Isaac Hayes: “Walk on By” (Hot Buttered Soul, 1969)

You may have already heard that lyricist Hal David, author of numerous hits with Burt Bacharach, died yesterday at age 91. That’s a good, long life for a guy who was never a household name even as his songs played in households all over the world. He seems to have been a pretty well-adjusted guy, content with his role behind the scenes even as his main songwriting partner, Bacharach,  became famous in his own right.

David and Bacharach are heavily identified with the 60s, when their distinctive brand of lightweight pop music was all over the radio—they’re as emblematic of the decade as hippies and psychedelia, at least. Strip away the fluffy orchestration, though, and you’re left with some songs that explore love and loss as skillfully as any. 

That’s one of the reasons I love Isaac Hayes’ epic take on one of the duo’s signature songs, “Walk on By.” Hayes re-orchestrates the song with heavy strings and trippy fuzz guitar and sings it with a love-destroyed anguish that foregrounds the emotion locked in the words. Dionne Warwick’s version is good, but sounds oddly private—this blows it up to widescreen size and replaces quiet drama with melodrama. 

I wish I knew what David thought of this reading—I can’t find an interview where he’s asked about it.