Isaac Hayes – 1976 – Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)
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Review by Mark Brian Mathew
Whenever reading about Isaac Hayes and his discography this is the album that seems to inspire most haters, and it took a turn for the worst, when this long out of print album was reissued on CD in 2009 along with the 1971 remasterd “Black Moses” album. Critics had a field day in quickly stating that “Juicy Fruit” lacks the cohesiveness of “Black Moses” and sounds phoney in compared to Hayes other works. Furthermore it has aged poorly and not a single track on this album was good enough to garner chart interest even back in 76. Oh, and yes, it would have been nice if “Juicy Fruit” were a worthy addition to Hayes’ catalog, but in reality it’s pretty forgettable. Mr. Hayes traded in his smooth and funky signature sound for watered down dance floor beats, and this album especially proves how the frivolity of the disco explosion caught even serious musicians off guard. Oh, and blah-blah-blah on it goes. What a “shame, shame, shame” the disco era indeed was, deeply unkind to the great soul singers of the 1960s and early 70s.
A1 Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) 6:17
A2 Let’s Don’t Ever Blow Our Things 6:04
A3 The Storm Is Over 4:41
B1 Music To Make Love Love By 6:23
B2 Thank You Love 4:45
B3 Lady Of The Night 4:04
B4 Love Me Or Lose Me 5:3
Most R&B acts debased themselves terribly while trying to keep their careers alive. And ”more, more, more” , let’s not forget that aside the R&B artists every other well-known band and singer went disco in the mid and late 1970s – the Beach Boys, the Stones, Rod Stewart, Cher – oh, and of course the Bee Gees (and whether you’re still hiding a three-piece white polyester suit in the back of your closet or not – do the Gibb Brothers not prove high pitched vocal points?). Isaac Hayes of course should have known better than to fall victim to the disco bandwagon and…. and… hang on, wait, STOP!!! Let’s put on the brakes before even more disco dancers leave the floor. I guess we have had enough statements on the net and elsewhere regarding Hayes’ most unloved album. Let’s walk on by and take a brief look back at his earlier work. The academy award winning “Shaft” for instance, the most famous blaxploitation track of all times, full of funk-drenched rhythms, spiced with its wah-wah guitars and multi-layered symphonic arrangement – where was the song and the album on top of it leading to? Did it not play a mammoth role in the invention of a genre that was to become Disco? Who out there really is surprised that the Duke adjusted to the disco onslaught of the mid-1970s? Admirably, I may add. For the love of making music, Ike maybe wasn’t worrying too much about reputation. More importantly, he probably felt closer to the origin of the genre and therefore sounded more authentic in terms too in that he enjoyed what he did.
After completing two Soundtracks, “Three Tough Guys” and “Truck Turner” in 1974 (movies he also starred in), and thereafter leaving Stax, as the label couldn’t come up with enormous royalties he was due, Hayes created his own Hot Buttered Soul label with distribution through ABC. Creative and work-addicted in a little more than a year he wrote, recorded, arranged, produced and released four disco albums. “Chocolate Chip” and “Disco Connection” (both in 1975), “Grove-A-Thon” (1976) and finally “Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)”, also released in 1976 on ABC (catalog no. ABCL 5185). The Album features seven songs, all of which Hayes wrote, and was recorded in his hometown Memphis at his own studio on Chelsea Avenue, again with much of Hayes’ regular band, The Movement, providing the licks for a mature blend of funk and ballads. With such a large output of music within 2 years, I counted 54 tracks in all (including the two soundtracks), each album naturally has to face up to some weak moments, and a few there are, but on the whole what counts more and weighs heavy are the many fab tunes Isaac Hayes has given us in such a short time. The hard hitting “Truck Turner” the wonderful “Now We’re One”, the tenderful “That Loving Feeling”, the superb “Your Loving Is Much Too Strong”, the rock ‘n’ reelin’ “Rock Me Easy Baby” and many many more…plus just to think how many disco nights would have missed a fantastic opulent opener if there would not have been the all instrumental “Disco Connection”.
