Tag Archives: Isaac Hayes

Rocks In The Attic #740: The Radio Orchestra – ’50 Academy Award Winners’ (1984)

RITA#740As we’re well into award season, I thought I’d pull this one out of the racks.

Coming after the dreadful Themes record I posted about earlier this week, this is another LP that doesn’t contain the original versions. It’s an easy-listening orchestra doing the business this time though, not some over-eager chap with a Yamaha keyboard.

I do like this record though, for its completeness. Every song that won the Best Song Oscar since the awards category was established is covered here, from 1934’s The Continental (from the film Gay Divorcee), all the way up to 1983’s Flashdance.

Just hearing fifty years’ worth of film music is interesting, as the orchestral themes of the first half of the century start to drift into more popular musical styles in the latter half. I would have liked to have been in the studio when the Radio Orchestra recorded their funk-lite version of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, the winning song from 1971.

There are plenty of hits here, from Over The Rainbow to Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera), and Moon River to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, but for a hidden gem I just had to select Three Coins In The Fountain. Not because I like the song – I’ve never seen the film, and I doubt I ever will – but it’s the song that Steve Martin starts singing to a bewildered audience on a coach in Planes, Trains & Automobiles before John Candy saves him by launching into the theme from The Flinstones.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Three Coins In The Fountain

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns

Rocks In The Attic #532: Bill Conti – ‘Rocky (O.S.T.)’ (1976)

rita532I love the Rocky films, particularly the first one. As with everything, it’s a case of ever-decreasing circles with the sequels. I haven’t caught Creed yet, the sixth sequel-cum-spinoff-cum-reboot, which I hear is supposed to be pretty decent (and earned Sylvester Stallone a Best Supporting Actor nod – the loss of which his brother didn’t take to kindly to).

I recently re-watched the first couple of films in the series, I and II, followed by Rocky Balboa (number six in the series). Comparing the original with the sequels, it really hits home that it would really have been better off all round had they not followed the first film. It was a Best Picture and Best Director winner remember, but its strength has been diminished over successive years with a string of lesser sequels.

Stallone is probably to blame. He deserves the credit for writing the original film, earning a Best Screenplay nomination as well as a Best Actor nod in the process. But he also wrote the next four films in the series, and seemed happy to portray the character and receive a bigger pay-check each time.

Even though I love the first film, it isn’t without its flaws. There’s one particularly cringeworthy scene where to show Rocky as a man of the neighbourhood, he’s seen running down the street playing with the local kids. The over-acting in this short moment unfortunately makes him look like a retarded man-child.

Aside from the rousing main title, Gonna Fly Now, this soundtrack is full of nice grooves. It officially comes under the banner of Philly Soul, but instrumental cuts like Reflections could easily have come out of Memphis’ Stax studios, particularly from Isaac Hayes’ superb Shaft soundtrack.

Hit: Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)

Hidden Gem: Reflections

Rocks In The Attic #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor