If I said this to myself once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Every single time I find new music — new to me, anyway — I regret not finding it sooner. Major case in point today: Isaac Hayes’ 1969 landmark album Hot Buttered Soul.
I’ve been familiar with the album cover, and Hayes in general, since forever, but I fell into Hot Buttered Soul by accident this time. I had picked up a Stax Records compilation last week, and Hayes’ cover of Dionne Warwick‘s “Walk On By” was the final song on the record. The rest of the tracks were fine on their own, but this last one blew me over. It’s Hayes laying a heavy sheen of deep soul over Hal David’s and Burt Bacharach’s already moody and mellow hooks. So my initial instinct was to find where the hell this song originally existed, and Hot Buttered Soul was the first place I looked. It’s the first goddamn track. Don’t I feel the fool.
I’m a huge fan of Warwick’s more restrained, dignified version anyway, so to hear the always smooth Hayes pulling the rug out from underneath it was stunning. It’s got a lush, emotional orchestral section, a rough and fuzzy guitar riff, and Hayes crying from the pain of lost love all over. He also lengthened the song greatly, at more than 12 minutes, giving it a sweeping intro and a powerful, liberating ending.
The only good thing about finding incredible music years overdue is finally going through the amazing experience of that first listen.
Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul
My first impression of Dionne Warwick was from listening to her pleasant, calming vocals during car rides with my mother 30 years ago. In the ’80s, her music was experiencing a mini revival, gaining new fans from her time hosting “Solid Gold” and riding on 70s hits like “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and the 1982 disco-jazzy “Heartbreaker.”
My second impression was that she was from San Jose — she must be, because she says so in the song, right? Apparently a lot of people have thought that, which is what she told me during our interview recently. But the Princess of Pop was totally cool with it and doesn’t fault people for assuming she’s from the West Coast. But she grew up in New Jersey – slightly different locale. One of my favorite lines from the song is when she airily suggests dropping $100 to help buy a car. Sounds like a deal to me!
At the time though, I didn’t realize she was part of one of the most successful collaborations in popular music history. The three of them — Warwick and songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David — struck gold with memorable songs like “Say A Little Prayer,” “Walk On By,” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”
It’s a massive catalog. If you’ve never taken the time to listen to her hits from the 60s, it’s worth it. Part of it is the Bacharach/David easygoing style of orchestral melodies and brass that makes them memorable, part of it is how Warwick was able to melt so gracefully into the lyrics. “Walk On By” is one of my most favorite songs ever; the piano line is so comforting, like a rainy Sunday.
Some of the songs haven’t aged as well — “Wives and Lovers” has a fantastic, breezy melody. The song is a good example of that ’60s James Bond-style grand sound, but the lines about keeping pretty so your husband doesn’t leave are pretty stale now.
I’ll finally get the chance to see her live tonight in Derry, NH. Hearing songs in person when you’ve had the original stuck in your brain for years is a weird experience. She’s probably not going to sound like she did then, but that’s what will make her performance unique.