Album: Hot Buttered Soul
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While there are many amazing and indispensable figures throughout the history of music, few can be called true luminaries, having impact across every genre throughout a number of decades. For these elite few musicians, there are few titles that are fitting, as their names alone have become a definition in itself. A majority of these icons of music paid their dues during the late 1950’s and 1960’s, as due to both culture and technology, mainstream music was splintering off into countless new directions. Though this period is perhaps best defined by the albums that came out of Motown Records in Detroit, and equally important musical hotspot was Memphis’ own Stax/Volt Records. Home to the likes of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and of course Booker T & The M.G.’s, it was in the halls of Stax that soul music was being redefined. At the forefront of this new style of soul there was one man, and there are few musicians show have been as pivotal in the development of music as the great Isaac Hayes. After spending a number of years as a backing musician and writer, Hayes finally stepped into the spotlight in 1967 with his legendary debut, and it was here that he proved that there were no limit to his talents. However, Hayes would accomplish what was thought to be impossible, as his sophomore solo effort, 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, not only equaled the impact of his debut, but surpassed it. Containing only four songs, yet running over forty-five minutes, there is not a dull moment to be found, and the record opened new doors in the funk and soul sound, paving the way for a majority of the music that was recorded over the next decade. Bringing all of his talents and musical vision into focus, few songs bring as strong and unique a groove as one finds in Isaac Hayes’ 1969 classic, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic.”
After an almost danced piano intro, Haeys’ entire backing band, The Bar-Kays, drop in at full strength, and the power with which the hook and groove hit is unrivaled to this day. The stinging, funky guitar from Michael Toles brings together funk, soul, and blues in an unprecedented manner, and it is his tone here that would become the blueprint for the genre over the next decade. The rhythm section found here is unquestionably one of the greatest in history, as drummer Willie Hall and bassist James Alexander bring a movement to “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic” that defies description. Crossing through nearly every style of music, the thump of the bass presents the ideal contrast to the “walk” that came from Motown. Rounding out the sound on the song is Hayes himself on piano, and the way in which he slides in and around his bandmates brings to mind the idea of it often being about where you don’t play that makes a melody so fantastic. However, about halfway through “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic,” breaks out into one of the most soulful solos ever recorded, and he seems to be able to simultaneously hit the keys with an amazing power, whilst keeping the overall mood smooth and somehow soft. The song moves into an all out funk jam, and it is here that Alexander and Toles shows the full power of the Bar-Kays, as the intricate grooves and patterns they create are truly monumental. The song continues to build, with an almost overwhelming tension, before fading out, wondering just how long the band jammed and what extraordinary musical moments remain unheard.
Along with being a phenomenal writer and musician, Isaac Hayes also possessed one of the most distinctive voices and personas in all of music history. His deep, sometimes almost growling voice had a smoothness to it that defies description, and it is this clashing of sounds that makes him such a unique talent. On “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic,” Hayes uses his entire vocal arsenal, from soaring cries to striking spoken pieces, and it is in this stylistic combination that one can hear his roots in blues and gospel. The manner with which Hayes pulls all these sounds together is the main aspect that made his sound so revolutionary, as underneath it all, there remains a relaxed, cool tone. Furthermore, his appearance of his shaved head and ever-present sunglasses reinforced the fact that without question, Hayes defined the entire idea of “cool” in every sense of the word. Along with a twisting, unpredictable musical backing, the lyrics to "Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic" may very well be the most wildly poetic in history. At some points, Hayes flips brilliant statements on love, such as when he sings, "...I can't sleep at night, but that's all right...the M.D. tells me, my heart's on strike...emanating, originating from a love asphixiation..." At other times, Hayes seems to get outright philosophical, and it is clear that he chose the words based mostly on their sound and rhythm, as opposed to getting "directly" to the point he wanted to make. This shows the true roots of music, taken from old spoken stories, and it points at the significance of having the proper rhyme and meter when one looks to create a true masterpiece of a song.
Though soul and funk music certainly existed before Isaac Hayes released his monumental Hot Buttered Soul album, after it came out, neither genre was ever the same again. Both as individual styles of music, as well as the ways in which they came together, Hayes’ years of playing behind some of the finest musicians in history helped him to completely reinvent all that was possible. With each track on the album defying all traditional thoughts on both sound and length, the nearly ten minutes that is “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic “ seems to fly by, proving what a superb job each player did on the track. Backed by what has withstood time as one of the most powerful and original grouping of musicians ever, the sheer force with which “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic” hits instantly places it in a category all its own. Even more than four decades after it was first released, no song has ever even remotely equaled the power and presence of this track, and one can point directly to the song as “the” beginning of the next movement in both funk and soul. It was here where suddenly the sounds of Motown seemed perhaps over-produced or manufactured, and the persona of James Brown almost too flashy or theatrical. Hayes’ image was the new definition of cool, and one can see scores of performers in the years following that took this as their own style. Both musically and culturally, Hayes had begun a wide-reaching revolution that in many ways persists to this day, and one can get a complete grasp on just how extraordinary a talent he was within Isaac Hayes’ tremendous 1969 classic, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic.”