Best Isaac Hayes Songs: 20 Tracks By A Soul Legend

The best Isaac Hayes songs revolutionized soul music, spearheaded symphonic soul and helped to invent the Blaxploitation genre.

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Isaac Hayes
Photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns

He co-wrote lots of hits at Stax for the likes of Eddie Floyd, Sam And Dave, and Carla Thomas. He played the keyboard and produced on numerous sessions. He was the heart and soul of Memphis soul but never wanted to become a star. Yet when his second solo album, 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, emerged, Isaac Hayes’ fame grew so big that subsequent albums spoke of a “Movement” and a “Black Moses,” and his music became symphonic and expansive – the very opposite of the hit-it-and-quit-it 60s Memphis soul he helped create. Some may only remember him as Chef in South Park, but fans of 70s funky music know Isaac Hayes (who was born on August 20, 1942, and died on August 10, 2008) as a soul and groove superstar. The best Isaac Hayes songs reveal exactly why that is.

Think we’ve missed some of the best Isaac Hayes songs? Let us know in the comments section, below.

20: Walk On By

Ike made everything entirely his own, as this 12-minute version of Dionne Warwick’s hit, taken from his breakthrough album, Hot Buttered Soul, makes perfectly clear.

19: I Stand Accused

Originally a hit for Chicago soul icon Jerry Butler, and covered numerous times, “I Stand Accused” never sounded the way Isaac Hayes tackled it for The Isaac Hayes Movement in 1970. Its nigh-on five-minutes of rappin’ at the start was just so damn intimate that some fans couldn’t handle it. See that rulebook there? Yeah, the one in the bin. Leave it there.

I Stand Accused by Isaac Hayes from The Isaac Hayes Movement

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18: Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymystic

“Baby, you’re in tune to Memphis Soul Sounds 142 FM and this is a super-soulful cut from Isaac Hayes’ soul-soaked new album, Hot Buttered Soul: ‘Hyperbolicsllatic’… Er, ‘Hyperroboticsyllabubic’… Uh, ‘Hypnoticsillytacticsasquatch’… Er, baby, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just listen.”

Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic by Isaac Hayes from Hot Buttered Soul

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17: Hung Up On My Baby

From Hayes’ 1974 movie soundtrack Tough Guys (AKA Three Tough Guys), which also marked the Stax superstar’s debut as an actor, “Hung Up On My Baby” is a super-subtle downtempo soul throbber that’s been plundered by hip-hop and R&B, with Destiny’s Child’s “Illusion” and Geto Boyz’ classic “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” among the killer cuts that bit off a piece of it.

Hung Up On My Baby by Isaac Hayes from Tough Guys

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16: Night Vision

From hip-hop giant Guru’s third Jazzmatazz album, Street Soul, this is where the best of the hip-hop generation’s rhymesmiths meets the greatest rapper of the funky soul generation. Full of atmosphere, the sample comes from Hayes’ “Walk From Regio’s”…

Night Vision (feat. Isaac Hayes)

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15: Walk From Regio’s

… And here’s the original tune, straight from the Shaft soundtrack.

Walk From Regio's by Isaac Hayes from Shaft (Music From The Soundtrack)

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14: Do Your Thing

Everybody was doing a Thing in the early 70s. You got two choices here: the 19-plus minutes of it from the Shaft soundtrack of July 1971, or the mere seven-minute take on 1972’s Live At The Sahara Tahoe. If you want to know how loved the song was, one way to judge is by how many cover versions there were: among the many, check out those by The Temptations (on the All Directions album), Julius Brockington (Sophisticated Funk), and The Chosen Few (Hit After Hit). But nobody did their Thing like Ike did his Thing.

Do Your Thing by Isaac Hayes from Shaft (Music From The Soundtrack)

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13: Feels Like The First Time (with Millie Jackson)

It was perhaps inevitable that the two top sexy soul talkers of their generation would get together, and in 1979 it happened on the album Royal Rappin’s, which delivered Ike and Millie’s disco hit, “Feels Like The First Time.”

12: By The Time I Get To Phoenix

The final track on the soul shock that was Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac talks his way through the first eight and a half minutes of this Jimmy Webb standard, storytelling as calm as you like. That’s confidence.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix by Isaac Hayes from Hot Buttered Soul

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11: Monologue: Ike’s Rap I

Ike talks. And talks. And talks. But you never get bored with this opening track from 1970’s … To Be Continued.

Monologue: Ike's Rap I

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10: The Look Of Love

And from the same album, sampled by everyone from 3rd Bass to Jay Z, this Bacharach-David classic gets the Hayes treatment. Super-romantic yet super-bad at the same time: what’s cooler than that?

