Four tracks, 45 minutes 30 seconds. This is as close to prog soul as can be. Elongated jam sessions by the Bar-Kays (The Bar-Kays are an American soul, R&B, and funk group formed in 1966) contribute to making this one of the most astonishing soul / funk albums ever. Recorded at the end of the 60s, the album provided something to music which was totally new. It is up there with Parliament, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. The album was recorded in Ardent Studios in Memphis.
Though not quite as definitive as Black Moses or as well-known as Shaft, Hot Buttered Soul remains an undeniably seminal record; it stretched its songs far beyond the traditional three-to-four-minute industry norm, featured long instrumental stretches where the Bar-Kays stole the spotlight, and it introduced a new, iconic persona for soul with Hayes’ tough yet sensual image. Allmusic
Walk On By
The album opens with a 12 minute version of Walk on By (original by Dionne Warwick, composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David). The definitive version of this is the one by the Stranglers for me. However, this is a really excellent and strong track. At points it is ethereal almost, and makes the listener feel as though they are floating on music. The track is so ambitious and excessive, throwing you into the deep end right from the start and not letting up until the end.
It stood as a newer, funkier phase of Southern soul, but it hinged on a sound more opulent than the most sharp-suited Motown crossover bid. It’s an exercise in melodrama and indulgence that lays it on so heavy it’s impossible not to hear it as anything but the stone truth. Pitchfork
A sensational Memphis soul / funk hybrid, this is for me the greatest on the album. The opening piano does not prepare you for the magnificence that is to follow. His butter smooth lyrics are so cool. Pitchfork described Hayes’ voice as ‘like a velvet sledgehammer, and rightly too. The progressive encroaching beat gradually takes over the whole track to finish in a crescendo like all encompassing musical medley. This touches my soul in a way which I can hardly put into words.
This is the only track on the album which resembles a nominal pop track. To be honest by comparison to the other three this one fades into obscurity but I suppose that was part of the point.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
With the statement, “I’m talking about the power of love now, I’m telling you what love can do” at the start of Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Hayes single-handedly launched the ‘love man’ genre that was soon to prevail; the roots of Barry White’s sensual symphonies and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On can be traced right back to here. BBC Music
This is for me a type of genius in song. Hayes raps extensively and slowly for 8 and a half minutes with no melody, spelling out the story which supports the song, before bursting into melody for the final ten explosive minutes.
And when it finally does transition from Hayes’ conversational murmur to the first actual sung line from the Jimmy Webb composition he’s covering, it’s the beginning of a metamorphosis that gradually transforms the dynamic of the song from sweet-stringed orchestration into full-fledged, brass-packed, explosively-cresting soul. Pitchfork
Over 50 years on, Hot Buttered Soul remains a leading Soul album which has far reaching influence, being sampled extensively in various Hip Hop songs. This is a four track soul masterpiece which holds a high place in my pantheon of great albums. It is no wonder this is number 829 in the 1001 Albums You Should Hear Before You Die.