Released: September 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 60
Shaft has been the surprise sleeper film hit of the year. I'm surprised at the surprise. Surely Cotton Comes to Harlem proved that there is a vast black audience that is anxious (and able for the first time in their lives) to see films directed by, starring, and mainly cast with blacks. Both these films are exciting potboilers, only a cut above the average TV adventure series, both contain shrewd comic insights into present-day black life in America.
Isaac Hayes seems to have been unduly serious about his assignment, for his score for Shaft is a topheavy, complex, and overly showy piece of composing and arranging. It sounds too often like what it should not on records: exciting background music. And, unfortunately, it also sounds labored and padded. But the recorded sound is spacious and very well engineered.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 4/72.
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.
- 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.
Gordon Parks' film was one of the very first blaxploitation pics and, as such, it had to have a killer soundtrack in order to reach the desired audience of teens and twentysomethings. Who better to provide it than veteran soul producer and singer-songwriter, Isaac Hayes? "You didn't know life could be that good," style guru Peter York later said about first hearing the Oscar-winning Shaft theme and you could see his point. Hayes had created a huge, pulsing symphony of a track, with flickering high-hats, speaker-shaking basslines and staccato brass stabs crashing around the rhythm guitar -- a slab of post-Hendrix wah-wah. The theme was also supremely orchestrated -- radio DJs forgave Hayes for keeping his gruff vocals and the supporting girlie chorus off the track until almost two minutes in. Originally released as a double album (at the time a format usually reserved for ponderous rock concept or classical albums), like the film it helped to promote, the sound soundtrack cut across genres and set new standards. The surreally dynamic "Do Your Thing" and the bluesy "Cafe Regio's" showed Hayes could master other moods with dexterity, but it was the stunning Shaft theme itself that will always be linked with his name.
- 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."
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.
Cotton Comes To Harlem was screened first, but Shaft was the undisputed herald of early 1970s blaxploitation cinema. Widely influential at the time, its soundtrack still makes the movie one of the best remembered icons of the era.
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.
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