The Look Of Love

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9: I Want To Make Love To You So Bad

Isaac left Stax – along with everybody else – when it disintegrated in the mid-70s, and signed to ABC where he cut great albums that adapted to the onslaught of disco without losing his soul. One was 1975’s Chocolate Chip, which contained this heavyweight thriller that perfectly expresses Ike’s sexual urgency without being X-rated.

I Want To Make Love To You So Bad by Isaac Hayes from Chocolate Chip

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8: A Few More Kisses To Go

From the 1979 Polydor album Don’t Let Go. Soul music may have been entering a new phase, but Hayes remained true to his art, as this glorious sultry slow jam makes clear.

A Few More Kisses To Go (12" Version)

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7: Going In Circles

Originally performed by The Friends Of Distinction in 1969, Isaac took “Going In Circles” apart and reassembled it in 1973 for this emotionally powerful cut from Black Moses. Ike is locked in a love crisis, and you can feel it in every note.

Going In Circles by Isaac Hayes from Black Moses

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6: The Feeling Keeps On Coming

From 1973’s super-sensuous Joy, “The Feeling Keeps On Coming” has a strange, halting feel, like palpitations caused by a state of mesmerized longing.

The Feeling Keeps On Coming by Isaac Hayes from Joy

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5: Medley: Ike’s Mood I/You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

The opening section is one of the best-known samples in hip-hop. But Ike was obviously not thinking of that when he put together this amazing combo for his … To Be Continued album. He was trying to create the perfect fusion of soul, funk, and orchestra, where love and groove become one. It’s almost a shock when The Righteous Brothers’ hit arrives, totally transformed, after nearly seven minutes; there’s no hint it was coming. Symphonic soul genius.

Isaac Hayes - Medley: Monologue/Ike's Mood I/You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'

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4: (They Long To Be) Close To You

On the sleeve of Black Moses, Ike is like a prophet leading his people out of the desert – in Ray-Bans. The lyrics, however, are more physical than Biblical, heavy on intimacy – even when they’re songs, like “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” more usually associated with easy listening than heavy passion. A beautiful arrangement, a beautiful baritone voice, a ballsy groove. That’s soul.

(They Long To Be) Close To You by Isaac Hayes from Black Moses

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3: Breakthrough

Another killer rap break introduces this soundtrack thriller from Truck Turner, in which Ike plays a bounty hunter. A gritty tune that hits just as hard as his tough title character.

Breakthrough by Isaac Hayes from Truck Turner (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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2: Joy

Hey, ain’t that the Soul II Soul beat, more or less? Whole careers were built on this groove – and the celebration of physical love that is “Joy” is almost as long as a career. Ike builds it up, lets it subside, builds it up again… He’s inviting you to get lost in his delight, and what can you do but go where he leads you?

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1: Shaft

The hit single that practically introduced many fans to badass funk; flashy, dynamic, and irresistible, and speaking of its era as clearly as any record could. “Shaft,” the single, was a bad, bad hush-yo’-mouth that still has the power to blow you away.

Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes from Shaft (Music From The Soundtrack)

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  1. Willie Hobbs

    September 10, 2020 at 2:30 am

    Type Thang
    Body Language
    Man’s Temptation
    Never Gonna Give You Up
    Help Me Love
    I Can’t Turn Around
    They Long To Be (Close To You)

  2. Len

    September 10, 2020 at 4:37 am

    It’s a sin not to have I Can’t Turn Around on this list. It inspired a new genre, House Music.

  3. Robert J

    August 22, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    “Soulsville” is a neglected gem. It is up there with Stevie’s “Living For The City”.

    Isaac’s wistful overview of an African-American city, blighted by poverty and hard drugs proved
    he had a keen social eye. A fantastic track that deserves further listening.

  4. Billy B.

    September 9, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    “Oh no, not my baby”

  5. James Benjaminj

    October 31, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    I loved the song (let me be your everything)

  6. William Arley Rauhuff

    April 18, 2023 at 1:29 am

    He was one of my favorite artists barnone got introduced to him in 1970 and bought his music for years and was fortunate to see him in concert in Knoxville 1972 and he was great. Besides Elvis Presley he was the most important artist to come out of Memphis. Another gem is his remake of the Lovin Spoonful 1966 song Summer in the City

  7. dan gunning

    December 30, 2023 at 4:13 pm

    Nashville Aud. 1968 concert accomplied by a full bounty of musicans.IKE was JUST LIKE HE SOUNDS on thealbums. SOULFUL .

  8. Mr V.

    March 2, 2024 at 6:39 am

    OMG. Medley : Ike’s Rap III /Your Love Is So
    Doggone Good. Are you kidding me ? Not on the list
    You can’t imagine the number of Generations X
    who were conceived during this masterpiece.
    The vamp with strings, horns and those congas.
    Ok, maybe the cannabis , yes, it was the 70’s ,
    might have intensified the message he so
    poetically and prophetically delivered. Defense rest.

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