Pivotal 1971 soundtrack was one of soul music’s best sellers of all time and earned Isaac Hayes a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In 1971, the song was everywhere. “Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man?” Shaft? Damn right. Isaac Hayes’ Shaft soundtrack album became a #1 album on both the pop and R&B charts — and remained on the charts for a jaw-dropping 60 weeks. The first soul soundtrack to a major motion picture would earn Hayes a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe and set him on his way to stardom. The soundtrack continues to influence popular music — hip-hop in particular.
On November 3, 2009, Stax Records, a unit of Concord Music Group, will release Shaft (Deluxe Edition), a digitally remastered reissue of the soundtrack including a bonus track: “Theme From Shaft [2009 Mix].” Ashley Kahn, author of several music books, contributor to NPR’s “Morning Edition” and adjunct professor at New York University, wrote the liner notes for the deluxe edition.
A primary reason for the enduring significance of the ultimate Blaxploitation film Shaft is Hayes’ score. He created music that sounded like nothing else of its day. “The one thing I’ve learned from Shaft,” Hayes told The New York Times in 1972, “is that pop music doesn’t set any restrictions anymore. You don’t just have to go up there and sing a song because that’s the way it was always done before. Use whatever means necessary, be it rap, song or arrangement, to get to the people.”
As Kahn notes, “Ironically, the world’s first major motion film score created by a soul music producer boasts few tracks that fit neatly into the category of soul. Hayes created a wide variety of styles — some vocal, most instrumental — to serve the film’s many locations.” Examples: the organ-trio groove of “No Name Bar,” the popping, jazzy pulse of “Be Yourself,” and the gentle 3/4 feel of “A Friend’s Place,” which channels the bittersweet sway of a Bacharach-David melody.
“Soulsville,” a slow-moving vocal heard behind a lengthy ghetto scene, features mournful saxophone and Hayes’ somber voice delivering a sermon on inner city reality. And filling an entire album side was the 19-minute jam “Do Your Thing,” featuring distorted guitar pushed along by intermittent horn lines and chanting of the song title.
But the best known song remains the four-minute, 40-second “Theme From Shaft.” According to Stax historian Rob Bowman, both musical ideas came from Stax sessions in the ’60s — the high-hat lick from the break of Otis Redding’s 1966 recording of “Try a Little Tenderness” and the guitar part from “a long forgotten track that for one reason or another was never released. The song went two and a half minutes before the vocal part began. And then, as Kahn describes, “that call-and-response, or rather question-and- answer lyric that elevated its subject to a mythic level of machismo: who was the black private dick that was a sex machine to all the chicks . . . who would risk his neck for brother man . . . who would not cop out.” Shaft. Right on.
Released in September, 1971, “Theme From Shaft” was an immediate crossover hit: #1 on the pop chart, #2 R&B. It became the precursor not only to disco but hip-hop. Kahn notes that at the premiere of the remake of Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson as its lead — 28 years and 18 albums after creating the original soundtrack — Hayes told it like it was. “I’ve talked to some younger A&R people who’d say, ‘Well, what have you done lately?’ And I thought to myself, just turn on the radio and listen to some of your hip-hop stuff. That’s what I’ve done lately.”