Cult Classic: Isaac Hayes Movement-Disco Connection.

Disco. Never has a musical genre divided opinion like the D word.   It’s been described as musical Marmite. People either love disco, or they loathe it. There’s no in-between. However, forty years ago, in 1976, disco’s star was in the ascendancy. Artists were jumping onto the disco bandwagon. Especially artists whose career was stalling. That however, wasn’t the case with Isaac Hayes.

Ever since he released his sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes in 1969, he could do wrong. Hot Buttered Soul reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. The followup, 1970s The Isaac Hayes Movement also reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Later, in 1970, …To Be Continued reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. 1970 had been a hugely successful year for Isaac Hayes. So would 1971.

In July of 1971, Isaac Hayes released his first soundtrack album, Shaft. Not only did it reach number one on the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts, but spawned the hit single Shaft. This Blaxploitation classic reached number two on the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts. The when Isaac Hayes released  Black Moses later in 1971, it reached number ten in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Live at the Sahara Tahoe, Isaac’s first live album, reached number fourteen the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. That made it six number one albums on the US R&B charts. However, six didn’t became seven.

The run was broken when 1973s Black Moses “only” reached reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B charts. However, Isaac Hayes seemed to lose his Midas touch in 1974.

During 1974, Isaac Hayes was commissioned to compose two soundtracks. Neither proved particularly successful. Tough Guys stalled at number 148 in the US Billboard 200, while Truck Turner only reached number 158 in the US Billboard 200. So, Isaac Hayes decided to have a musical rethink. A year later, in 1975, and Isaac Hayes returned with a quite different album.

Hot Chip had been influenced by disco, which by 1975, was growing in popularity. So his seventh studio album, Hot Chip incorporated elements of disco. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts.  Given the popularity of disco, and the response to Hot Chip. Isaac Hayes decided to release a disco album with his backing band the Isaac Hayes Movement. This would be no ordinary album. Disco Connection was an instrumental album from Isaac Hayes.

Disco was a relatively new musical genre by the time Isaac Hayes decided to release Disco Connection in 1975. It had been around since the early seventies. However, what the first disco record was, is still disputed?  

Some critics believe disco was born in 1971, with Barry White and Isaac Hayes pioneering the disco sound. Other critics think 1972 was the year disco was born. They point towards singles like  The O’Jays’  Love Train, Jerry Butler’s One Night Affair or Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa. Even 1972 might be too early for disco’s birth?

It could be that disco wasn’t born until 1973, when the Hues Corporation released Rock The Boat. That argument would find favour with many critics. However, some critics dispute Hues Corporation being one of the earliest disco records. They think disco was born in 1974.

Nowadays, a number of critics think George McCrae’s 1974 number one single got the disco ball rolling. It was released on Henry Stone’s T.K. Records in April 1974 and reached number one in America. Some critics will try to convince you that George McCrae and Henry Stone’s T.K. Records were responsible for getting the disco ball rolling. Others beg to differ.

It’s thought that disco was already celebrating its first birthday by then. The first article in the music press about disco was penned by Vince Aletti for Rolling Stone magazine in September 1973. Little did Vince know, he’d just written the first article about a true musical phenomenon.

Disco was born in America. Music historians have traced disco’s roots to clubs in Philly and New York. These two cities would play an important part in a disco. Philly and New York were where many of the most successful disco records were recorded. They were also home to some of disco’s top labels, Salsoul Records, SAM Records, West End Records and Casablanca. This quartet of labels are perceived as disco’s premier labels. They provided the soundtrack to America’s clubs for the next few years.

Many clubs became synonymous with disco. Especially New York. It was also home to some of the top clubs, including David Mancuso’s Loft, Paradise Garage and Studio 54. While these trio of clubs were soon perceived as some of the most influential clubs of the disco era, disco was making its presence felt worldwide.

Although born in America, soon disco’s influence was being felt worldwide. Around the world, dancers danced to the pulsating disco beat. Disco crossed the continents and provided the musical soundtrack to dance-floors worldwide. 

Among the most successful purveyors were Salsoul Records, SAM Records, West End Records and Casablanca. They were creating what is remembered as some of disco’s finest moments. Other labels and artists looked on enviously. Soon, they decided to jump on the disco bandwagon. 

