Auto Tune: “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Isaac Hayes

June 17th, 2015 at 3:00pm

Driving, riding, roads and of course cars themselves have all been immortalized by writers, composers and musicians around the world. Auto Tune is our way to spotlight a unique transportation song to celebrate these “ridden” gems along with the artists or composers who crafted them. Some you may know, many we’re sure you don’t.

Hot-Buttered-Soul-album-coverThis is a tune written by the hottest songwriter in the world at the time, then, 19-year old Jimmy Webb. It was first recorded by his boss at the production studio he worked at in Hollywood, Johnny Rivers; you know Mr. “Secret Agent Man.” A couple years later Glenn Campbell made that same tune a big hit as well as his signature song until he recorded Rhinestone Cowboy. And in fact, according to BMI “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” became the 3rd most performed song over a 50 year period (1940 to 1990).

But as good as the Rivers & Campbell versions were, neither could measure up to our choice for this week’s Auto Tune. No, our spotlight shines on the cover recorded in 1969 by the incredible Isaac Hayes for his landmark album “Hot Buttered Soul.”

What is so epic about this particular song is that Hayes’ eschewed the “it has to be played on the radio ethic” that drove most singers and composers at this time and recorded an 18-minute 40-second version of the song. Yes, you read that right 18:40!

And Hayes took it upon himself to start the song with a groundbreaking 8-minute monologue containing what he believed to be the back story of our protagonist who has left his unfaithful partner and headed back to Oklahoma.

Then the song builds and builds to a climax of horns and vocals that is unmistakably Isaac Hayes.

Now fair warning… somebody in the music biz must’ve decided that 18:40 was way too much, so a lot of singles and MP3s out there – including the one linked here – has been chopped down to 7 minutes in length. And that still has all the elements that make this song so unique. But if you want to hear the whole enchilada, the way Isaac Hayes intended it to be, click on the YouTube player above and you’ll be whisked away to a nearly 19-minute universe of sorrow and sadness, but in the end, strength and beauty.

It’s tunes like this that make me say, I miss Isaac Hayes a lot!

- Chip Drake, Executive Producer, Autoline

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