Released: September 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 60
Pretty rhythmic for a soundtrack -- if a backup band played this stuff before the star-of-our-show came on you wouldn't get bored until midway into the second number. Proving that not only do black people make better pop-schlock movies than white people, they also make better pop-schlock music. As if we didn't know. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Isaac Hayes surprised many in the film and R&B/soul world when he produced, arranged and composed the music for Shaft. Only three of the 15 tracks featured vocals, and Hayes displayed a finesse and capability with strings and mood pieces that his fans already knew he possessed from earlier albums, but which the general audience might have missed. This was a #1 pop LP and eventually earned Hayes an Oscar. It's also held up much better than the film. * * * *
- Ron Wynn, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Isaac Hayes made his mark with his own recordings; his sweaty, epic productions featured extended sides of influential soul orchestration and ushered R&B into the concept album era, while his work on the Oscar- and Grammy-winning Shaft soundtrack paved the way for similar blaxploitation artists such as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. The Shaft soundtrack features several shorter cuts, including the classic title track and a series of instrumentals. Yet it also features a lengthy workout, the nearly 20-minute vocal ramble, "Do Your Thing." While the soundtrack does not address social concerns, a la Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, it still grooves hard. It also features a crack rhythm section, the Bar-Kays. * * * * 1/2
- Joshua Freedom du Lac, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.
The title track is a bad mother by any yardstick, but the rest of Isaac Hayes' blaxploitation opera is a funkified mama jama too. You want uncut Stax soul? Here 'tis. The 20-minute "Do Your Thing" is as evocative a period piece (and sentiment) as was ever waxed. As Hayes sings, "If the music makes you move, 'cause you can dig the groove, then groove on."
-Entertainment Weekly, 2001.
Wanna be a badass? Get that wah-wah pedal crankin' and wail along as the bald-headed, multi-instrumentalist sex machine creates the coolest soundtrack for the blaxploitation flick about that namesake "mutha." One of the best movie themes of all time provides the most distinctive build-up to a gritty tour de funk that ushered in a whole new era of innovative, dynamic, rhythmic sound. Can you dig it? It's a classic 'cause ya just don't mess with Shaft. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Composer, producer, and arranger Isaac Hayes contrived the whole musical plot, his best-known achievement in a career that has seen him co-write 200 hit songs with Dave Porter for Stax Records. Recorded at Stax studios, with The Bar-Kays carving the beat and The Memphis Strings and Horns weaving torrid orchestrations, the Shaft soundtrack is a sophisticated stew of Hayes' vast range of musical knowledge, the Memphis sound from A to Z. The man himself sings and plays vibes, organ, and electric piano.
Things kick off with four minutes of arrogant, symphonic soul cushioned with lusty vocal raps, hissing cymbals, and hypnotic chops of wah-wah. The majestic dynamics of "Theme From Shaft" are a paean to Shaft's virility, shaping the mold of all blaxploitation movie scores to come and permeating Barry White's bedroom moaning and Gamble and Huff's Philly Sound. Elsewhere, "Soulsville" is a trademark Hayes down-tempo ballad, while The Bar-Kays stretch "Do Your Thing" into a 20-minute funk epic without dropping the pace once. The remainder of the album is a triumph of mood music and a tribute to Hayes' arrangement skills.
"Theme From Shaft" shot to the top of the U.S. charts, giving Hayes his only No. 1; the double album it was taken from won the Oscar for the best soundtrack, and became Stax's fastest selling album.
- Jamie Gonzalo, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Hot Buttered Soul, the 1969 album that established the Memphis producer-arranger Isaac Hayes, contains just four tracks. One is a nine-minute showcase for the endlessly interesting backing ensemble the Bar-Kays; another is an ornate orchestral reimagining of the 1964 Burt Bacharach classic "Walk On By" that lasts for twelve minutes.
Such long expanses of instrumental vamping become Hayes's trademark -- they're the cornerstone of this 1971 project, the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Shaft. While others working at Memphis's Stax label concentrated on terse three-minute songs, Hayes gave listeners the long cinematic tour. He approached music as though he were expected to provide a full evening's worth of material. On his most successful recordings, grooves simmer for minutes before anything as overt as a melody appears.
The "Theme from Shaft," a groove étude built on expertly manipulated wah-wah guitar, became a cultural phenomenon. It spread from the big screen to the pop charts (the title song, featuring Hayes's talky narration, was a huge hit) to marching band halftime routines. The song helped bring Hayes (whose deep baritone became known to a later generation as the voice of Chef on South Park) an Oscar for best score. He was the first African American to receive that honor.
The original Shaft theme (and, indeed, much of the soundtrack) still sizzles. Hayes utilizes the many colors of the orchestra -- a single low piano note, a noirish, shadowy flute, a hissing cymbal that kicks things off -- to set a mood, and then cooks up musical chase scenes so tense, no visuals are necessary.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
Main Page | The Classic 500 | Readers' Favorites | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web