Moonlight Lovin: An annotated guide

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By Michael Harthorne

 In 1977, when famed songsmith Isaac Hayes dropped the album New Horizon, many would have argued the man’s best work – “Theme from Shaft,” Hot Buttered Soul, etc. – was behind him.

But, they would be wrong. For New Horizons contained “Moonlight Lovin (Menage a Trois),” a 10-minue tour de force of metaphors, disco beats and bilingualism.
 
What follows is a comprehensive, scholarly annotation of the song that represents a master musician at the height of his game.
 
“Moonlight Lovin (Menage a Trois)” by Isaac Hayes
 
0:51        This low, guttural noise emitted by Hayes was, legendarily, the only noise he needed to successfully woo members of the opposite sex. Problematically, the noise was also known to set off car alarms and attract woodland creatures, depending on Hayes’ proximity to parking lots and forests, respectively.
 
1:00        Hayes’ imploration to “open up your mind now” is, frankly, rhetorical. The preceding minute of disco rhythms will have accomplished that automatically in listeners.*
 
1:11        The line “now is the time now” represents Hayes’ earliest attempt at a lyrical palindrome. He would reach the zenith of this endeavor on his 1984 duet with Hawaiian music legend Don Ho, “Oh No, Don Ho.”
 
1:30       With this line, Hayes created the character of Chef two decades before “South Park” hit the airwaves. He would later cede ownership of the character to Matt Stone and Trey Parker because he “felt bad” for them.
 
1:54       Hayes will occasionally drop hints as to the meaning of the song for the benefit of those listeners for whom the subtleties of the French language remain an elusive mystery.
 
2:14       At first glance, this couplet appears to be a sloppy contradiction. However, those familiar with Hayes know that he does not scare easily. This is actually a sharp rebuke to the supposed “excitement” of roller coaster rides.
 
2:34       An extended metaphor in which Hayes and his two female companions take a voyage to the Isle of Sensuality only to get shipwrecked in the Sea of Love, like a modern-day Swiss Family Robinson, has led some music scholars (Frank Wintermass) to speculate that the moonlight loving of the title is in actuality a metaphor for a shipwreck and not the other way around. But, he is incorrect.
 
4:10       A second hint for non-francophone listeners.
 
4:20       “The stars is the ceiling” is the only line in “Moonlight Lovin” that includes no subtext. Hayes is simply enjoying his amorous adventures in the great outdoors.
 
4:57       Lest detractors accuse Hayes of knowing but one French phrase, he has taught a second to his equally worldly backup singers.
 
5:40       Hayes is nothing if not a patient instructor. By this third explanation, even the most hard-headed of listeners surely understand the thrust of Hayes’ piece.
 
6:04       As was common practice during the heyday of disco, artists would often insert long stretches of aimless “vamping” by the musicians into each song, during which dancers could use the restroom, make a sandwich or enjoy a brief “disco nap.” Listeners may also feel free to take a break at this point. You won’t miss anything.
 
8:54       Not wanting to show off or overload English speakers with too much French, Hayes briefly repeats an earlier nautical metaphor. According to popular music lore, it is this final lyrical return to the water that would inspire Jacques Morali, Henri Belolo and Victor Willis to pen “In the Navy,” a hit for the Village People a short two years later.
 
9:30       Hayes had originally written additional verses for “Moonlight Lovin.” Late in the recording process he removed those lost verses so the song could better reflect his credo in the bedroom: Have few moves, but execute them flawlessly and at great length.
 
10:00     The song is over. Though most true music scholars will choose to listen to the song three times in quick succession, as Hayes originally intended.
 
* This does not apply to the 361 residents of Adak, Alaska, who are famously impervious to disco rhythms.

 

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