Long before he sang about the greatest “black private dick” in Shaft, became “Black Moses,” or served his “Chocolate Salty Balls” to the kids of South Park, Isaac Hayes was a songwriter/producer at Stax Records writing some of the biggest hits for the label, including the Sam & Dave classics “Soul Man” and “Hold on I’m Coming.” After a disastrous debut album, Hayes was ready to return to his behind-the-scenes role, until he was coaxed into making another album to help the struggling Stax label which had lost its entire back catalog and needed to generate some money to stay alive. Hayes was initially hesitant; he only relented to record a new album when he was given complete creative control over the project. The result: the legendary Hot Buttered Soul, which completely reinvented soul music. Where most soul and R&B artists released singles, Hot Buttered Soul introduced the idea of the soul album, paving the way for classics from Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder who followed the same approach.
Comprised of only four songs – three of which are covers – Hot Buttered Soul redefined soul music. With the exception of “One Woman,” which clocks in at five minutes, the rest of the album is made up of 10-minute plus songs that pushed the boundaries with heavy orchestration, horns, soul-funk breakdowns, and grooves so deep if you fall, you may never get back out. The 18-minute classic Jimmy Webb cover “By the Time to Get to Phoenix” features an eight-and-half minute intro in which Hayes, over a simple two note drum-beat – half talking, half singing – preps you for what is coming.
While “Phoenix” and the reimagining of the Burt Bacharach standard “Walk on By” usually draw the most attention, it is Hayes’ own “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” that is easily the most important track on the album. Built upon an unrelenting backbeat that is carried by bursts of Hayes’ urgent, melodic piano and organ, the song is quite simply the template for ‘70s soul and funk.
The reissue of this classic album adds little more than the single versions of “Walk on By” and “Phoenix,” which offer little more than neutered versions of each. Instead, this reissue serves as a strong reminder as to what is the starting point for modern soul and a necessity in any music collection. Where else can you hear someone sing, “My gastronomical stupensity is really satisfied when you’re loving me.” Dig the groove.
Hot Buttered Soul is out now on Stax.