Friday, December 22, 2006

Disco Delivery #30:
Isaac Hayes Movement - Disco Connection (1976, HBS/ABC)

Isaac Hayes Movement - Disco Connection
Isaac Hayes Movement - Disco Shuffle
Isaac Hayes Movement - The First Day Of Forever
Isaac Hayes Movement - St. Thomas Square

Finally it's here!

I hadn't pulled out this album in a little while, until a reader recently asked me if I had the title track, which he had recently heard on the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance?" .. Despite the fact that I hadn't listened to it in a little while, it remains probably one of my all-time favourite instrumental disco albums, if anything one of my favourite Isaac Hayes disco efforts..

Isaac, who's contribution to the Stax label and the Memphis Sound has been well documented, was certainly no stranger to the disco either. From his seminal proto-disco, proto-rap "Theme from Shaft" all the way to "Moonlight Lovin' (Ménage á Trois)," "Don't Let Go," and "Shoot Your Best Shot," the latter produced for Linda Clifford, he was one of the most prominent R&B legends to make a serious transition to disco.. Although his mid-late '70's disco efforts were not often seen in the same light as his earlier efforts, there were some definite classics among them, some quite well known, others, like this one, that were rather overlooked..

An instrumental album released under the name of his backing band, the 'Isaac Hayes Movement,' "Disco Connection" was also to be one of the first Isaac Hayes albums that seemed to be aimed specifically towards a disco audience. Overall, it seems 1976 was Ike's "disco year." In 1976 alone, he would release a total of three albums; "Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)," this LP and "Groove-A-Thon," all of them with something aimed towards the disco.

Apparently both this LP, along with the "Groove-A-Thon" album were released just weeks apart from each other, and just before the advent of the commercial 12" single, no less. By this time he had already left Stax and was on ABC under his own imprint, HBS (Hot Blooded Soul). Despite the hectic pace and his new and seemingly improved label situation, neither of the three LPs from that year would do as well on the charts as any of his previous. It seemed to signal the end of an impressive run on the Billboard charts where pretty much all, if not most of his albums ended up topping the R&B charts as well as reaching the top 20 of the pop charts. Although the charts on at don't indicate much action, the title track did however do a little something on the disco charts. According to the 1976 Billboard Disco Charts posted on the forums, the title track would stay on the disco charts for a total of five weeks and peak at #26 in January of that year. That said, the liner notes of the "Groove-A-Thon" reissue seem to suggest that perhaps both "Groove-A-Thon" and "Disco Connection" could have done better had they been promoted with 12" singles, so perhaps there were limitations there on the label's part. Regardless of all that though, in my opinion "Disco Connection" is perhaps a prime example of not only Hayes' genius, but of early disco at it's best; a mix of sophisticated funk combined with layered, rich arrangements and orchestration. In other words, an excellent example of that time where disco wasn't quite at full-throttle; where there hadn't yet been too many stylistic formulas applied to it. In my estimation at least, it was a combination that seems to have made that year a particualrly rich one in the disco era, creatively speaking.

The title track and "Disco Shuffle" are probably the funkiest and most disco-oriented of all the tracks on the album, with both selections anchored by dynamic horn sections and particularly in the latter, a heavy beat to go with it. One other notable attribute in "Disco Shuffle" are those meaty guitar licks, which are particularly engaging. Certainly one of the most effective uses (that I've heard at least) of this almost bluesy guitar sound in anything even remotely disco.. As far as the title track goes, one of my favourite elements of "Disco Connection" are those couple of great, ample wah-wah sections towards the middle and the end, giving the track a kind of signature Shaft-esque disco-funk edge. One could point out other distinctive attribute to "Disco Connection," which is in the fact that it is not held down, as one might expect, by any significant degree of bass, whether drum or guitar. It's beat is anchored by a much lighter, and much sharper (for lack of a better term) crashing beat. I'm not sure how exactly they got that kind of metallic, crashing sound; whatever the case, despite the absence of those bass elements, it's probably that same thing which sets it free in a way. It seems to give the track a certain lightness and dynamic edge, if you will. There's still that generous dose of funk, particularly in those wah-wahs and horns, yet there is also a lighter, faster, almost elegant dancefloor freedom about it that is uniquely disco.

