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Best Isaac Hayes Songs: 20 Tracks By That Mad Mutha

The best Isaac Hayes songs revolutionised soul music in the 60s and 70s, spearheading symphonic soul and helping to invent the Blaxploitation genre.

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Isaac Hayes Stax press shot web 1000 optimised brightness
Photo courtesy of Concord Records

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. The wider world may remember him as Chef in South Park, but fans of 70s funky music know Isaac Hayes (who was born on 20 August 1942, and died, of a stroke, on 10 August 2008) as a soul and groove superstar. The best Isaac Hayes songs reveal exactly why that is.

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

Listen to the best Isaac Hayes songs on Apple Music and Spotify, and scroll down to read our 20 best Isaac Hayes songs.

20: ‘Walk On By’

Those fans who studied soul music deeply were perhaps nonplussed that one of the genre’s greatest writers used other people’s songs so often when he became a solo artist. But, to their ears, it didn’t matter: 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 at all. See that rulebook there? Yeah, the one in the bin. Leave it there.

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.”

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, ʻHung 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 ʻIllusion’ and Geto Boyz’ classic ʻMind Playing Tricks On Me’ among the killer cuts that bit off a piece of it.

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 Mr Hayes’ ʻWalk From Regio’s’…

15: ‘Walk From Regio’s’

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

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’s Thing.

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, ʻFeels 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 – there’s no rush, we’ll get to the song when I’m done. Now that’s confidence, and it made soul music realise it could spread itself out and relax whenever it wanted.

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.

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?

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.

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.

7: ‘Going In Circles’

Originally performed by The Friends Of Distinction in 1969, Isaac took ʻGoing In Circles’ apart and reassembled it in ’73 for this emotionally powerful cut from Black Moses. Ike is locked in a love crisis, and you can feel it in every note.

6: ‘The Feeling Keeps On Coming’

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

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 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 as 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.

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. That’s OK; it was the 70s. The lyrics, however, are more physical than Biblical, heavy on intimacy – even when they’re songs, like ʻ(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.

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.

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 ʻJoy’ 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 throw away your soulful sat nav and go where he leads you?

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. ʻShaft’, the single, was a bad, bad hush-yo’-mouth that still has the power to blow you away. Right on.

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