Last night, I was putting together a playlist of R&B songs from 1977 that I found in this article from allmusic.com, when I noticed that one particular tune from that year wasn’t included. I didn’t really expect it to be, either. The song, though a favorite of mine, wasn’t what I would call a big hit. In fact, it was never released as a single. I’d only heard it because I had the album it came from in my home, though i didn’t buy it. It was a gift from my cousin.
The song is what I would consider a guilty pleasure. First of all, it clocks in at just over ten minutes long. For the artist who created it, that was nothing new; he made an art form of taking a song you knew and pulling and twisting and tweaking it until it was almost unrecognizable. Because he had that habit, that is the second reason it is a guilty pleasure. It is a way-over-the-top version of a song from the musical Kismet. It begins with the sound of wind blowing, then adds chimes, marimba, vibraphone…somewhere there is a gong being struck several times. Next comes percussion, bongos, a hi-hat from a drum. A serious wah-wah guitar cranks up. This builds for about four minutes. The artist doesn’t even sing a note until the song is half over.
All that, and yet I still love it. It’s a cover of “Stranger In Paradise,” done by Isaac Hayes.
By the time Hayes gets around to actually singing the song, most people may have lost interest. But for the time it was produced, it was probably par for the course. Disco was in full swing then, and many songs were given lengthier mixes than the ones heard on the radio. In some cases, on the albums the songs were pulled from, the long versions were found there, rather than the singles edits. In Isaac Hayes’ case, that was his signature style. Who else would make a twelve-minute version of Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By”? A near twelve-minute take on Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused”? And an almost twenty-minute stroll through “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”? Isaac Hayes, that’s who.
Even though this song is only ten minutes, there’s so much in it, it’s practically overstuffed. That doesn’t even count the horns and strings that join in after the lengthy intro. I’ve been a fan of Hayes’ since I found out that he and Dave Porter were the songwriting team behind many soul classics like “Hold On I’m Comin’,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” and “Soul Man” for the great duo Sam & Dave. I loved his soundtrack for the movie Shaft (which in addition to the Oscar-winning title theme song also included a nineteen-minute version of the R&B hit “Do Your Thing”). I generally liked most of his output, though I discovered much of the early 70s music years after it had been released.
But this song here contains a bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t like it. But I do. That’s what a guilty pleasure is. If you have a song or something that you feel you shouldn’t like, but love it anyway, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to listen to one of mine (there are probably dozens of others), if you dare. As always, thanks for reading and listening.