50 years ago yesterday, on Sunday, Jan. 23, 1972, the CloseUp section of the Green Bay Press-Gazette carried record reviews, as it did almost every Sunday.
Some of the records reviewed on that day by free-lance writer David F. Wagner: “I Wrote a Simple Song” by Billy Preston, “The North Star Grassman and the Ravens” by Sandy Denny, “Angel Delight” by Fairport Convention and “From the Witchwood” by Strawbs.
Billy Preston? “He jumped off soul’s deep end, and every cut here is overripe and out of hand.” Sandy Denny solo? “Not exactly stimulating.” Fairport Convention? “Few ideas of consequence.” Strawbs fares best. “The lyrics get a little pretentious at times, but … a pleasant combination of rock and English folk music.”
But I’m burying the lead here, and the lead item in the column was Wagner’s vaguely racist review of “Black Moses” and the “Shaft” soundtrack, both by Isaac Hayes. It’s astonishing that his editors deemed it suitable for print.
“WHAT is obvious to anyone moderately familiar with r&b through the years is that much of the soul of ‘soul music’ is self-indulgence; understandable in a musical format in which ‘form’ consistently overrides content.”
“Enter Isaac Hayes … again. Friend or foe? Don’t answer that; after all, he’s the best Black Moses we have.”
“Hayes’ recordings have been superfantastic sellers, presumably in the black community. True, he goes over extremely well in concert before the blacks and is a sex symbol for many sisters. But I suspect a good many honkies are buying his lush gush, too.”
Here is an ill-informed white guy, 31 years old, writing for a white audience his age and older, at best trying to be edgy and at worst fancying himself a music critic on par with those in Rolling Stone.
“What he does is done well — except for the slight consideration that he can’t sing at all. It’s just that he is the epitome of corniness, black or white. He reads beautifully, but his narrations (better known as raps) are embarrassingly banal.”
Isaac Hayes, damned with faint praise. For what it’s worth, the Rolling Stone review of “Black Moses” — out the same week — had many of the same objections to Hayes’ vocal style.
Save for the most adventurous of them, Press-Gazette readers likely never heard anything by Isaac Hayes beyond “Theme from Shaft.” Wagner declared the “Shaft” soundtrack “the preferable product” because “it is mostly instrumental, so there are no raps and only a minority of bad singing.”
Anyone else feel like they need a shower? Let’s let Isaac Hayes wash over us for the next 19 minutes instead.
“Do Your Thing,” Isaac Hayes, from the “Shaft” soundtrack, 1971.
For those wondering, Mr. Wagner — by all accounts a good man who had a bad week in January 1972 — is no longer with us.
Here’s the review in its entirety, for those who wish to read more.