hmv.com Presents... The Best Soundtracks Of All Time: Shaft
With some great in-store offers starting this week on films and on film soundtracks as part our 'Decades' series, every day we'll be picking the best soundtrack, one for every year, starting with 1950 right through to the present day. Today we're up to 1971 and we're taking a look at Isaac Hayes' soundtrack for Blaxploitation classic Shaft...
So what’s the film about?
Based on Earnest Tidyman’s novel, the film is directed by Gordon Parks and stars Richard Roundtree in the title role as John Shaft. Shaft is a private detective unscrupulously enlisted by the leader of an uptown gang, Bumpy, to locate and safely return his kidnapped daughter.
A pinnacle of the Blaxploitation genre, this thriller is rife with racial tension and set amidst violent gang warfare on the streets of Harlem.
Is this a score or a soundtrack?
Primarily an instrumental score written and composed by Isaac Hayes, there are also three seminal vocal tracks on the album; 'Theme From Shaft', 'Soulsville' and “Do Your Thing” all performed by Hayes.
So what’s it like?
Shaft is a funk, soul and jazz infused score invocative of the Stax house sound, under whose imprint it was released, reminiscent of Booker T. and the M.G.’s. The music ranges from instrumental, smooth ballad-like jazz (‘Bumpy’s Lament’), through soul civil rights-themed protest statements (‘Soulsville’) to hard groove funk (‘Theme From Shaft’).
A definitive album in its own right, the funk and soul tracks never clash with the more melancholy jazz interludes; firmly holding their own amongst the Blaxploitation genre and predating Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and James Brown’s Black Caesar. What sets Shaft aside is it’s pairing with Park’s film, the music never dominating the story but rather becoming synonymous with the story arc.
What does it give the film?
What Hayes successfully managed to capture was the soundtrack of a man. Under Richard Roundtree’s performance is the beguiling notion of coolness visualised by Parks’s direction. When one thinks of John Shaft one instinctively hears the hi-hat & wah-guitar opening to ‘Theme From Shaft’; Hayes captured the sound of slickness in a four minute and thirty nine second strut through Harlem.
What’s the best moment?
In an urban ocean of faces the camera roams a busy street like a sniper looking for his target, Shaft emerges from a subway and the ‘Theme From Shaft’ starts to play. From here you will witness one of the simplest and best character depictions ever committed to film. Roundtree’s first line “Up yours!” aimed at a taxi cab driver who almost hits him typifies the confidence, menace, sex appeal and coolness of the character all accentuated by one amazing record.
Has it stood the test of time?
“Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? SHAFT!”
Damn right it has...