Thursday, November 15, 2012

Isaac Hayes

Forty-one years ago today, Isaac Hayes released Black Moses, a massive double-album set that solidified his position as one of the most ambitious and commanding musical figures of the era. I grew up with his music but as I delved deeper, I found I had a lot to learn.

The only thing I can say about Ike is, if you think you know the man, you probably don't know the man. Like Shaft himself, he's complicated. Similar to Sly Stone, he had spectacular early success, first as the writer (often with David Porter) of some of the greatest songs of the 60's for Stax Records, and then with his second solo album, Hot Buttered Soul, and the Oscar-winning Theme From Shaft.

Couple years later, however, interest inexplicably waned. I'm always looking to go deep into anyone's music if they've had a long career and refuse to kowtow to received opinion without hearing for myself. It quickly became obvious that some albums I'd never even heard of (To Be Continued) were fantastic and ones that were often derided (Chocolate Chip) were good. Also, his voice grew on me a lot over the years, proving to be more nimble and expressive than it first appeared. As I soon began telling everyone who would listen, every Isaac Hayes album that I've heard so far has at least one great song and often more.

While it might have baffled some people that this iconic soul songwriter was mostly doing covers (and songs by Bacharach & David, Jimmy Webb and The Carpenters, no less), that was just an expression of his progressive nature. He'd already scaled the mountaintop as a songwriter and it was time to move on. Thus the outrageous arrangements, the heartfelt and sometimes hilarious raps and the overall EPIC quality of his music. Goddamned right he was the first African-American to be nominated for a soundtrack Oscar - who else but Black Moses had the vision and the skills to bring funky soul music to the big screen?

He made big, long songs because his heart was so big and he was so earnest in love. He wanted nothing more than for it all to work out but he knew, he KNEW, that sometimes your thing was blown and you had to find somebody new. The music would always be there for him, though. As it is for you - now listen.

At first I was taken aback by his version of Fever, from his dismissed disco era, but that was because I had to free myself from the (deservedly) beloved Little Willie John and Peggy Lee records. Now I hear a divine madness.


He could also take a second-rate song and make it into an object of fascination.


As for Black Moses, it has many highlights, but who could forget the indelible Ike's Rap II - sampled by both Portishead and Tricky in 1995 with amazing results.


Finally, the groove of Good Love can't be beat.




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