Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Hayes’

‘She’ll Just Hear That Phone . . .’

August 2, 2012

As most readers know, I’m always looking for an interesting cover of a familiar song. And I found one this morning. On this date in 1969, a cover of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by a group called the Mad Lads was sitting at No. 90 in the Billboard Hot 100:

It turns out that the Mad Lads recorded for Volt in Memphis. Originally from Detroit, the lads got three singles into the lower reaches of the Hot 100, starting in 1965. But after “Phoenix” peaked at No. 84 in 1969, the Mad Lads were gone from the charts and, one would guess, were mostly forgotten.

Tthe song certainly wasn’t. According to Second Hand Songs, more than ninety artists or groups have covered Jimmy Webb’s tune since 1966, when Johnny Rivers included it on his album Changes. A year later, Glen Campbell saw his version of the tune go to No. 26. And after that came Floyd Cramer, Johnny Mathis, Henson Cargill, Larry Carlton, O.C. Smith, Burl Ives and more, right down to singer Carol Welsman earlier this year. (It’s interesting to note that the next-to-last version of the tune listed is the one by Webb and Campbell from Webb’s 2010 album Just Across the River.)

The vast majority of covers of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” came early, with forty-six versions listed in 1968 alone, including versions I’d love to hear by saxophonists Ace Cannon and King Curtis. I can probably get by without the version by Ray Conniff and the Singers, though. As often happens, a foreign language version of the tune intrigues me, this one a 1969 cover of the tune in French – “Le Temps Que J’arrive à Marseille” – by Claude François. (Both videos available of François’ version, sadly, chop off the last few seconds.)

But no one, I’m sure, could match what Isaac Hayes did with Webb’s song, stretching it for more than eighteen minutes and most of the second side of his great 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul. For nine minutes, over a quiet but insistent beat, Hayes tells the back story of the song, the tale of the man who’s driving toward Phoenix and away from the woman who’s broken his heart over and over. Then he breaks into the song. Some strings sweeten it, and horns, piano and then organ provide punctuation as the track pulls the narrator toward Albuquerque and Oklahoma and, finally, home.

(An edit of Hayes’ long version was released as a single and went to No. 37. I’ve never heard the edit, and I think I’d like to. I saw several edits available for purchase online this morning, but I have no idea which one, if any, is true to the 1969 single. Even when I finally hear it, though, I doubt that it could be any better than Hayes’ original version.)

The Music Behind The Movies

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My long-time fascination with film soundtracks began – as I shared here in the first few months of this blog – with Goldfinger, the third of the James Bond films. As I wrote, my parents were reluctant at the time – I was eleven – to let me either see the movie or read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. But the soundtrack to Goldfinger was available through our record club, and I spent hours listening to it.

By the time I saw the film, maybe a year later, I practically had the score memorized, and I was fascinated with the way the music enhanced the movie, highlighting passages and underlining transitions. I began to pay close attention to the music whenever I went to a movie.

And I have done so ever since. Sometimes I felt like the only one. “Did you notice the music during the scene when they’re taking the car to Syracuse?” I’d ask my friends over a post-film drink.

“What about it?” one might reply.

“It echoed the main theme and also brought in the theme the composer created for the girl from Jersey.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t really notice.”

I kept listening and buying the occasional soundtrack LP (and later on, CD). My library of them isn’t large – I’ve focused far more over the years on rock, pop and soul – but generally, it’s music I still find interesting. Some of the soundtracks haven’t aged well. I bought the soundtrack to Country, the 1984 film that starred Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley, just days after I saw the film. But the New Age music – the musicians on it recorded frequently for the Windham Hill label – hasn’t worn well, I don’t think. Some others have lasted. And I think those include the three soundtracks that I absolutely love.

The first of those is the first soundtrack I owned: Goldfinger. Written by John Barry, the score for the third of the James Bond films provides a lesson in contrasts, from the blare and rumble of the main title to the insistent music that accompanied the film’s dawn raid on Fort Knox, followed by the hushed background to the arrival of a nuclear weapon before the pounding countdown begins. Matching the music, which I knew well, to the action on the screen was like reading a primer in film-scoring.

(I dabbled with the idea of scoring and soundtrack work as a career, but nothing came of it except a deeper love for the craft.)