Before long, artists whose career had been on the slide for years, were reinventing themselves as disco stars. Johnny Mathis, Cissy Houston, Herbie Mann and Tony Orlando were all willing to undergo a disco makeover to revive flagging and failing careers. Isaac Hayes however, was one of the biggest names in soul, funk and R&B.

While a number of yesterday’s stars jumped on the disco bandwagon, Isaac Hayes had enjoyed the most successful period of his career. Granted, it hadn’t been all smooth sailing, but he was happy with where he was. However, Isaac was determined not to stand still. He was determined to move forward musically. There was though a problem on the horizon.

For a while, Stax Records had been experiencing financial problems. Isaac Hayes was owed a lot of money in royalties. When they weren’t forthcoming, Isaac had no option but to issue writs in 1974. Still, the royalties weren’t forthcoming. So, Isaac, with the backing of ABC Records, founded his own Hot Buttered Soul label. Chocolate Chip had been his first album on his new label. Disco Connection would be the second.

For Disco Collection, Isaac Hayes had penned eight new tracks. They were recorded by the Isaac Hayes Movement at Hot Buttered Soul Recording Studio, in Memphis. Lester Snell and Isaac arranged most of Disco Collection, except Aruba, which they arranged with Johnny Allen. Isaac however, took charge of the production. This was quite a challenge, given Isaac Hayes Movement featured twenty-two musicians and a string section. 

The Isaac Hayes Movement’s rhythm section consisted of Willie Cole and William Hall on drums and tambourines, bassist Errol Thomas and guitarists Anthony Shinault, Charles Pitts, Michael Toles and William Vaughn. Keyboardist Sidney Kirk was joined by Jimmy Thompson on congas and Bryant Munch and Richard Dolph on French horn. Add to this a horn section and The Memphis Strings, and the Isaac Hayes Movement took shape. They recorded eight tracks which became Disco Connection.

Disco Connection wasn’t released until 12th January 1976. By then, Isaac Hayes had been back in the studio and recorded his next album, Groove-A-Thon. It would be released on St. Valentines Day, which was less than a month away. This wasn’t a good idea. 

With two albums being released in a short space of time, this confused record buyers. Record buyers looking for Isaac Hayes’ next solo album, mistakenly bought Groove-A-Thon. Similarly, those who had enjoyed Disco Connection, bought Groove-A-Thon thinking it would be more of the same were in for a surprise. By releasing two albums in a short space of time, all that had happened, was that sales of both albums were disappointing. 

Disco Connection stalled at a disappointing eighty-five in the US Billboard 200 and nineteen in the US R&B charts. Groove-A-Thon fared slightly better, reaching number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and eleven in the US R&B charts. However, in years to come, the sales of Groove-A-Thon would be seen as a success. Isaac Hayes’ years of number one US R&B albums were a thing of the past. Despite embracing disco on Disco Connection, would he later become another victim of the disco phenomenon?

The First Day Of Forever opens Disco Connection. Straight away, elements of Philly Soul, funk and disco combine. Considering Disco Connection was recorded in Memphis, this is ironic. Strings shiver and dance while the rhythm section and congas combine. They’re joined by braying horns and a Norman Harris’ influenced guitar. By then, the arrangement is gliding elegantly along. Above the arrangement sits the dancing disco strings. During the breakdown, the arrangement slows down and the a melancholy French horn sounds. Pounding drums and a chiming guitars combine, as the arrangement cha cha’s along. Then when the dancing string reenter, this glorious slice of tailor made disco comes alive and all of sudden, it’s 1976 again.

While the rhythm section provide the heartbeat to St. Thomas Square, funky guitars, disco strings and woodwind combine. They’re soon joined by rasping horns and galloping congas. Again, there’s a wistful sound to the track. This soon changes, as the horns and strings unite. Along with the funky rhythm section they add a feel good sound. There’s almost a cinematic sound. That’s not surprising, as Isaac Hayes had written three soundtracks. Later,a jazz tinged guitar unites with braying horns and lush strings. Together, they play their part in what’s an emotive, cinematic slice of disco.

The introduction to Vykk II sees the tempo drop. Gone is the disco sound of the two previous tracks. However, the way the organ, horns and the rhythm section combine, have Isaac Hayes name written all over it. It’s much more like his earlier music, and is best described as soulful, sultry, funky, jazzy and dramatic. Horns play an important part. So does Isaac’s keyboards and the strings. They’re slow and lush, while the sultrier of saxophone drenches the arrangement. It’s aided and abetted by subtle horns that add to the soulful, dreamy and sensual sound.

