about pure torture: "One woman's making my home / while the other woman's makin' me do wrong / I don't know which one, which one to choose, no I don't / but neither one can this man bear to lose, OH NOOO! OH NOO-O-O-O!!!!" The way the Soul Sistas chant the chorus "properly and on the beat" while Ike's voice dances around under and through the melody -- again this is textbook stuff!

"Phoenix" is a corny Jim Webb tune made popular by all-American cornpone country singer Glen Campbell. But in Ike's hands it becomes a revelation, a sermon of epic proportions. To introduce the song Ike raps for TEN FREAKING MINUTES over a hypnotic organ drone and ONE NOTE bass vamp (eat yer heart out krautrockers!), starting by explaining why he's gonna sing it to ya:

"Now I don't know what he was thinking about when he wrote this tune . . . but it's a deep tune. It's a deep MEANING to this tune! Because it shows you . . . what the power of LOVE can do. Now I shall attempt here to do it . . . MY way, my own interpretation of it. Like I say everybody got his own thang. I'm gonna bring it on down to SOULSVILLE. Now I want you to bear along with me for a few minutes, while I set it up. Now I want your IMAGINATION. I want you to TRAVEL with me!"

Then, like he does periodically through his spoken intro, he stops rapping for a moment to feel the power and spontaneously bursts out: "Ooohhhhhh, come on, come on, come on!" Then he takes you on a trip, setting up the characters and their motivations like this was a novel not a pop song: a man is born in Tennessee, he moves to California and falls in love with an unfaithful woman. He tries and tries to make her love him, breaking up and getting back together "SEVEN TIMES!!", until finally he can't stand it no more and with tears in his eyes he gets in his car and leaves forever, destination unknown. Throughout Ike repeats motiffs like "the POWER OF LOVE was upon him!" and a heart-rending cry of "OHHHHHH! MAMAmamamama!" Finally he glides effortlessly into the actual "song":

"He could hardly see the road from the tears in his eyes, that's right he was crying! He could barely see the sign that said the next town was 25 miles away. And these very words came into his mind . . . . he said . . . By the tiiiiime I get to Phoenix / she'll be riii-iii-iiis-ing / and she'll find the note / I left hangin' on her doo-ooo-oooor-oh / she'll laugh when she reads the part / that says I'm leavin' (yes she will . . . why?) / cuz I've left that girl (uh!) sooo ma-nyyy times befooore, OH!

Brass and strings come in along with melancholy flute countermelodies, then Roman trumpets begin to blare as the dancing bass and powerhouse drums kick it up and the slow jam develops into something as headbangingly powerful as Led Zeppelin. It subsides briefly as Ike vamps: "little drops of water / runnin' under my chin / you look at this man and say / ohhhh the bag that I'm in / ohhhh yeah / I'm gonna moan now! / mmmmmmm, MMMMMM!!!!! / Ohhhh! Ohhhh!" as the rhythm section and screaming organ swells one more time before dropping back into delicate raindrops of sound. "The end."

It's so over-the-top it probably sounds completely corny when I describe it (in fact this sort of thing is exactly the source for those silly songs he sings as "Chef" on the South Park TV show), but when you hear it it's positively mesmerizing and it feels a lot shorter than 18-and-a-half minutes (who was it said that "music is time travel"?) It's secular subject matter but the delivery and vibe is absolutely spiritual: the "OHH MAMAmamamama!" wail is clearly an attempt to contact some sort of female divinity.

Ike made a lot more albums after this one that followed the basic formula he unveiled here (20 minute slow jams, soulified pop covers, heavily orchestrated lovefunk) but he never came close to equalling the power and scope of "Hot Buttered Soul" again. Don't let the "Chef from South Park" gig fool ya! This is essential stuff for any Head.


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