The second of my three favorite soundtracks is Bill Conti’s work for Rocky, the first in what became a ridiculous series of films. Conti’s use of repeated motifs, often identified with one character, remains astounding, as does the variety of moods and arrangements he finds for each motif. How much of my affection for the score is a result of the film’s ultra-romantic story of the man who was almost destined to be “just another bum from the neighborhood”? I don’t know. I have a suspicion that it might be just as accurate to say that my affection for the movie is the result of the score. Rocky might have the prefect symbiosis between story and score: Each enhances the other.

The last of the three scores that sit atop my list is Randy Newman’s work for the 1984 film, The Natural. It’s true that the film’s story – especially its ending – bears only a passing resemblance to the Bernard Malamud novel from which it was adapted. (In the novel, given a chance at redemption, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs strikes out at the critical moment and his life and career unravel.) But given the producers’ decision to make Malamud’s cautionary tale into the Great American Fable, Newman came up with a score that was tragic, triumphant and Coplandesque.

So here is one selection from each of those soundtracks and four more from soundtracks that I enjoy, if not to the degree I love the first three:

A Six-Pack of Soundtrack Selections
“Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” by John Barry from Goldfinger [1964]
“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from Dr. Zhivago [1965]
 “No Name Bar” by Isaac Hayes from Shaft [1971]
“Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from Rocky [1976]
“Blade Runner [End Titles]” by Vangelis from Blade Runner [1982]
“The Natural” by Randy Newman from The Natural [1984]
Bonus Track
“Hymn to Red October (Main Title)” by Basil Poledouris from The Hunt For Red October [1990]

Herman’s Hermits, Lesley & Isaac

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 14, 2008

A couple things showed up when I went digging at YouTube for video related to Tuesday’s Vinyl Record Day post. Here are Herman’s Hermits performing “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed” live in 1966 on what I think is – based on the very faint credits – Beat Beat Beat, a German television show:

I didn’t find any footage of Lesley Gore performing “That’s The Way Boys Are,” but I found some good TV footage of her performing “You Don’t Own Me.” I’d place the footage in early 1964, as “You Don’t Own Me” entered the Billboard Top Forty on January 11 that year, on its way to three weeks at No. 2.

And then, I went back to Monday’s post about Isaac Hayes and dug around YouTube for a bit. I found what appears to be footage from a documentary about Hayes’ work creating the soundtrack for Shaft, which came out in 1971. The clip shows Hayes and – I believe – the Bar-Kays running through “Cafe Regio’s” and then getting a brief bit of instruction from the movie’s director, Gordon Parks, before playing a portion of the movie’s main theme.

Video deleted.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Isaac Hayes

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 11, 2008

The over-riding image I have of Isaac Hayes is from the Academy Awards telecast in 1972, his shaved head and gold chains gleaming as he performed the “Theme from Shaft.” I’d never seen anything like it.

But then, neither had the rest of the world.

Hayes, who crossed over Sunday at his home in Memphis at the age of sixty-five, was one of those artists who pushes past boundaries. The most obvious boundary at the time was his winning an Oscar for Best Song for the “Theme from Shaft,” as Hayes was the first black composer to win the award.

But those who knew about Hayes before Shaft already knew that he pushed limits. His 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul, had only four tracks on it. One of those tracks, a version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” ran 18:42, with much of the track consisting of Hayes’ ruminations about the song’s meaning in a way that some critics have said anticipated rap. I don’t know if the comparison is valid, but I’ve seen it in more than one place over the years. I do think, however, that it’s valid to say that his work on Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft and his 1971 album, Black Moses, pointed the way to the funk of the later 1970s.

Hayes’ work as a recording artist was impressive on its own; a look at the discography available at All-Music Guide is testament to that. The list runs from 1967’s Presenting Isaac Hayes to Instrumental, a 2003 anthology of work from the early 1970s. His last album of all-new material was Branded, released in 1995 along with Raw & Refined, a collection of unreleased tracks from over the years.

But the more impressive list at All-Music Guide is the one headed “Songs Composed By.” From “(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm,” recorded by Foxy Brown in 1996, through “Zeke the Freak,” which Hayes recorded during a stint at Polydor in the late 1970s, the list of tracks currently available on CD runs twenty-four pages.

Add Hayes’ albums to his extraordinary writing credits, and then throw in the work he did as studio musician and producer, and you have one remarkable career. Then consider that Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack forty miles north of Memphis, and you have a remarkable life as well.

Here’s a selection of tracks as a salute to that career and that life.