With its neo Shaft introduction, Disco Connection is disco with a twist. The ride is ridden, before elements of Giorgio Moroder’s Euro Disco combines with an industrial sound. It’s like a whip cracking. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and keyboards keep things funky. Horns growl and bray, strings shimmer and dance. A clavinet adds a heavy duty funky sound. By now, it’s like a ride on a musical roller coaster. Everything from disco, Euro disco, funk, fusion and soul are combined the Isaac Hayes Movement. This combination results in a funky slice of dramatic disco.

Disco Shuffle is an eight minute epic, where Isaac Hayes combines elements of Blaxploitation, disco, funk, jazz, rock and soul. From small acorns, a musical oak grows. Buzzing keyboards join a rhythm and horn section that could just as easily belong on Blaxploitation movie. Anthony Shinault Hendrix-esque guitar solo takes centre-stage. Meanwhile, growling horns and sweeping strings join the buzzing keyboards and the rhythm section. They drive the arrangement along. Soon, the Isaac Hayes Movement are in full flow. It’s a joy to behold. Especially, as stabs of horns sound, drums pound and Anthony Shinault unleashes a blistering guitar solo. The result is a funky, strutting symphony.

A wah-wah guitar joins the rhythm section and growling horns on Choppers. Gradually, the arrangement grows in power and drama. Strings sweep and swirl, as the Isaac Hayes Movement threaten to kick loose. Stabs of keyboards and chiming guitars combine. Still, the quivering shimmering strings that threaten to cut loose. Eventually, swathes of strings dance. Having briefly cut loose, Isaac Hayes reigns them in. A funky guitar and looming horns take centre-stage. Soon, they’re joined by the shimmering strings and washes of Hammond organ. Then the strings dance for joy. It sounds as if the classic lineup of The Salsoul Orchestra had been asked to provide the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie in 1976. Later, the the Isaac Hayes Movement jam. Seamlessly, the combine musical genres on one of Disco Connection’s highlights.

Keyboards and congas combine to create a dramatic introduction to After Five. Soon, drums, percussion and a flute are added. A chiming, crystalline guitar and deliberate bass are added as the arrangement glides along. Atop the arrangement sits the lushest of strings. Adding a contrast are bursts of pounding drums and a jazz guitar. They add the finishing touches to the genre-melting After Five.

Closing Disco Collection is Aruba. It has an almost avant-garde introduction. For forty-four seconds, an otherworldly sound is accompanied by hypnotic drums and the mellow sound of a Fender Rhodes. Only then does the arrangement unfolds. It’s classic Isaac Hayes. Stabs of blazing horns, swathes of strings, a subtle Fender Rhodes are accompanied by piano and the rhythm section. Gradually, the arrangement builds and builds. That’s until Isaac throws a curveball. The earlier otherworldly sound briefly returns. Then the Isaac Hayes Movement power their way through the rest of Aruba, ensuring Disco Collection ends on a high.

Given the quality of music on Disco Connection, it deserved to fare better than it did. However, the decision to release Groove-A-Thon a month later proved costly. This confused record buyers, who struggled to differentiate between an Isaac Hayes’ solo album and an album by the Isaac Hayes Movement. As a result, confusion reigned and some record buyers ended up buying the wrong album. Other record buyers couldn’t afford to buy both albums, so chose one. The result was that neither album sold in huge quantities. It was a far cry from when eight out of the nine albums Isaac Hayes released between 1969 and 1973, reached number one in the US R&B charts. These were the glory days. Although Chocolate Chip reached number one n the US R&B charts in 1975, that was as good as it got for Isaac Hayes.

Disco Connection and then Groove-A-Thon were the start of a period when Isaac Hayes was no longer the huge star he had once been. His albums either stalled in the lower reaches of the charts, or failed to chart. A few years ago, that would’ve been unthinkable. The most successful album Isaac Hayes released, was 1979s Don’t Let Go. Even then, it only reached number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200a and number nine in the US R&B charts. The disco years hadn’t been kind to Isaac Years. However, he wasn’t alone.