"St. Thomas Square" and "The First Day Of Forever," are probably the two that showcase Hayes' melodic sensibility to the fullest, with both steeped in blissful, dreamy layered orchestration. "..First Day Of Forever" in particular showcases a particularly harmonious blend and interplay between the string and horn sections. As well, there is that beautiful flute in "St. Thomas Square," which progresses into an engaging, almost jazzy solo towards the end of the track. That said, neither of the two tracks would likely be considered a club stomper in any way, yet I for one just can't deny their engaging, melodic qualities. As much as they differ from the heavier, faster selections, they fit and compliment them perfectly. Taking the pace down slightly but not too much, still maintaining an engaging tempo, while giving some more room for those melodic, and orchestral (particularly in "..First Day of Forever") arrangements to shine through and work their magic.

From what I've come across, Hayes' brief association with ABC Records apparently came to an end with his filing for bankruptcy and a seemingly slow-selling duet album with Dionne Warwick. He would resurface in 1977 on Polydor with his excellent "New Horizon" LP which would yield classics like "Stranger In Paradise," "Moonlight Lovin' (Ménage á Trois)" and "Out Of The Ghetto" among others. His Polydor years, while not reaching the commercial heights of his Stax era, would yield more disco classics like "Zeke The Freak" and "Don't Let Go" to name just a couple. More recently Hayes has been one of the more prominent celebrity adherents of Scientology and not to mention his part as the voice of Chef on South Park. It seems 2006 has been, if anything, a full year for Hayes, with a mild stroke in January and subsequent pulling out if South Park, over being apparently offended by their lampooning of Scientology. His leaving the show was not without it's controversy, with reports and allegations that his leaving (largely reported by FOX gossip columnist Roger Friedman), coinciding with his recuperation from his stroke, were not so much of his own free will, but engineered by the Church of Scientology. Whatever the case, he has stood by his departure, saying "I just decided it was time to leave. For a time it was fun.. The fun ran out."

In addition to the controversy, 2006 also saw Isaac and his wife give birth to a new son and most recently saw the singing of a new record deal. Concord Music Group, who bought out the Fantasy label (which owned the Stax catalogue) in 2004, announced just a few days ago that it would be relaunching the Stax label in 2007 for it's 50th anniversary. Isaac Hayes and Angie Stone were announced as the first two signings to the relaunched label, so hopefully 2007 will see some new music from Ike himself. His last original album,"Branded" (1995, Pointblank/Virgin) was released over ten years ago now, so if anything, it's a return that's long overdue.

For a little something extra.. I just found a rare video of "Disco Connection" on dailymotion with Ike as conductor, or as Millie Jackson would say; "directin' the shit".. Even though the video is most likely staged, I always get a kick out of studio session videos like this. Helps one imagine all the more vividly just how the different musicians and sections work together, not to mention the sheer level of musicianship and coordination that it must have taken to put a track like this together..

Isaac Hayes - Disco Connection
Uploaded by Vladimir Nikšić




Anonymous said...

Awesome website, it's like your reading my mind. I grew up in the Disco era, unfortunately, the music is under appreciated today (even then too). Love the Isaac Hayes Video - Nice! Keep up the passion for the music!

Anonymous said...

I've been like everywhere trying to find Isaac Hayes' awesome disco version of "Stranger In Paradise" (1974-78 or '79, but no luck... Thanx for the good work...

Anonymous said...

My favourite record of all time! What a tune. Pure CLASS. First heard this track when Tony Blackburn used it in the background doing the Top 40 rundown on a Sunday evening in the late 70s early 80s, thought it was a jingle until i went to my local disco and was totally 'BLOWN AWAY'

Anonymous said...

i grew up in europe - maybe a little too late for the disco era but I listened as a kid to all that stuff on the radio. was always thrilled of it and danced in the discotheques to it. but "disco connection" of isaac hayes I had to wait 30 years to discover it and its unbelievable. this beat combined with this violins so great. can't keep still... I had to look for the whole album. Thanks for sharing the video.

gnik61 said...

I own 2 lp's one bought in 1976 when I was 16 and one bought in 1995 (both in excellent condition).Idon't know if disco connection is on cd I've searched for flac or ape archives and there wasn't any on net.Igenerally don't make my records cd's because they don't have the same sound.Can you tell me if the lp has ever been on cd/

The Candyman said...

Hi Tommy, I posted a remastered version of this album on my own blog yesterday and included a link to this post. Thanks for your great work, best wishes!

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