A Baker’s Dozen of Isaac Hayes
“Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9038, 1971

“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, Stax single 195, 1966

“You Got Me Hummin’” by Cold Blood, San Francisco single 60, 1969

“Soulsville” by Isaac Hayes from the soundtrack to Shaft, 1971

“I’m A Big Girl Now” by Mable John, Stax single 225, 1967

“Hold On! I’m Comin’!” by B.B. King & Eric Clapton from Riding With the King, 2000

“You Don’t Know Like I Know” by Sam & Dave, Stax single 180, 1966

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9031, 1971

“I Thank You” by Bonnie Raitt from The Glow, 1979

“My Baby Specializes” by Delaney & Bonnie from Home, 1968

“Little Bluebird” by Little Milton from Waiting For Little Milton, 1973

“Do Your Thing” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9042, 1971

“Lay Lady Lay” by Isaac Hayes from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

A few notes:
Most of these don’t need commentary, I would guess. All but two of them came from Hayes’ pen, with most of those being co-written with Dave Porter of Sam & Dave, his long-time writing partner at Stax.

The three selections from Shaft – the main theme, “Soulsville” and “Do Your Thing” – were Hayes’ solo compositions. The versions of the theme and “Do Your Thing” presented here are single edits; on the official soundtrack, the theme ran 4:39 and “Do Your Thing” ran an extraordinary 19:30.

The two songs here that didn’t come from Hayes’ pen are “Never Can Say Goodbye” and, of course, “Lay Lady Lay.” The former is a single edit of a track from Hayes’ 1971 album Black Moses. “Lay Lady Lay” comes from a Bob Dylan tribute album issued by House of Blues in 1999 that’s had its title changed several times. When I bought it, it was called Tangled Up In Blues.

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

A Quick Six-Pack From 1971

May 13, 2011

I got an invitation in my email the other week: The St. Cloud Tech High Class of 1971 is getting together one evening near the end of June to celebrate the forty years gone by.

I’ve made two other reunions: the tenth, which I didn’t enjoy all that much, and the twentieth, which I did. Since then, there’s been some barrier or other in my way, and I’ve missed the get-togethers.

This really isn’t about the reunion, but the reminder that it’s been forty years since we donned our caps and gowns and then moved on to other things gave me a convenient hook on which to hang a quick Friday morning post: A six-tune random trek through 1971.

British musician Phil Cordell released an instrumental titled  “I Will Return” under the name of Springwater that year. The song didn’t chart in the U.S., but it did all right in Europe, reaching No. 1 in Switzerland and making the Top Five in the U.K. I caught up to it sometime during these past four years, and I like it quite a bit.

Our next stop is a tune that I thought was rude and excessive forty years ago, as well as being a bit too loud: “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. Rude and excessive or not, it went to No. 15. And these days, I like it quite a bit more than I did then.

Third up is “We Got To Have Peace,” a Curtis Mayfield track pulled from his album Roots. The single barely made a dent in the pop chart, bubbling under at No. 115. It did a fair amount better on the R&B chart, rising to No. 32.

Staying on the R&B side of town for a while, we come across “Going In Circles,” a track from Isaac Hayes’ monumental album Black Moses. ‘Never Can Say Goodbye” was the hit single from the album, going to No. 22 on the pop chart and to No, 5 on the R&B chart. The album itself went to No. 10 on the Billboard 200, No. 2 on the Jazz chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart.

Our fifth stop this morning is “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” by the Partridge Family. Created for  television, the faux family group had plenty of detractors at the time, but forty years have softened the disdain, and now the group’s records sound like pretty decent early-70s pop-.  “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” went to No. 13.

And our final stop this morning brings us to Lou Rawls and “A Natural Man.” The record went to No. 17 on both the pop and R&B charts, and it won Rawls a well-deserved Grammy for R&B Male Vocal performance:

That’s it for a few days. The Texas Gal and I are going to go outside and play. I’ll be back Monday.

A Long, Strange Trip Indeed

April 13, 2010

Not all that many years ago, as these things can be measured, I met someone while I was working at St. Cloud State. This was years before I had an inkling of the Texas Gal’s existence, and I was trying to fill the empty place. It worked, for a while.

That someone and I spent a brilliant summer together and then a few less-than-brilliant months sliding slowly apart before we realized that what we had found instead of a life-long romance was a lasting friendship, a rare enough commodity itself. That friendship endures today, as do the memories, most of them dear and a few of them not so happy.

