Kids these days, I tell ya. They only know Isaac Hayes as the voice of Chef on
“South Park.” That’s fine and dandy and all, but us older folks, well we
remember Hayes when he was sporting his gold chain outfit and cranking out
classics like Hot Buttered Soul and the soundtrack to Shaft. Can
you dig it? Of course you can. And the folks at Stax want you to dig it even
more by taking you back through time with this new double-CD/DVD collection of
classic Hayes to whet your appetite for the man’s golden years.
It’s a shame, then, that “Theme from Shaft” which opens this set, is the
edited single version. If you’re going to experience this song, you need the
full workout. Either that, or the hilarious cover version by Sammy Davis Jr.,
who embellished little bits of his own into the mix (“Hey man, can you dig it?
Together for days in all that leather.”). But of course, if you’re going to cram
as much info as you can across two discs, the long stuff’s going to be cut down.
This happens elsewhere on this compilation, so if you’re an old fan, be prepared
to feel pissed off.
But hey, so many of Hayes’ albums have been out of print so long that it’s nice
to have this collection, right? Sure, why not? And it’s a gas to hear Isaac
playing with the Stax house band (the MG’s, of “Booker T and…”, to those of you
who don’t know) on the groovy “Precious, Precious.” It almost sounds like an
outtake, it’s so informal and loose, but hey, this is the kind of thing you
could do back then. It’s just too bad that so much of this collection is split
between foot tapping funk jaunts and loverman smoove soul bits that tend to make
you wanna hit that skip button more times than not.
Still, you get those classics like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (another of
those truncated versions) and the epic “I Stand Accused” alongside of such
previously unreleased items such as the WATTStax performance of “His Eye Is on
the Sparrow.” There’s also some officially released lesser-knowns like “Theme
from The Men” tossed in, as well as a cover of Bread’s “Baby I’m-A Want
You.” Man, those ‘70s sure were some crazy times. Funk soul brother #1 tackling
some Bread. Nowadays you call that novelty. Back then it was called “new and
The DVD included in the set contains three of Hayes’ performances from WATTStax
in ’72 (complete with a Jesse Jackson introduction, check it out now) that
consists of “Rolling Down a Mountainside,” “Theme from Shaft,” and “Soulsville.”
It’s greasy historical funk at its finest. There’s also a clip of “Chocolate
Salty Balls” from “South Park,” just to bring everything full circle. Yes, feel
the gap from the compilation tracks that end in 1977 to “Chef” in the ‘90s.
Isaac, you’ve come a long way, my man.
Ultimate Isaac Hayes is decent enough, but like a lot of jam-packed
compilations, it feels like too much of something and not enough of another. And
the single edit versions are skimpy, to say the least, but when a track is
originally around 19 minutes long, I suppose you have to make the cut somewhere.
Still, one could do much better by just picking up some classic Hayes albums and
discover the man through those than just getting this semi-flavor of the dude
from this compilation. Yeah, I can dig it, but sometimes less is more, and that
would’ve been even funkier in this case.