That had been the case for many soul, funk and R&B artists. Many of these albums were overlooked, despite the quality of music on them. Even albums by some of the biggest names in rock and pop were being cast aside in favour of disco. This was ironic, as the seventies were one of the greatest musical decades ever. Some of the greatest rock music ever was being released. Yet all radio program directors wanted their listeners to hear was disco. Someone had to make a stand. Enter Steve Dahl.

Right up until Christmas Eve 1978, Steve Dahl was a DJ on WDAI, a Chicago radio station. WDAI had been a rock station for a long time. Then on Christmas Eve 1978, it was announced WDAI was going to become a disco station. Given the change in music policy, Steve Dahl was fired. Little did anyone know, that Steve Dahl’s firing would result in disco’s death.

Steve wasn’t out of work long. He was soon hired by WLUP, a rival station. WLUP played rock, which suited Steve Dahl. He had a feeling that disco wasn’t long for this world. The disco bubble was about to burst; and it wouldn’t take long.

Steve wasn’t a fan of disco, and took to mocking disco on-air. Openly, he mocked WDAI’s “disco DAI.” It became “disco die” to to Steve. Soon, Steve had created the Insane Coho Lips, his very own anti-disco army. Along with cohost Gary Meier, they coined the now infamous slogan “Disco Sucks.” The backlash had begun.

From there, the Disco Sucks movement gathered momentum. Events were held all over America. This came to a head at Disco Demolition Derby, which was Steve Dahl’s latest anti-disco event. Each one was becoming bigger, rowdier and attracting even more publicity. Disco Demolition Derby, which was held at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979 surpassed everything that went before. WFUL were sponsoring a Chicago White Sox game at Comiskey Park. if fans brought with them a disco record, they’d get in for ninety-eight cents. These records would be blown up by Steve Dahl. An estimated crowd between 20-50,000 people attended. Quickly the event descended into chaos. Vinyl was thrown from the stands like frisbees. Then when Steve blew up the vinyl, fans stormed the pitch and rioted. Things got so bad, that the riot police were called. After the Disco Demolition Derby, disco nearly died.

Following Disco Derby Night, disco’s popularity plunged. Disco artists were dropped by major labels, disco labels folded and very few disco albums were released. Disco was on the critical list, and suffered a near death experience. It took a long time to recover. After disco’s demise, dance music changed. 

No longer were record labels willing to throw money at dance music. Budgets were suddenly much smaller. Gone were the lavish productions of the disco orchestras of the seventies. This was epitomised by The Salsoul Orchestra and John Davis and The Monster Orchestra. Strings and horns were now a luxury. Music would have to go back to basics. 

Replacing strings and horns would be sequencers, synths and drum machines, which during the last couple of years, had become much cheaper. Previously, they were only found in studios or were used by wealthy and famous musicians. Now they were within the budget of many musicians. However, with disco now dead, a generations of musicians who suffered during the disco era, could make a comeback. This included Isaac Hayes.

Although Isaac Hayes had never been away, he might as well have been. Many of his albums were overlooked by record buyers as he wasn’t “on-trend” during the disco years. That’s apart from when he released Disco Connection, which is a long lost and oft-overlooked cult classic that’s a reminder that disco is still alive and thriving  forty-one years after its supposed death.

Cult Classic: Isaac Hayes Movement-Disco Connection.






1 Comment

  1. I read this piece with great interest as I am a big fan of Isaac Hayes, as you probably know. I didn’t really get into disco until the late seventies, as my friends and I were still heavily immersed in Funk and Soul. We were also supporting less well known at the time Brit Funk bands like Incognito, Central Line,
    Linx and Hi Tension. (I knew the members of these bands from youth club and early clubbing days so we were always interested in how they were faring in the music world). I totally ignored Hayes’s disco period. We were music snobs, lol, before the general population began to hear about disco. We felt that it was watered down funk. When the Saturday Night Fever movie hit the screens and the music made it to the dance floors that was the final straw for me and my chums. We had learned our dance moves – shapes, from watching the American music show, Soul Train and we then re-interpreted them, whereas disco moves could supposedly be taught. Nowadays, when I’m not being too cool for school, I will dance to some Disco Classics but I still feel uncomfortable when I do…sad but true.

    I will listen to the disco albums from Isaac Hayes and let you know what I think of them.

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