As back with “Juicy Fruit”, okay, I too have to agree that the first track “Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak)” is not the best opener, especially in comparison to the previous albums mega funky “Groove-A-Thon”. It begins with three minutes of party noise and Hayes and male friends mumbling, rapping and chatting up the Disco Queens, and maybe we have two minutes too long of chit-chat, before it finally connects funky to the hook of disco and shakes up, but then it does deliver. It feels like straight out of Studio 54 and you may noticed your feet tapping. “Let’s Don’t Ever Blow Your Thing” has Ike on vocals as smooth and warm as expected when looking back on his early 70’s catalog of ballads. Great tune with a fab female chorus indeed. Track 3 proves yet again, that the Duke always had a few surprises up his sleeve. “The Storm is Over” is my personal favorite, a mid-tempo song, that flows easy like a sunny slice of soulful optimism. Side B starts with “Music To Make Love By”, a happy feet funk number, full of desire on the stereo and very much in line with the albums theme. “Thank You Love”, brings us polished funk with hard beats and all the horns in full swing but may go on a bit too long and would have worked nicer a minute short or so. “Lady of the Night” is a delicate tune, a tale of a widower’s love for a prostitute, maybe a bit over the top, if one lacks sense of humor. Nevertheless it strikes me as sweet as wine, and I guess with hopes for more than just a one night affair it could leave a curious “best of me” taste in your mouth, I wonder…but I don’t really want to know, do I not? “Love Me Or Lose Me” maybe comes across as the weakest track on the album, as it doesn’t offer anything more or new to go for, but at least it brings the album to a funky danceable end and I do like Ike’s vocal high-pitched outbreak towards the end.
And yes, okay, we cannot ignore the cover of “Juicy Fruit”, as it caused such a stir then and has been classed as not very tasteful these days. It’s intriguing though, and colourfully tacky and utterly 70s for sure too, and let’s thank heaven for what it’s worth. Featuring six beautiful ladies imitating Carmen Miranda 70s style, standing in a pool, with the Duke smack-dab in the middle – isn’t that saying somethin’?. No disrespect to the great Rod Stewart, but as he was still asking: “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, Hayes already had the answer in full colour on display. And turning the cover the Duke leaps out of the water with a banana in his teeth and the girl’s breasts are shielded by fruit. As for the inside of the cover, okay corny it looks, fourteen feet, each pair with their underwear dropped to their ankles – but corny or not, hey, we are back in the 70s and the shot still puts a smile on my face. Man, when we were young, carefree and not sooo sure, did we not envy Ike for such fun and to party down the groove after all the recordings down on tape and the cover shots taken, and just how far did this juicy party go? We had the songs on the player and our imagination to go with it, and hell, still half tough cowboys looking back on childhood dreams but nevertheless also already becoming half wise mature streetboys set for the future with the funk in our heads, we quickly agreed: “Yes, ten points to the Dude – cool, just the way to enjoy life.” Even if one of the more mature clever dicks among us raised slight doubts – what the heck. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. The facts surfaced back of course, when many many years later, in 2008, L.A. Record’s Rena Kosnett interviewed Isaac Hayes. It was presumably his last interview, as shortly afterwards he sadly passed away in Memphis, aged 65. One of the questions asked: “For the cover photo of Juicy Fruit, did you and the six ladies go home after the shoot or did you stay in the pool and make fruit salad?” Hayes’ answer, short and sweet: “Those ladies split.” “They didn’t stay and hang with you?” “You know…(he started singing lines from Juicy Fruit). ‘Watching girls come and go, juicy fruit, jump suit…’ It was cool, but you know, they went home.”
Last but not least: As one curious but satisfied Amazon buyer of the CD stated: After hearing Juicy Fruit I am not only NOT disappointed but downright thrilled! The buyer goes on to recommend that one should keep an open mind (in contrast to the many bad critics) and listen to this album for themselves. AGREED!!! You might just find it difficult to put down.