'Joy' to the World: Remembering Isaac Hayes' 1973 Classic

Isaac Hayes' 'Joy'
Photo Credit
Stax Records

As one of the primary songwriters for the Stax label’s stable of performers, Isaac Hayes had written a bunch of pop and R&B smashes for the likes of Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. On his own, though, it was a different story. Gone were the short, radio and jukebox-friendly hits for which he had become known; in their place were side-long tracks with long spoken-word passages, creamy strings and lyrics that played up Hayes’ adopted persona as the shaved-head, shirtless, gold-chain-wearing lover man. That persona helped Hayes make his mark on the popular consciousness, and through it he earned a good bit of money, as well.

All four of his albums from 1969 to 1971 hit No. 1 on the R&B album chart, and three of them (including the classics Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses) wound up in the top ten of the mainstream pop album chart, as well. His fifth, 1973’s Joy, likewise climbed the charts and even earned him a gold record, and should be considered among his finest work of that era.

Drop the needle on Side 1 and you have the title track, 15 minutes of thick groove with every conceivable accoutrement – the strings, the rhythm section and Hayes’ deeper-than-deep vocal. The whole thing is held down by the low end - the drummer’s foot, marking time on the bass drum, along with the bassist’s elastic phrasing. Of course, there’s Hayes himself, wrapping his voice around lines like “Lips to lips, heart to heart / In a way that will never part...” And the seduction is only beginning.

“I Love You, That’s All” rounds out Side 1 with a little pillow talk...actually, a lot of pillow talk, along the lines of “You came to me tonight as a woman / And I'm gonna love you as a man / That's all.” Truth be told, it’s actually kind of funny, however unintentionally so.

“A Man Will Be a Man” has some tasty jazz guitar at its core, but the spotlight is on Hayes and his pleading, begging his woman to return to him. He is convincingly desperate.

Hayes slows down his delivery on “The Feeling Keeps On Coming,” letting his beloved know just how, um...ready for romantic relations he is. “Mother Nature must be doing her thing,” he sings, “'Cause every nerve in my body / Seems to have burst into flame.” Yowza. And whoever is playing harmonica may well have been the first to make the mouth harp sound positively sexy.

On the album-closing “I’m Gonna Make It (Without You),” We find that the woman that did him wrong has been replaced, and Hayes spends 11 minutes telling her just how much happier he is now. Oh, man, is he ever happier now.

Joy is well worth seeking out (or, you know, just listen to the tracks above) for the sexy masterpiece it is - just Isaac Hayes at his sensual, lover-man peak.

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