Among the most fascinating memories – from this side of the fence, anyway – are the evenings we spent tracing our steps through the separate lives we’d led in the years before. Many times metaphorically and two or three times literally, one of us had left a room bare moments before the other entered. At least twice, we were at the same event among crowds small enough that we could have found the other, had we been aware there was someone to find.

We did many more things that summer than plot our movements over the years, of course, but we lazed into the topic frequently as the records or the radio played in my apartment or hers. And one evening, as the campus radio station provided the soundtrack, we were musing over where we had been and dreaming about where we might go. The strains of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” came from the speakers in the corner.

Then Jerry and the boys got to the tag line: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” And she and I looked at each other and laughed and then nodded, and for the rest of that summer, there were moments when one or the other of us would quote the line in amusement, wonder or resignation.

“Truckin’” was never “our song.” The Dead’s saga of chemical enlightenment, crash pad paranoia and the rest was too, well, too something to be the romantic touchstone that both of us needed “our song” to be that summer. For that purpose, we found a song, and another and another and then more, stacking those tunes in a kind of sweet hierarchy, like a series of 45s stacked on a portable record player. The Grateful Dead’s song, on the other hand, served as a reminder of how remarkable our meeting was and of how close we might have come to not meeting at all.

Months later, aware in sorrow that the long, strange trip would continue as two separate voyages, I tried to reframe the song as a reminder that companions and destinations find us, not the other way around.

This is the version from the 1974 anthology Skeletons from the Closet, and I think it’s the same as the 1970 album track from American Beauty. According to The Grateful Dead Family Discography, an edit of the album track was released in 1971 as a single, Warner Bros. 7464, with an edit of “Ripple” from the same album on the flip side. The same edit of “Truckin’” was also released on singles twice more, first as the B side to a live version of “Johnny B. Goode” in 1972 and then in 1974 as an A side, backed with “Sugar Magnolia.” I have no idea how well the single did in any of those three iterations, except that it did not make it into the Top 40.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 12
“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty [1970]
“Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise 9038 [1971]
“I’ll Be Long Gone” by Mother Earth from Bring Me Home [1971]
“Waking Up Alone” by Paul Williams from Just An Old Fashioned Love Song [1971]
“Walk On The Wild Side” by Lou Reed, RCA 0887 [1973]
“Second Avenue” by Tim Moore from Tim Moore [1975]

I checked this morning, and this is the only weekly selection from the Ultimate Jukebox that plants itself entirely in the decade of the 1970s. There didn’t have to be one, I suppose, and I imagine there could have been more, but this is the way the random sorting worked itself out.

I know I’ve had some things to say in the past about the Hayes, Williams and Moore selections. Obviously, all three remain favorites, and I’d have to put “Waking Up Alone” and “Second Avenue” high on the list of best post-romance songs ever, the first in the category of “It Happened Long Ago” and the second in the category of “It Happened Recently.” Both still can tug at my heart, but the best moment in the two of them combined has nothing to do with the lyrics or the stories told thereby. It’s the saxophone that comes in late on “Waking Up Alone,” hanging around long enough to take a nice solo and then walk us home. The two sad songs also fall into the category of records that should have been hits.

“Theme from Shaft was a hit, of course, sitting at No. 1 for two weeks in the autumn of 1971. The record earned Hayes an Academy Award, two Grammys and the undying gratitude of anyone who wanted to hear something funky and slinky coming out of their radio speakers.

This is the second time Boz Scaggs’ tune “I’ll Be Long Gone” has shown up in this list: Scaggs’ original version was listed here some time ago. As I was trimming the list of songs in the Ultimate Jukebox, I never could decide which of the two versions I wanted to include, so I kept both of them. The similarity in arrangement bothers me a little, but that’s redeemed by the vocal reading from Mother Earth’s Tracy Nelson. (I did trim, with some reluctance, another very good version of the same tune by Cold Blood and Lydia Pense.)

“Walk On The Wild Side,” Lou Reed’s incredibly catchy sketch of transvestite bliss in New York City, always brings me a chuckle. The record went to No. 16 in the late winter and spring of 1973, and I don’t recall hearing it then at all. The next autumn, when I was in Denmark, another American guy and I would spend evenings with my American girlfriend and the Danish girl with whose family my gal was living. We’d lounge on the floor of Ulla’s room, and Ulla would keep the record player spinning with her 45s. Whenever she’d cue up “Walk On The Wild Side,” we three Americans would glance at each other as Ulla sang along, phonetically perfect but linguistically unaware of a good deal of what she was singing about. “A hustle here and a hustle there . . .”