Until Isaac Hayes released Hot Buttered Soul in 1969, soul music had been a singles-oriented genre. Best known as the partner of David Porter in writing such Stax hits as "Hold On! I'm Coming," "Soul Man" and "B-A-B-Y" among others, Hayes, along with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield gave the soul album a higher purpose, superseding the standard practice of assembling LPs around recent hits and filler. Even so, a four-song album whose two "singles" clocked in at 12: 03 and 18: 42 was unprecedented.
Stax Records' reissue of Hot Buttered Soul includes two bonus tracks (single edits of "Walk On By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"), digital remastering, new rare photographs, and expanded liner notes by both music historian Bill Dahl and Hayes fan Jim James from the band My Morning Jacket.
Hayes had recorded one previous album, Presenting Isaac Hayes in 1968, which failed to impact the charts the way his Porter-collaborated song compositions had for other Stax artists. Nonetheless, label president Al Bell green-lighted Hayes' encore long-player. Hayes went to cross-town Ardent Studios to lay down the tracks.
"There was absolutely no attempt to be commercial," Marvell Thomas, the album's co-producer, told annotator Dahl. "It was just, ‘Let's do these songs. Let's do 'em like we like to do 'em. Play whatever you want to play and have a good time doing it.' To the company, it wasn't, ‘We're going to make one of the all-time great albums and it's going to sell huge.' It was, ‘Okay, let Isaac do his thing.'"
Opening with Hayes’ sexy, intimate delivery of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” clocking in at 18 and a half minutes, the album also included an extended remake of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By,” given definition by the spacey lead guitar of Harold Beane. “The guitar solo was not something that was planned on front end,” recalled Thomas. “It was like, ‘Well why not?’ We just stretched out and let it go. When you get in the middle of it, you just kind of ride with it until it stops.” Which it did after 12 minutes.
Beane joined Thomas on piano and Hayes himself on organ, backed by the surviving members of the Bar-Kays, a band ravaged by the airplane accident that also claimed Otis Redding. Guitarist Michael Toles and drummer Willie Hall filled out the band. Interestingly, the overdubbing of strings, horns and backing vocals was done in Detroit instead Memphis, thanks largely to the influence of producer Don Davis, who introduced Al Bell to veteran Motown arranger Johnny Allen. Another Detroiter, Dale Warren — the nephew of Berry Gordy’s ex-wife — orchestrated “Walk On By,” with a violin section populated with members of the Detroit Symphony.
The original album contained two other songs as well as the hits. “One Woman,” penned by Wilson Pickett accompanist Charlie Chalmers and his future wife, Sandra Rhodes, was more of a traditional Memphis soul ballad, and was recorded also by Al Green for his Green Is Blues album. The only number on Hot Buttered Soul bearing Hayes’ writing imprimatur (a co-write by Bell) sported one of the longest song titles ever conceived: “Hyperbolicsyllabiccsesquedalymistic.” According to Thomas, “(The title) means the propensity to make a whole big deal of using words to show off your vocabulary.”
The reissue contains single mixes for both “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Walk On By,” extending the four-song album to six. The new edition also contains a second set of liner notes by Jim James, lead vocalist, songwriter and producer for the Kentucky-based American rock band My Morning Jacket.
Quoting James, “Everything is revealed when you open your mind to its
secrets . . . [The album makes] your mind bleed . . . blurring the lines of what you thought you knew before was possible with music. It is one of those start to finish classics. And yes, damn near everything is here: Soul. Rock. Sweeping strings. Blasting horns. Full orchestral arrangements. Bare stripped down moments. Humor. Sadness. Funk . . . The recording is so God-damned 3D. It’s black. It’s white. It is universal. It is timeless. It is LOVE.” (concordmusicgroup. com)