Both on movie screens and in the charts, November 1971 was all about the new phenomenon of blaxploitation. With black consciousness reaching new levels of confidence and Afro-American culture more influential than ever, filmgoers had already enjoyed the trailblazing They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! the year before, followed by Sweet Sweetback’s Badaasssss Song. Then came Shaft.
The MGM film, starring Richard Roundtree as a new kind of hero, private detective John Shaft, hit movie screens in July 1971 and was an immediate success. Made for a reported budget of $1 million, it grossed anything up to ten times that amount, helped no end by the contribution of a master songwriter, artist and black music figurehead.
Isaac Hayes’ soundtrack to Shaft entered the US chart a few weeks after the film’s release, in August, and soon confirmed his unstoppable rise as a true soul superstar. Both of Hayes’ 1970 albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and … To Be Continued, had hit No.1 on the US R&B chart, and as Shaft became one of the real cinema events of the year, so did the artist’s score album.
“At last we have a black hero of James Bond stature in John Shaft,” Hayes told Beat Instrumental. “Shaft looks at things from a black point of view, it tells it like it is.” He also explained that his uncertainty, when Stax Records’ Al Bell recommended him to MGM as the score writer and performer, was allayed by a much-respected producer.
“I didn’t feel too confident at first,” he recalled, “but I talked it over with Quincy Jones and he encouraged me to give it a try. Actually, I didn’t read the book or the script but when I saw the final rushes I was sold on the idea.”
On 6 November 1971, the Shaft LP climbed to No.1 on the Billboard pop album chart, unseating John Lennon’s Imagine in the process. Two weeks later, the memorable ‘Theme From Shaft’ single hit the top of the pop chart, with both the single and album going on to win Grammys, and the theme taking the Oscar for Best Original Song. The “black private dick” had officially helped Hayes to the top of his profession.
The vinyl reissue of Shaft can be bought here.
Follow the Stax ’68 Guest Playlist Vol. 1, chosen by William Bell.