Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul

Calxie #3. Rated R: Album with the most strangely erotic overtones. Nominee 4 of 4

I’ll be honest, I created this flimsy category entirely for ‘Hot Buttered Soul’. Those already familiar with this silky soulscape will know exactly why, but those who aren’t are in for a treat. Hayes was an “also ran” artist on Stax records; when the label’s biggest star Otis Redding died in a shock plane crash, the label was in trouble and lost the rights to all its back catalogue to Atlantic. When a company is in dire need of a get-rich-quick scheme, no one would have thought to bank on an LP with only four tracks on it (one of which is nearly 20 minutes long) by an artist barely anyone had heard of. It would have to be pretty special, no? Well, it is, certainly, but special records don’t always sell that well… but sexy records do! Sure, Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most important and talented figures in French pop music, but there would have been a lot less l’argent in his poche if ‘Je T’aime, Moi Non Plus’ didn’t have what sounded like une femme mi-orgasme in it. Thanks to him and Jane Birkin, everyone in Britain in 1969 had a bedroom soundtrack (that lasted four minutes, so I’m guessing they would have to stop halfway through to put the needle back into the groove… so to speak…). Well, for all you lovers who wanted to last more than four minutes, 1969 also yielded ‘Hot Buttered Soul’.

Bacharach and David’s ‘Walk On By’ comes with added honey and grit. Stretched out to a staggering 12 minutes of some of the most gloriously sultry funk ever recorded, it comes with tight jams, soaring strings, swaggering guitars and Hayes’ own bruised-but-still-smooth vocal, proving himself to be one of soul music’s most subtly powerful and under-stated singers. The biggest condender for the album highlight comes next, in the form of ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’, hereafter to be referred to as ‘H…’ because my carpal tunnel syndrome can only take so much. While I haven’t a clue what ‘H…’ is supposed to mean, it’s smoother than a new leather sofa (with far more personality), with Hayes showing off his wonderful suave ivory tickling. The first side gives it the title of “sexiest LP ever” outright, but the second side feels like some kind of comedown. It’s like the morning after, kicked off by ‘One Woman’, a refreshingly frank song about infidelity that has us sympathising with Hayes completely, despite him being the guilty party in this scenario. Hayes takes a more bizarre, not to mention desperately uncommercial, route in a cover of Jimmy Webb’s ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, starting out with an 8 minute spoken word intro setting the scene for the ensuing song. In so many others’ hands it would be a disaster, but Hayes makes a surprisingly good storyteller and has you listening attentively for what’s going on. It turns a simple “I’m leaving you” song into an epic drama, which finally spins itself out into a mournful aching-heart-on-sleeve funeral song for the death of a relationship.

So, yes, ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ is rather fantastic, but conceptually it’s a masterstroke in itself. The first side is tailor-made make-out music, but the second side is for lonely listening, when your date leaves without a note. That way, you’re covered both ways; if it goes right, you needn’t use the second side, but when you’re in a state of lovesickness, guilt or betrayal, hardly anything sounds better. It’s a glorious thing, it really is, when a talented artist is given creative control to make an album like this. Free-flowing, epic, yet carefully controlled soul for the heart and the brain. Plus, on the cover, Isaac Hayes becomes the first and last person to make bling look appropriate.

Key track: H…
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